Hallmarked tradition

Naina Čuturić-Knežević

Items made from precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium) in Montenegro represent an unavoidable segment of tradition. The story is based on characteristic symbols of Montenegro, which are used as hallmarks on items made from precious metals. The tradition of making jewelry in Montenegro has deep roots, which, combined with the recognizable features of Montenegrin culture, can greatly contribute to the European cultural heritage.

The most notable representatives of the cultural heritage in Montenegro are portrayed through precious metals, more precisely, items made from precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium). Literally. Hallmarking of precious metal items is not only done in Montenegro, but only in Montenegro an olive branch has a special significance, only in Montenegro grapes mean much more than fruit. The hallmark that is placed on precious metal items guarantees their compliance with the technical requirements prescribed by the Montenegrin regulations in the field of precious metal items. These hallmarks protect the rights of consumers, and the Bureau of Metrology is responsible for affixing them in Montenegro. “History is the teacher of life” . We can say with certainty that this Latin proverb is the leading light of the Bureau of Metrology. Through careful analysis of historical facts, their interpretation and enhancement in everyday work, the Bureau of Metrology tries to bring its activities closer to all citizens, in particular, the youngest. By telling the story of the value of tradition in the field of control of precious metal items, intertwined with those more known Montenegrin traditional features, the Bureau confirms its commitment to educate the youngest on the importance of knowledge in this specific area. We tell our story in the spirit of the Montenegrin tradition, sealed on objects made from precious metals, and this story goes deep into the past. The first Montenegrin state of Duklja (Doclea), or the state of the Doclean Slavs, was formed on the territory where the Illyrian tribes used to live in ancient times, and where, afterwards, Roman provinces of northern Dalmatia, Dioclea and Prevalitana (Prevalis) were established. Today's state of Montenegro is situated on the territory of these provinces, and inherits their land, tradition and culture. Duklja's throne was ruled by Prince Stefan Vojislav from 1018 to 1050, after whom the name of the first Montenegrin dynasty Vojislavljevići was derived. The long-standing repressive Byzantine authority in Duklja led to the uprising in 1034/35 ran by Vojislav. The upraising was quickly quelled and Vojislav was imprisoned in Constantinople. Several years later, he managed to escape from prison and spark a new uprising in Duklja. The Byzantine authorities in Duklja could barely survive. The situation became even more complicated around 1040 when a Byzantine ship loaded with gold sank off the Duklja's coast. Vojislav seized the gold and refused to give it back. This event triggered new conflicts with Byzantium, first in Crmnica, and later near Bar in 1042. This tells us that gold has been an important resource ever since ancient times, and one worth fighting for. Our ancestors are the foundation of everything we have today, and so the Montenegrins’ struggle against the Ottoman Empire lasted over 500 years. During the period of the Ottoman rule of the territory of Montenegro, skilled crafts had been developing, and craftsmen who made silver and gold jewelry along with numerous decorative items were particularly prominent. Goldsmiths and silversmiths made silver and gold chains, earrings, golden rings, bracelets, various buckles, silver buttons and other. Among the common decorative items were gold and silver rings and various, usually silver-plated so-called amber cigarette holders. Somewhat later, a gold fever took place and spread all the way to Alaska. We can conclude that the poverty in Montenegro was the main reason that prompted its citizens to go on a quest for wealth during the rule of King Nikola from 1910 to 1918 from the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty (1697-1918). Precious metals were a symbol of power and wealth of that time, so those who stayed in Alaska sent gold rings to their families in Montenegro, with inscriptions such as "Alaska" and "Yukon" and clusters or roses as ornaments. During the reign of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, the development of the Montenegrin heraldry in all segments of the society took place. During the rule of this dynasty, the development of the dynastic coat of arms has undergone a series of changes, until it took the final form during the reign of King Nikola I. In this period, the significance of heraldic features became particularly developed, which was transferred to precious metals as well. In the period from 1919 to 1929, Montenegro used the same codes for marking precious metals as Serbia, and from 1929 to 2006, Montenegro used the symbols of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which it continued to use until 2010, even though it renewed its state independence at the referendum in 2006. The need to mark precious metal items dates back to 1928, when it was decided that the national hallmark must be placed on products made of gold, silver and platinum, which successfully passed purity tests in accordance with the legally prescribed purity levels. The advent of platinum is also related to 1928, when the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes proclaimed the Law on Control of Gold, Silver, and Platinum Purity, which is the first legislative text that regulated the control of the fineness of precious metals items in our region. Small stylized figures imprinted on each individual item have been enabling the exchange of information concerning the type and purity of a precious metal which the item was made from. The process of affixing a national hallmark with a view to obtaining a clear imprint of a stylized figure with valuable information has not changed over time. After the new Law on Control of Precious Metal Articles was published in 2010 in Montenegro , new hallmarks were introduced to indicate the degree of fineness of precious metal items. Thus, an olive branch became the national hallmark for platinum items, cluster of grapes and camellia flower for gold items, lion for palladium items, and pelican for silver items. Each stylized figure carries the value of the region where it was created, connecting the national values with the assessment of technical requirements. Although small in size, only 1.4 * 0.8mm, they represent significant entities that connect the history of our country with the history of the established precious metal system in Montenegro. "The olive is like a mother, and the vine is like a girl. Even if you fall short of committing to the olive tree, even if you do not nourish it, it will continue to yield and cherish you with products.