Caveat Emptor Revisited: See if Your Idea Has Already Been Done, and Then Do It Differently

When I have an assignment to write an article, I look up what was last written on the topic so I have a foundation to craft something different than has been written before. I wonder if jewelry designers do the same—research on what’s already been done so they don’t make the same thing someone else has already created. Based on my experience interviewing designers and attending shows and market previews of new lines, I am pretty sure that doesn’t always happen.

And I’m not the only one who witnesses this unpreparedness. A PR friend of mine from the West Coast has joked about the number of her clients—virtually every single one—who tell her that their designs are “groundbreaking and original, and never before seen in the industry.” I hear that a lot, too, in my market appointments and at trade shows, and we both have remarked how that is simply not so in almost every case. There is a sea of sameness in this industry that could be partly avoided, I think, if folks did a little more homework before investing in an idea, did some research by way of magazines and blogs, and maybe bounced some ideas off of others in the know.

About a year and a half ago, a high-end jewelry maker in New York City excitedly shared with me a “new” bracelet design, asking me if I had seen it. I replied, “Yes, I have. Six years ago at the Feninjer show in Brazil from a vendor exhibiting there,” and shared the link to my blog story about the bracelet (which was identical to this “new” design). It was an uncomfortable position to be in, but I had to be honest with the vendor, who makes gorgeous jewelry. This isn’t the only time this has happened. I’ve experienced similar scenarios throughout my 16 years at JCK.

Alternatively, there are some ideas that beg repeating. For example, I blogged about Jane Basch’s new Emoticon collection yesterday, and a vendor who unveiled one about six years ago reached out to remind me of theirs. I told them that I certainly remembered theirs and covered it at the time of its debut, but that “now there are a number of manufacturers who make them, and just because I like Jane’s versions doesn’t mean that I dislike anyone else’s or that I haven’t covered anyone else’s styles.” Plus, the other vendor’s Emoticon collection looks much different than Basch’s, and most importantly, it’s not their signature style, so I see this use of a popular motif as a trendy happenstance that many will address. (And new jewelry designer Alison Lou has even made emoticons the sole theme of her line, but since others have been making emo jewelry for years, I see no harm in continuing to cover new collections of them.) Trademarked ideas, of course, are another animal altogether and need to be respected.

There is lots of room in the market for similar looks (not everyone can buy into a coveted line, but enough designers are in business that retailers can get a familiar, though not knocked-off, collection). But ultimately, I think the more research one does before investing in projects, the more success of truly different styles becomes possible. Please do weigh in with your thoughts.

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