Prior to the gold rush in the 1850s, jewellery sold in Australia was imported from the UK and Europe. Working jewellers came to Australia during the gold rush and while many continued to produce pieces similar to those they had traditionally produced in England, some started to produce pieces that incorporated designs of Australian fauna and flora.
Australian jewellers did not have to comply with the British Hallmarking Acts and so most Australian-produced jewellery was not marked until 1889 when the Manufacturing Jewellers Association of Victoria was founded, eventually spreading to rest of the Commonwealth. The Association members applied three guarantees to their work, the maker’s mark, a quality mark in carats (15ct), and a symbol (a sheaf of wheat represented 9ct, for example) guaranteeing the quality of material and workmanship. The 15ct symbol was a hanged sheep and the 18ct symbol was a sailing ship.
In 1916, a non-profit making company called the Sydney Hall Mark Company was established and adopted a number of standards, including the symbol of a Kookaburra for gold articles and a Wren for silver articles.
In 1923, the company’s name was changed to the Commonwealth of Australia Hall Mark Co. It discontinued operations in 1940.
There are only a few books written on antique Australian jewellery. Here are four:
- Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahy, Australian Jewellery: 19th and Early 20th Century, 1990.
- Kenneth Cavill, Graham Cocks and Jack Grace, Australian Jewellers, Gold & Silversmiths – Makers & Marks, 1992.
- Eva Czernis-Ryl (ed), Brilliant: Australian Gold and Silver 1851-1950, 2011.
- Robert Reason, Bounty: Nineteenth-century South Australian gold and silver, 2012.