Saturday, August 22, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's...or not, from a Computer Terminal

The entire subject of 'designer labels' in fashion perhaps should be consigned to a circle of Hell reserved for capitalists and those for whom luxury consumerism is a way of life. When one struggles to meet bills and obtain the very necessities of life, the allure of a scarf by Hermes, a Burberry bag or a bracelet from Tiffany & Co. should be nil. Nonetheless, we sometimes will pursue dreams for loved ones when we no longer would do so for ourselves... In that spirit, I began to look at options where Tiffany's was concerned.

Although half of the mystique of Tiffany's is its 5th Avenue shop in Manhattan, it came as no surprise to discover that Tiffany & Co has a thriving internet site where one can purchase almost every item made under its label. The site is elegant and the items are beautifully displayed. To take the illusion one step further, the prices are the same as they would be in the actual shop. There are no discounts for shopping online. In fact, with very high shipping costs unless the item purchased is over $300.00, the price of shopping online at Tiffany's rather exceeds that of a visit to one of their shops.

The logical next step would be Ebay, where often designer items are sold at greatly reduced prices. Tiffany is one label that is sold ONLY at Tiffany's, however, which means that any items offered as 'New' on Ebay would be suspect. Having expected a fairly straightforward exploration of a few 'gently used' items, I was drawn into a veritable morass of counterfeits.

Counterfeiting, whether of coinage or art, is as old as humanity, but counterfeit items purporting to be made by Tiffany & Co. are more prevalent than most other designers. Even off-Ebay, one need only do an internet search for Tiffany to call up at least half a dozen sites that sell counterfeits while never stating that the items are anything less than genuine.

Here first is a link to the official site for Tiffany & Co. where only the genuine articles are sold obviously:
Welcome to Tiffany & Co.

Here now are some links to sites that offer knock-offs but never actually state as much. None of these are affiliated with the legitimate Tiffany & Co., nor are the items that they sell made by or for Tiffany & Co.:
Tiffany Jewelry

My Tiffany Online

Tiffany Sale

These are only a few of many sites offering 'Tiffany Jewelry' direct to the consumer. If you go to Ebay instead, however, the web of deceit thickens, whether in deliberate misrepresentation or innocent misrepresentation. Although any item sold as 'new' on Ebay definitely is a knock-off, buyers who mistakenly assume that any purported item of jewelry stamped 'Tiffany & Co.' would be a genuine Tiffany article are sadly in error.

With more than half the world existing in adject poverty, struggling for food and shelter, does the question of whether a luxury item is genuine or not matter? It only matters because it deals with the question of honesty and trust. Being interested in a style that looks identical to a genuine Tiffany & Co. piece but is being sold at a fraction of the price is quite different from selling an item that is not genuine to some one who believes it is. There are more complex ethical questions as well. When that item is intended as a gift to some one, is there an onus on the person giving the gift to make it clear whether the item is a genuine designer piece or not? The innocent recipient of a knock-off who later sells it on Ebay as 'genuine' is extending the fraud unwittingly. One may argue that a gift should not be sold, but relationships often go sour and it no longer is considered mandatory to return all expensive gifts when they do.

One of the most famous cases involving counterfeit jewelry and one that played a part in toppling the French monarchy is the 'Affair of the Diamond Necklace' celebrated in novels and films. It began with a genuine valuable diamond necklace commissioned by Louis XV for Madame du Barry and crafted by premier French jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge. Unfortunately, the jewelers were not paid in advance for the commission and the king died before the necklace could be completed and sold to him.

The jewelers were in danger of bankruptcy, as the necklace was worth a 'Queen's ransom'. They decided to try to sell it to the new King for his wife, Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette initially declared, however, that she wanted no part of an item originally designed for her father-in-law's Mistress. From this point, the 'affair of the necklace' descended into the murky alleys of political and social scheming... A very clever confidence artist named Jeanne de la Motte, remotely connected to the royal house through marriage with an illegitimate scion of the house of Valois, conceived of a complex plan and executed it. She first ensnared the Cardinal de Rohan in a clandestine bogus relationship with the Queen (played by a prostitute)and then persuaded him that Marie Antoinette had changed her mind and now wanted the extraordinary diamond necklace she publically had refused twice when her husband tried to buy it for her. Rohan was persuaded to act as an intermediary in the transaction, convincing the jewelers that the Queen would pay for the necklace in installments. He then took possession of the diamond necklace and gave it to Jeanne's husband and accomplice, in his supposed role as the Queen's valet. He promptly took the necklace to London, where it was taken to pieces and the diamonds sold individually.

Ultimately, when the jewelers were not paid, the entire sordid affair was made public. Rohan was sent to the Bastille. Jeanne, the prostitute and the man who had forged Marie Antoinette's signature, were convicted and her husband sent to the galleys. In fact, Jeanne de la Motte was able to evade justice to some extent. Her sentence included a public flogging and branding, never carried out and, disguised as a boy, she managed to escape from prison and flee to London where she published her scandalous memoirs. The Cardinal was acquitted by the Parlament de Paris. Vilette, the forger was simply banished.

To add to the high drama of the affair, Cagliostro became implicated. The Count de Cagliostro, aka Joseph Balsamo was one of the most sensational figures in France at the time, as one who dabbled in the 'black arts' and Freemasonry and managing to secure entry into the Knights of Malta as well as appearing at almost every court in Europe. (He finally was arrested by agents of the Inquisition and imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo.) He was one of the most brilliant,enterprising and ruthless men of his time, expert at chemistry, medicine, magic, legerdemain and forgery, inter alia. Incidentally, although he is one of the main characters in Dumas' series and never quite was freed of the taint of the Diamond Necklace scandal, it was one affair in which he actually was innocent in reality.

