A couple of years ago, a client asked me about whether I wanted to design and manufacture my own line of jewellery. My answer was that I was too busy with client designs, which was true, but really, I knew that even if I designed a range of super-dooper, perhaps stunning jewellery, making money from them would be an uphill battle.
What Is An Original Piece?
Anecdotally, I would say most fine jewellery produced in Australia isn’t really original, and thus the design isn’t protected. As an example, if you look at the 2019 Jewellery Design Awards, three of the five finalists in the diamond category were fairly run of the mill halo rings, and the winner in the diamond category turned out to be one of them! After all, there are only a certain amount of ways you can set a diamond or gemstone.
Above: The award winning halo ring.
I would say the bulk of artistic work is done by:
- Jewellers and creators who design and manufacture fashion jewellery and sell it at local markets or on Etsy.
- Jewellers that produce their own “collections”, a lot of which is either free form jewellery or very unique (Canturi Cubism comes to mind). These two factors make mass market appeal very limited.
Above: An example of a free-form ring.
Most Jewellery Designs Are On The Web
These days, the vast amount of jewellery is available on the web. With online jewellery sales increasing, jewellers usually publish as much information about the jewellery they’re selling as possible, including photos from multiple angles, 360 degree animations, “on hand” views and even augmented reality try on apps. This is great, as it allows consumers to get as much information as possible as well as gauge the true “look and feel” of the piece of jewellery. However, it also means that a jewellery design is easily copied by anyone who wants to. Whilst it is unlikely a competitor will see someone’s jewellery design and then produce hundreds or even thousands of the same piece, it is far more common for an individual consumer to take it to another jeweller to manufacture it.
How to Protect Jewellery Designs
Intellectual Property lawyer, Sharon Givoni writes there are three ways to protect jewellery designs in Australia:
- Common law copyright protection applies to non-mass produced jewellery as soon as it is produced.
- Design registration.
- Trademark registration.
However, as noted in the article, very few jewellers go to the effort of registering a design or trademark.
Enforcing Design Infringement
The article by Sharon Givoni then goes on to tell the story of a Melbourne based jewellery designer, Iris Saar Isaacs, who produces original jewellery designs that are put on the web and then exposed to copy-cats. Rather than pursue legal action, the actions of the copy-cats “pushes her to keep creating and pushing the boundaries of her designs.”
Coming from a blog of an intellectual property lawyer, the fact that no legal action was taken to protect the designer’s work, speaks volumes about how difficult it is to defend your intellectual property if you are a jewellery designer. In reality, defending your intellectual property as a jewellery designer is virtually impossible, especially if the offender is overseas, and even if they are in Australia, it most likely wouldn’t be worth the legal costs to pursue.
Maybe the jewellery industry needs a catchy ad campaign to discourage copyright infringement?
Is Jewellery Design Dying?
Jewellery design certainly is not dying, however, it has definitely changed over the past 20 to 30 years.
Outside of internationally known jewellery brands such as Tiffany and Cartier, I don’t think there are any fine jewellery designers that have gained any widespread following or that consumers really value. In fact, some jewellers have resorted to celebrity endorsements to fill the gap created by the void in well-known jewellery designers. For example, Mazzucchellli’s use celebrity wedding dress designer Vera Wang to spruik one of their jewellery ranges.
Consumers are now turning to custom design, meaning jewellery designers are designing and producing more bespoke, one of a kind pieces. This is a good thing as consumers get exactly what they want and jewellers can sell what they design. Conversely, I think fewer jewellers are willing to invest in their own “collections”, as the design and manufacture of jewellery that may not sell is very costly.