Fake goods cost U.K. businesses and taxpayers millions of pounds every year and despite Customs and Excise, Trading Standards and various other regulatory bodies trying to protect both the retailer and the consumer, copies and forgeries are still a huge threat for the unwary.
For retailers the risks are enormous, being caught selling counterfeit items can carry heavy fines or jail terms and the probable damage to reputation alone is sufficient to ensure that reputable jewellers remain constantly vigilant.
There are various ways the industry has endeavoured to protect itself, from the hallmarking of jewellery to ensure that diamonds are certified to guarantee both their quality and authenticity. Such safeguards allow the retailer to be able to sell goods with confidence and assure their customers that they are truly buying into the real deal.
However, unless you’re an expert with a fluorescence spectroscope, what can the average retailer or customer do to ensure they aren’t being taken advantage of?
Here are a few things which should help guide you along the way.
Since the Hallmarking Act was introduced nearly 50 years ago, it has been a legal requirement that all jewellery made from precious metals (Gold, Silver, Platinum and Palladium) has to be hallmarked if the item is over a certain weight. The hallmark is, in essence, a guarantee of quality and is made up of a manufacturer or sponsors mark, the metal fineness mark, the assay office stamp (there are 4 Assay offices in the U.K., each with a unique stamp) and a letter representing the year of manufacture. It is a testament to the work of the Assay Offices that hallmarking remains one of the most consistent deterrents against jewellery forgery. In a recent interview, a member of the Goldsmiths Guild said he had seen only one passable attempt at a forged hallmark in his 45-year career.
Know your source
Remember that just as the customer making a purchase from a retailer is doing so from a position of trust, the retailer is purchasing from their supplier on the same basis. It makes sense that we should get to know as much as we can about both the product and who we are purchasing from beforehand. Always make sure you’re dealing with a trustworthy source wherever possible and don’t be afraid to ask any relevant questions you may have to assuage any doubts.
Well, this seems obvious but it is still relevant, particularly with regard to jewellery. Fake items are often cheaply made and of far inferior quality those they are imitating. This means that they probably won’t wear well and will rarely retain their appeal for long after purchase. Some materials may cause irritation or injury to the wearer and worse still nickel (a popular “alternative” metal in cheaper jewellery) is reportedly carcinogenic.
High end jewellery on the other hand should last a lifetime. Whilst precious metals may develop a patina over time, they won’t fade and can easily be restored to their natural lustre with a little dutiful cleaning.
Likewise, gemstones, particularly diamonds, should always be certified. With the abundance of natural and synthetic alternatives, it is important to be able to document the genuine stones from their fake counterparts.
Brand names and logos
Brand names are a huge selling point in every aspect of retail. Jewellery is no exception and almost every brand likes to ensure their name is carried on their creations, either as a reminder as to who created the piece or for a bit of blatant free advertising! To this end, it is useful to familiarise yourself with the brands you align with and follow their trends. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert but even a little inside knowledge can be a very powerful ally at times.
Manufacturers usually have logos which are instantly recognisable the world over and the more complex the logo the more difficult it is for copycats to accurately reproduce, so whilst fakers and forgers will often try to steal a brand’s identity for their own products, look out for tell-tale warnings such as misspellings or incorrect fonts and “smudging”. Some manufacturers vary the style or design subtly from time to time in an attempt to further deter fakes, so it can pay to ensure that the chronology of logos and typefaces matches the era from which items purport to belong.
Packaging can be a similar give-away. Whilst big brand companies spend vast sums on marketing and presentation in line with their brand image, such details are often overlooked or skimped upon by the copy-cats who are simply looking to make maximum profit for minimum outlay. Again be wary of misspellings, poor quality materials or shoddy workmanship on the paraphernalia which accompanies any piece of jewellery or timepiece.
Quality jewellery and watches should be backed up by the relevant paperwork and guarantees or certificates. Always ensure these are in order and again attention to detail can be paramount so be on the look-out for poorly worded or mistyped words or phrases, incorrect or jumbled fonts and badly reproduced logos and missing or sketchy company details (Most companies want you to be aware that they are responsible for producing the best goods, and are more than happy to let you know who they are and how to contact them.)
Common sense is often our best defence in avoiding fake jewellery. The old adage that “if something looks too good to be true, it probably is” remains as appropriate as ever. Whilst it is not uncommon to see reductions of up to 50% on watches the markup on jewellery is typically only 10-15% and high end manufacturers don’t generally offer wholesale pricing, so that “ridiculous” saving should set alarm bells ringing no matter how attractive it may seem.
At some stage in life, we all get a sense for when something simply doesn’t seem right. Often one can tell an item of quality just from the feel of it so if a sixth sense starts telling you something isn’t quite as it should be then get it properly appraised. Don’t always take things at face value, that little bit of detective work now may just save you or your company a lot of heartache in the longer term.