Ron, I have to agree with Dan, but there is a qualified exception....
I lived in Taxco, Guererro, Mexico for 6 years - and I make two or
three trips down every year. My observations are about the same as
his, but having lived there, worked there, and gotten very well
connected with several families and individuals - I can get items
made in fairly small quantities without worrying about them being
knocked off - usually...
I have the language, the experience, and know who to go to - but that
took years to aquire. Even so, I have had designs show up out on the
streets of Taxco more than once or twice.
The advent of the Internet has made a fortune for several of the
family run shops that specialize in knocking off current designs.
Most of them have at least one computer literate member of the
family, who spends a couple of hours a day seeing what everyone else
in the world is making, and proudly posting on sites for them to see
- and price.
If it is a simple item that looks interesting, they print it out,
take it down the street to a cousin who does wax carving, or die
making, and within a couple days it is in production. If they want a
duplicate of the original item to work from, another relative living
in the States will order the piece from your site and ship it to them
UPS or Fed Ex.
Almost forty percent of these knockoffs now go to Europe and Japan. I
have never seen anyone penalized for this practice in any way, nor
does the copyrighted design get stopped at our own border...
There are 20 or 30 North Americans (US & Canada) who own shops in
Mexico, or subcontract to existing shops for knockoffs of any design
that they think will sell up here... I'm sure the overseas copycats
work the same way.
Things have changed a lot in the past few years. You can now find
relatively high tech machinery and tools in some of these shops. I've
seen laser welders, laser cutters, CNC & CAD/CAM, mass finishing,
automatic feed punch presses... and everything else used in modern
day mass production. There are even little backyard workshops that
make copies of the GRS tools, and a Bonny Doon style hydraulic
While most of this manufacturing is done in sterling, there are
fairly large gold jewelry fabricators and manufacturers springing up
all over Mexico - take a look at the annual gold jewelry trade show
sometime... more and more genuine colored stones, pearls, and
diamonds - something that was extremely rare a few years back. They
too, are pulling designs off of the Internet, and ordering items to
copy from sites.
Conclusion: think about what it really costs (Including your time to
make the trips to personally oversee the work) to make the item
overseas or across the border, evaluate your risks, and proceed
cautiously if you have a really nice design...
Also, be aware that any design you post to your site is fair game to
those who want to make a quick profit off of your blood, sweat, and
tears... especially if it can be cast or die struck fairly simply.
Intricate fabrications are usually safest.
"Made in USA," at least offers some small protection for all those
hours you invest in working out a design, and getting it ready to
market... but even here, you are looking at some big bucks to enforce
your copyright. Once it gets copied outside of the US, you might as
well move on to your next design.
Small runs of 10 to 50 exclusive pieces, can still be done
economically, faster, and a bit more securely right here at home.
Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School