The 22 carat gold ornaments available in the market may not be of the promised caratage. And, if you consider the hallmark logo affixed on the ornament as the ultimate proof of purity, you are mistaken because there are ornaments that carry the hallmark logo but fail purity test.

The hallmark system is being misused by certain jewellers in connivance with some of the authorised assaying centres. The customers, with no easy way to verify caratage, are the ultimate losers in the game. The arrangement between certain assay centres and jewellers is capable of hoodwinking even the monitoring authority, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

BIS authorities recently traced such malpractices in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The licence of a hallmarking centre based in Thrissur was suspended after malpractices were found during a surveillance operation. What is more shocking is that the centre continued to execute orders from jewellers. About 4 kg of gold jewellery with spurious hallmarks were seized during a subsequent raid. The centre was sealed thereafter and steps were being taken to derecognise it, said Varghese Joy, Head of BIS, Kochi.

Some manufacturers resort to malpractices to conceal under-caratage. The assaying process involves cutting and melting of the material. Some of the assay centres may resort to affixing the logo without going through the steps stipulated by BIS for money or to save time. It takes about four hours to complete assaying of a sample.

The magnitude of such fraud could be estimated from a survey conducted by BIS a few years ago. 146 (or 90.1 per cent) of 162 samples collected from 16 cities in the country were found short of the declared purity. Whether the situation has improved is a moot question.

“The situation in Kerala is better because of higher customer awareness,” says B. Govindan, working president of the All Kerala Gold and Silver Merchants Association. Under the BIS scheme, a jeweller has to obtain licence from BIS to get his jewellery hallmarked. The assaying is done at Assaying and Hallmarking Centres, recognized by BIS. “More than half of the dealers in Kerala have taken licences whereas only about 20 per cent of dealers have done so in north India,” he said.

Some retailers are offering the services of carat analyzer, a device for verifying the caratage. But it’s possible even to manipulate such machines, according to experts. While the jeweller is not entitled to open an assaying centre of his own, a regulation prohibiting his relatives from running such centres remains tough to be implemented in true spirit.

A hallmark consists of five components -- logo of BIS, the fineness number corresponding to the gold content or caratage in the jewellery, mark of BIS recognized Assay and Hallmarking Centre which certifies the quality, identification mark of the BIS certified jeweller, and the year of manufacture, denoted by a code letter.

Over 9000 BIS licences for jewellers have been issued in the country till March 2012, according to official information. The number of BIS recognized assaying and hallmarking centres across the country exceeds 180. Kerala has about 1600 BIS licences for jewellers and 36 BIS-approved assay centres.

BIS has a gold referral assaying laboratory in Chennai where the material from Kerala could be tested by the authorities, but consumers are not entitled to make use of the facility. Instead, the consumer can assess the purity of their gold jewellery at various assay centres for a fee.

More In: Kochi