Design and Reproduction Ethics

I have been reading the forums with much interest for the past year,
but as my metalwork is on hold these days, I have not posted.

I do have a question for the group about the issue of jewelry stores
reproducing an artist’s design for a customer at a lower cost. I got
married last Summer and found a ring by a German jewelry designer
that I really loved, a very simple matte finish band in half 18k,
half platinum. The original design had 4 tiny flush set diamonds at
the intersection of the two metals, but I wanted a slightly
different pattern - 11 diamonds speckled around the entire band.

This store does a lot of custom work (and they do it very well), and
they said it would be no problem to make what I wanted. The price
they gave me was surprisingly low compared to the price on the piece
(all the rings I looked at were priced much, much higher than the
sales price we were offered - that’s a separate issue I don’t
understand), and on further questioning, I realized they intended to
make the ring in their own shop, rather than order it custom from
the designer.

Being a small potatoes designer myself, I said I preferred to have
the designer make the ring, which they said they could do, but the
price would have been about $1000 more, which we just couldn’t spend,
in addition to a much longer wait, and we were buying rings at the
11th hour. I had them make the ring, and they did a beautiful job, of
course. (They also made my husband’s ring.) They weren’t done on the
promised date (this was our only wedding glitch with Mercury in
retrograde - LOL!), so we got them about 2 weeks after the wedding,
but they offered loaners, and it was such a low-key affair, we didn’t
really mind.

My question is- is this a common practice? They didn’t copy the
design in total, there was a change with the diamond pattern, but if
you put it next to this designer’s collection, it looks just like
her work - she has a very distinctive style. I felt a little funny
about it, and wondered whether the designers who have their work in
jewelry stores like this know or agree to having it duplicated (or
duplicated with slight changes) on a customer’s request? Maybe it is
a mutually beneficial arrangement somehow?

Wondered what you all thought…


My question is- is this a common practice? They didn't copy the
design in total, there was a change with the diamond pattern, but
if you put it next to this designer's collection, it looks just
like her work - she has a very distinctive style. 

Like you said, the design was changed and that gives them the right
to do it. More stones will change relationship between elements and
that makes it substantially different.

But there is a bigger question in your post.

What was exactly copyrighted ?

There is tendency among designers to copyright everything. Such
copyright cannot be enforced. Any work is based on some previous
work, unless it is truly original, which is extremely rare.

If the design was worth copyrighting, any change to it would be
detrimental. If elements of design can be changed at will without any
ill effect, there was nothing to copyright to begin with.

Leonid Surpin.

It’s unethical.

If you weren’t feeling bad about it you wouldn’t be posting seeking


My question is- is this a common practice? They didn't copy the
design in total, there was a change with the diamond pattern, but
if you put it next to this designer's collection, it looks just
like> her work - she has a very distinctive style.

What will be interesting about the replies about this is the
difference between those of us who do have businesses where we have
to deal with issues like this, and those that have opinions that do
not deal with this issue. Is there any possibility that there is
someone doing work or having done work similar to the artist in

Basically this should be a non issue unless someone is reproducing
aline that competes with a copyrighted or patented designer. One
should not be an issue. We all get ideas from others. Everyone who
does custom work treads this line often.

Richard Hart

No need for a storefront to be faced with this ethical quandary. I
am fairly regularly approached to make one “just like the one in this
photo” from clients who either don’t understand the issue and or are
looking for a better deal, in either case they are out of luck.

Whether you knock off one piece or a thousand it is still a
copyright violation and is unethical and illegal. Changing just a
couple of things with the intention to get around the copyright may
or may not be legal but is still unethical.

Getting ideas and filtering them through your own creative thought
process is a different story, that is what a custom designer should
do. Take the elements your client likes about the other design and
try to express them through your own design vocabulary.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


Sorry but any band of any combination of metals with x number of
diamonds, stones, whatever isn’t copyrightable…that’s like asking
if a #8 paper bag can be copyrighted…however, stealing a design that
is unique, trademarked ( that means registered with all governing
authorities of x country/state and local jurisdiction as required by
the laws of wherever the designer is domiciled) and recognised in the
common market is illegal and unethical at least.

As far as your feelings:", it looks just like her work - she has a
very distinctive style. I felt a little funny about it"… sounds
like what used to be called “neutralization " respective of social
morays and/or laws, in the science of sociology…like running a red
light because it’s 3am and no one’s around…it isn’t legal but one
chooses to neutralize that knowledge that you are doing something
"wrong” for convenience…or in this case to save a few bucks ( or
many) and because you wanted more stones included than were on the
rings offered at the store…The store’s ethics could then be called
into question. I feel certain that if the designer that is
essentially paying for that store to market her work is copying and
reselling her designs- modified, rather than asking that designer to
fabricate a ring with the desired number of stones She should be made
aware of what they are doing and take her products elsewhere…I
certainly would have had a non-competition agreement with them
stating that they may not reproduce unique designs without permission
at the very least. Or if the designer negotiaties with a store that
the reseller may reproduce a given line the designer usually gets a
percentage of the profits from their marketing her work…Because you
can reproduce a design to make a sale doesn’t mean that it is right
or acceptable business practice.

well… relief of your conscience can be purchased for a small
fee. you could send the designer who’s work inspired you, an
anonymous postal money order !

purchase one at any US post office for the difference of the amount
that it cost to make your ring and what her ring cost

best regards - goo


I have a question, situation, something. Completely different
subject but same topic…or is that same subject, different topic? :slight_smile:

I have, on more than one occasion, run up on a piece of jewelry or
metalwork that is either identical or nearly identical to something
I’d just made. In one case, a friend was wearing the pendant I’d made
for her. Nearly a month later it was on someone’s website nearly
identical and the notes by it stated it was made and posted 2 days
after she purchased it. In a conversation, we both discussed our
process and how we arrived at the same piece (very different ways) I
realized that she did not copy my piece, and she realized the same
about me.

Had I seen the article of jewelry after I made my own piece but
before it was sold, what would have been the appropriate action?


Hi Diane,

I think you know the answer to your question - it was completely

I sell mainly wedding rings; because I can’t afford to have every
size on consignment most of the sales are special orders. I would be
really disappointed if I found they were copying my designs for

On this page you can see a ring where a client wanted a diamond put
in - the gallery contacted me and I think it worked really well.

alison in Melbourne where it’s 25C at midnight

Hello Orchidland,

In this case, go by the “Golden Rule” - Would you care if your
design was slightly altered and produced in a single piece? Your
reaction in that situation dictates the ethics.

Judy in Kansas