Opinion

A Close Call with Knockoffs Illustrates Problems in Jewelry

A ring by jewelry designer Polly Wales was a subject of interest in a jewelers' group on Saturday morning.

New York City. Dec. 3, 2018. On Saturday morning as I sat sipping my coffee and scrolling through Facebook, I came across a request on a closed trade-only jewelry forum called Jewelers Helping Jewelers (JHJ). Would the group of more than 14,000 individuals please weigh in to help the poster, a jeweler, learn how to copy the handiwork of an established jewelry designer with a recognizable aesthetic since one of his good customers liked it? The designer was Polly Wales, a pioneer in the cast-not-set technique of wax-cast jewelry with gemstones.

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I nearly spit out my coffee—not because somebody else was yet again trying to copy the hard work of another individual but because that person had taken the request to a huge public forum to expedite the offense. By the time I saw the post, it had been online for about 16 hours, allowing ample time for others to weigh in. But instead of posts of protest à la, “That’s not ethical behavior,” they responded with ugly comments about the designer’s signature aesthetic, an organic-looking method of casting specific gemstones securely into precious metal.

A short-lived online discussion ensued before the poster, I imagine, deleted the entire thread. Perhaps he realized that time stamps and motive were present, which could provide evidence that he intended to take money out of the established designer’s pocket and put it into his own. I’m not a lawyer or a policewoman, but as a journalist with 22 years of experience writing about serious industry issues like this, it’s appropriate to point out questionable behavior for the benefit of many. Over the summer, I even helped to organize a conference for the New York Metro chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association where intellectual property (IP) lawyers offered insight into alleged claims of knockoffs—which is where I learned about time stamping and willful efforts to deceive. If the now-deleted JHJ thread became public knowledge, it could be a black eye to many in jewelry. I’m thrilled the jeweler took it down, because its presence lent a measure of authoritativeness to a request that could lead many down a dark path.

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This certainly isn’t the first time IP issues have come under scrutiny, nor will it be the last. But learning from them—quickly—and turning the situation around is always the best course of action for all parties involved.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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