Although Marie Antoinette was innocent as well and probably had absolutely no knowledge of the frauds perpetrated in her name, as with any scandal involving very public and high-ranking individuals, the masses refused to believe the facts and the affair was very instrumental in fomenting the public disgust with the monarchy that ultimately led to the French Revolution. Alexandre Dumas' series of novels about the Diamond Necklace were among my favourite books as a child.

As some one moreover with a background in Law, the subject of legal misrepresentation always fascinated me and continues to hold an interest. Any one who is expert at misrepresentation is a wordsmith and words always fascinated me as well.

On one of the Tiffany knock-off sites, items are given the following 'guarantees':

'All of our items are 100% sterling made guaranteed. We are a professional jewelry dealer offering all kinds of sterling silver jewelries from Tiffany & Co. at the best prices. One-stop shopping for beautiful Tiffany & Co. necklaces, bracelets, pendants, rings, earrings, accessories, 300+ styles for choice, fantastic gift ideas for wedding and other special moments.
'To retail Tiffany Rings ,Bracelets,Necklaces,and so on, we specially set up retail Tiffany Jewelry website for people all over the world seeking for the most worthy Jewleys.Tiffany Sale is your best Tiffany & Co sliver jewelry and diamonds provider. Our mission is to provide the best Tiffany & Co sliver jewelry products and service to our customers at the lowest prices possible. We have about 200 Tiffany & Co Sliver Jewelry and Diamonds on sale. Tiffany Sale is your tiffany silver jewelry online store.'

Note the misspellings here. Note that the only guarantee is that the items are 100% sterling.

Here is another FAQ from a knock-off site:
'The material used are genuine 925 sterling silver and genuine 18K gold. Our jewelry selection includes necklace, bracelet, ring and earring for today's designer jewelry fashion at discount prices. Our team of buyers search throughout the fashion world to provide you with terrific merchandise and values. You can often find the same items we currently sell on our site in department stores, boutiques, and within the pages of your favorite magazines at full price - yet we offer you much lower prices. Sometimes, we do not purchase directly from the designer; instead we go to reputable resellers for a discount on wholesale prices. This allows us to pass on the savings to you.'

Again, the only guarantee is to the effect that the item is 'genuine 925 sterling silver.' What is particularly interesting about THIS site is the fact that they sell every 'Tiffany' piece with 'Free Tiffany & Co. blue pouch, box and gift bag.
+ Free Silver Polishing Cloth, valued at $8, limited time offer'

From this site, offering discounts on discounts, the 1837 Lock Bracelet and Necklace Set, originally priced $259.00 has been discounted AGAIN to $239.00. At the REAL Tiffany & Co. site, the 1837 Lock Necklace alone costs $375.00 and the matching bracelet costs $265.00, making the total price for the 'set' almost $650.00. Incidentally, a free silver polishing cloth is NOT included with purchases from the official genuine Tiffany site. If, therefore, you see any purported 'authentic' or 'genuine' Tiffany & Co. item/s being offered on Ebay with a silver polishing cloth as well as pouch, box and gift bag, you can bet your boots that it is counterfeit.

When all stamps on the counterfeits match those of the real Tiffany & Co. items, how on earth can one know whether or not an item offered on Ebay or any other site as used is a genuine item FROM Tiffany & Co. is truly genuine? I would imagine that the ONLY easily definable difference is the weight. If a seller attests that he/she has weighed the piece and the weight equals that of the item sold by Tiffany & Co. and further that the item was purchased from a specified Tiffany shop, any 'used' item he/she has for sale probably IS genuine. If, however, the seller directs you to the official Tiffany site for weight and other specifications, he/she at best is careless and indifferent or at worst fraudulent. (If the item originally was a gift from some one else, ask the recipient to weigh it before you bid on it...) If the photographs that accompany the item being sold on Ebay or elsewhere are stock photographs from the official Tiffany & Co. site, you probably should steer clear of it.

There is an old axiom (complete with dangling preposition) that 'you get what you pay for.' It usually is true. If items being sold as 'new' sterling silver items from Tiffany & Co. are half the price of the real article, they probably are LESS than half the weight as well... Why would a factory in China use more silver than necessary to churn out counterfeits that cost them more to make than they will net from the purchase?

Is the 'value' placed on a designer label artificial? Of course it is. Is there any reason why an individual should not be happy with a sterling silver bracelet that is not a designer piece? No, of course not. On the other hand, for any one to use the stamps of a designer on their own pieces and then to offer them as the genuine articles is misrepresentation and fraudulent, even if the actual wording does not constitute legal fraud.

What I find rather loathesome about Ebay currently is the way 'keywords' are allowed that have absolutely no relationship to the article being sold. For example, if a seller has a Tiffany round charm for sale, he/she can use keywords such as 'toggle' and 'Tiffany heart' 'lock' even if the charm is NOT heart-shaped, is NOT a lock' and does not have a 'toggle' clasp! It's a puff, designed to hook the buyer and persuade him/her to look at the item being sold.

Why did I write this post? Well, having done far more research on Tiffany internet sales and counterfeits than I ever wished or expected to perform, I felt I could not waste all that knowledge. Perhaps it can educate potential buyers and help them avoid counterfeits. Knowing human nature, however, it is far more likely that more people will use the links included in this post to access the counterfeit sites to purchase cheap knock-offs than to proceed to the official Tiffany site to purchase a truly genuine item.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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