“ This sentence can often be heard among Montenegrin olive growers, and it is true. Olive is the oldest subtropical culture on the Montenegrin coast and as such, it is the foundation of Montenegrin culture and tradition, so it is not surprising that a symbol of the olive branch is on the national hallmark which is placed on platinum items. Platinum is a silver-white precious metal. It is used for making expensive jewelry, often in combination with gold and diamonds. Due to high processing costs, platinum jewelry is considerably more expensive than gold jewelry. In recent years, platinum is mostly used for making coins and various medallions. All this speaks in favor of why the olive branch is a symbol that decorates platinum objects. “This is Montenegro. The country of wine!” Montenegro has a long tradition of wine production, thanks to the cultivation of autochthonous grape varieties. Viticulture had been an indispensable resource in the 19th century, which was confirmed by the words of the Prince Nikola Petrović: "Let each soldier, coming from the place where the grapevine could grow, plant two hundred vines." Golden items with fineness level of 585 parts per thousand (585/1000) are marked by a hallmark depicting a grapevine, whereas golden items of 750 parts per thousand (750/1000) are marked by a hallmark with the symbol of the camellia flower. Like the vine, the camellia flower also represents a symbol of Montenegro, more precisely, the Bay of Kotor. Legend says that camellia was brought in 1870, by an old sailboat from Japan. A marine captain brought this flower to express his love and affection to his wife. Since then, it is believed that camellia symbolizes strong and lasting love. According to the custom, if a man bestows a red camellia on his lady friend, he subtly tells her that she is the most beautiful for him, and if he decides to give her a white camellia, it means he believes in the power of their mutual love, so it is not surprising that golden items with fineness level of 750 parts per thousand (750/1000) are marked by the symbol of the camellia flower. The pelican, more precisely, the Dalmatian pelican, which represents the symbol of the Skadar Lake, is one the protected bird species and as such, one of the most recognizable features of Montenegro. The symbol of pelican on the national hallmark decorates silver objects. High-quality and reliable implementation of the precious metal hallmarking on the territory of Montenegro is provided by the Bureau of Metrology, which was established on September 14, 2006. Every item made of precious metals, placed on the market in Montenegro, is subject to mandatory testing and hallmarking in the official premises of the Bureau of Metrology. However, as the citizens of our country are still insufficiently informed about the activities of the Bureau of Metrology, it often happens that, when buying precious metal items, they do not pay attention to the hallmarks, so they end up buying items of precious metals of unknown content without distinguishing between hallmarks affixed on them. Each of the hallmarks on the precious metal item represents a guarantee of something. For example, a silver item (and the same applies to other precious metal items) should have three marks: • The national hallmark with an inscription of MNE and a stylized pelican figure; • Mark of manufacturer or importer; • Mark of fineness (fineness is the mass fraction of a precious metal in the total mass of objects expressed in parts per thousand). Bearing in mind the need for strengthening the control of precious metals items in Montenegro, the Bureau of Metrology continuously implements a wide range of activities in order to educate the citizens on the importance of this area. One of these activities would be the organization of an exhibition titled "Days of the History of Precious Metals". The purpose of the implementation of the mentioned activity is to present technological and legal aspects of the control of precious metal items, which would result in a greater, more responsible and serious response of the citizens, all with a view to protecting them in trade traffic. However, Montenegro's education system offers a rather poor education for children about the importance of this area. It is necessary to organize a round table, which would connect historians, scholars with technical background and heralds, but also created the possibility of potential association of goldsmiths. Consequently, greater value would be attached to the items of precious metals, which would directly result in an improvement of the system of controlling the precious metal items. In this sense, a potential cooperation between the Association of Goldsmiths and the Bureau of Metrology would be ensured, especially from the aspect of intent of achieving the possibility of exporting precious metal products, which are produced in our country. The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. This fact, along with the assumption that children should be encouraged to observe the world around them from their early childhood, is the reason why a special emphasis should be placed on the youngest. In this regard, by organizing a simulation of jewelry making, marking and hallmarking with this target group, which would be realized with the help of educational-didactic material, children would, in a creative but well-adjusted way, become educated about the importance of this area. In addition, the Bureau of Metrology publishes a magazine intended for children aged 5-6 years, titled "Little Measurers' Book of Fun", the content of which would be enriched with stories, associations, quizzes and games concerning precious metals. In order to foster children's imagination, but also to bring this area closer to the youngest members of our society, an art competition for the best drawing of the national hallmark would be announced. As for the older population, a TV show would be created that would raise the awareness of citizens on this issue.

European Dimension

The area of control of items of precious metals is part of European legislation, which relates to the harmonization of technical legislation with harmonized procedures. The main objective of regulating this area is to enable the free movement of goods, services and capital, as well as the removal of trade barriers. Montenegro, regarding the Bureau of Metrology, strives to join the Convention on the control and marking of articles of precious metals, which implies the signing of an international treaty on cross-border trade of precious metal items, and through the introduction of common control mark, which is recognizable by the stylized balancing balance figure, with a three-point fineness marker, centered middle of the mark. Considering the fact that Montenegro is in the process of European integration, the Bureau of Metrology continues to strengthen the quality of the system for controlling the items of precious metals. The contribution of our institution to increasing the visibility of the Montenegrin cultural heritage is the placement of stylized figures, with traditional values on marks for precious metal objects.