High street jewels – inspiration or imitation?

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A very common jewellery problem gets its moment in the spotlight.

When Tatty Devine took its battle with Claire’s Accessories into the homes of millions with an appearance on Watchdog it brought a long-standing problem into the limelight. Rachael Taylor reports.

In jewellery design, or indeed any design discipline, the sad truth is that copycats are a fact of life.

For larger companies using factories overseas, designs can often be on the black market before official high street stockists, and for smaller designer-makers the fight is often even tougher as they battle bigger brands and even each other to prove who had the design first, and often when you are talking about designs based on universal symbols such as hearts or stars, or a particular combination of gemstones, it can be difficult to prove ownership.

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While copycat designs are often associated with Far East factories and under-the-radar market traders there is another element to the intellectual property battle raging in the British jewellery scene that is much more prominent – that of major multiple retailers copying jewellers’ designs.

Take a walk into many a high street fashion store and look at the jewellery offer and those in the trade will no doubt be able to pick out quite instantly several designs that could be linked to names of jewellers. While often tricky to separate inspiration from imitation, there are more often than not glaring examples of copies on display for those in the know.

The problem with high street retailers copying jewellers is something that rumbles on but it was brought spectacularly to the fore last month when London-based jewellery brand Tatty Devine took its campaign against what it claimed to be copycat practices by Claire’s Accessories into the homes of millions of British consumers through an appearance on BBC TV show Watchdog.

The issue between Tatty Devine and Claire’s was first raised by the jewellery brand in January when a customer sent a picture to the brand of a brooch in the style of a volume control knob that looked very similar to one designed by Tatty Devine that it had been selling since 2004. The brand highlighted the issue on its blog with a statement that read: “Before we waste our time writing them a ton of letters, we thought we’d blog it to find out what you think. We’re hoping Claire’s will be willing to withdraw these pieces, as they really are very similar to our Volume Brooch.”

A month later and Tatty Devine founders Rosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine, who were named in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2011 as Trollbeads Trendsetters, were back on the blog with a much larger post, again focused on Claire’s Accessories. This time the post was titled Can you spot the difference? And it featured five examples of Claire’s Accessories selling very similar designs to that sold by Tatty Devine.

The blog post sparked huge interest with more than 3,419 people re-Tweeting the link on Twitter, more than 1,000 people liking it on Facebook and more than 200 comments left by fans of the brand. The story was also picked up by the press including Professional Jeweller and the Guardian.

Wolfenden and Vine contacted their lawyers who took the case to Claire’s Accessories. While the high street retailer did not carry out infringement it did remove three items from sale at its shops – a necklace with a banana on it, a necklace with a fishbone design and a necklace with a dinosaur skeleton design. The necklaces had been selling for as little as £5 when Tatty Devine commands prices of over £100 for some of its versions.

Still Wolfenden and Vine were not satisfied. Determined to take their plight further, the brand took its story to BBC TV show Watchdog, an episode that presenter Anne Robinson opened by saying “Claire’s Accessories, you won’t believe their cheek”, going on to add “great jewellery designs, pity someone else thought of them first”.

“One of the most important things we do is to create original design so when we see something similar in a high street giant’s store it really felt quite strange,” Wolfenden told the BBC cameras.
Wolfenden and Vine appeared in a video clip but did not visit the studio. Their jewellery, however, did. It starred in a segment of the show where the presenters showed the Claire’s Accessories jewellery and the Tatty Devine jewellery side by side and remarked on the similarities.

Tatty Devine used the show, which is focused on campaigning for consumer rights and battling unscrupulous companies, to reveal that it had reached a “mutually acceptable resolution” with Claire’s Accessories.

A statement on its website confirmed the agreement: “Tatty Devine Limited and Claire’s Accessories UK Limited confirm that a mutually acceptable resolution to their recent dispute has been reached. Although the terms of the agreement are confidential, it can be confirmed that the banana, dinosaur and fishbone necklaces have been removed from sale in all Claire’s Accessories stores worldwide, but the moustache, large glasses and musical notes necklaces remain available for purchase.”

The tale of Tatty Devine’s battles against a high street giant inspired Erica Abiss-Biro, editor of blog The Jewellery Loop, to write a guest column on the subject for Professional Jeweller.

The column, titled We need to stop copycat jewellers now, documented the experiences of Abiss-Biro who while working for a high street jewellery retailer had been asked to copy jewellery designs. She shared her negative views of the experience and used the column to ask for change in the industry.

An extract from the column read: “I genuinely feel that if our jewellery designers are not nurtured, protected and supported then they may well end up working for the high street themselves and our industry would be a lot less interesting as a result.”

The column, which first appeared in the April issue of Professional Jeweller magazine, was widely shared on social networks, shot straight to the top of the professionaljeweller.com most read list, and drew comment from many in the industry. Comments made on the professionaljeweller.com website included some from designers Kimberley Selwood and David Marshall who said that they have both had their work copied.

This article was taken from the May 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.

 

 

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