A different mindset
The United Kingdom is one jurisdiction that takes under-karating very seriously. Dating back to the 1300s, the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office samples, assays, and hallmarks every item sold as a precious metal.
“It’s engrained into the psyche of the makers and the public,” Merrall says. “People would not consider for a second buying a piece of precious metal jewellery that doesn’t have the stamps on it. And if they did, they would fully understand there’s no legal imperative to it being what it says it is.”
Merrall says he’s not aware of anyone being charged for under-karating in Canada, but he has heard of small independents made aware the products they were selling were not what they were stamped to be. He is quick to point out, though, the incidents were accidental and not an attempt to defraud.
Steven Greenwald, owner of Toronto-based Supreme Silver and a partner in a manufacturing facility in China, has had a different experience overseas. He recalls visiting a local factory and seeing a number of boxes containing earrings that were stamped 925 silver.
“I was looking through the earrings and noticed they were all on earring hooks,” Greenwald says. “The owner of the factory came over to tell me they were not really ‘Silver 925.’ The only parts that were real silver were the earring hooks and they were stamped ‘925.’ The actual earrings were just a white alloy. Each pair of earrings was rhodium-plated to make it look like the whole thing was silver. I was surprised he was telling me this, but he said this is how the customer ordered it. The factory was not cheating the buyer—the buyer was cheating his customers. The goods were being shipped to the United States.”
Although Greenwald says he doesn’t personally know of any under-karated jewellery entering Canada, he believes it’s not a stretch of the imagination that if there is a problem in the United States, Canada is not immune. A quick Google search results in several articles of incidents of under-karating south of the border.
“I don’t think anyone really knows [how prevalent under-karating is],” he says, adding he’s aware of another manufacturer in China who made low-karat silver jewellery on request for a South American importer.
Merrall says he doesn’t believe under-karating is an epidemic, particularly on the part of Canadian manufacturers or importers who sell jewellery carrying both a quality stamp and trademark. The risk of a ruined reputation is just too great.
“I have no doubt that it happens, but if someone went into a legitimate retailer and bought a ring that has a legitimate trademark on it and a quality stamp, there’s a very good chance it is in fact what it says it is,” he says.