In a time when technology is advancing at great speed, it’s increasingly important to be mindful of what you’re buying and to become familiar with the possible pitfalls. A charm is, more often than not, purchased to represent or memorialise someone or something special, so the last thing you want to discover is that it has been illegally copied, possibly even in a metal inferior to that it was advertised as.
Having been a collector and seller of charms for much of my life, I have encountered just about every hurdle possible. Early on as a retailer, I’ve unwittingly purchased both copied charms and charms described as sterling silver which turned out to be anything from base metal to pewter to plated brass. It can be an expensive mistake when it is not possible to return goods… companies or individuals who turn out to be selling counterfeit goods have a habit of vanishing!
Having worked with sterling silver jewellery myself, I can spot metal masquerading as sterling silver a mile off. However, the metal is only part of the problem as many original charms are copied in sterling silver. I now only deal with a handful of companies, all of whom make their own charms and I am very careful about who I’ll deal with when considering working with someone new. I ensure I’m purchasing either direct from the maker or their official distributor as this eliminates the risk of encountering the problems mentioned above.
There is an example I can share with you, which illustrates perfectly the problem which hardworking, talented charm and jewellery designers are regularly challenged with and the high number of customers who have received ‘rubbish’ in place of a genuine creation from the maker and rightful owner of the design.
Quite by accident, the designer and manufacturer of these charms (whose range I’ve proudly been selling for years) found this listing on eBay:
The pictures will tell the tale most effectively. Disappointingly, eBay will not assist, despite numerous attempts to have something done about it (emails to eBay, reporting the seller etc) ekeystrading01 are still selling these unauthorised counterfeit copies to unsuspecting shoppers. Requests to them to remove the listings and destroy the copies have been ignored. To date 133 of these poor copies have been sold to trusting charm buyers. Taking into account the good feedback, it would seem the buyers of the charms are unaware that they're illegal copies. These images show originals and their copies:
Another company whose charms I sell are also being copied by the same people:
It’s easy to see, when comparing them side by side, that the copies are lacking detail and definition. This is because they are not from the original mould, instead moulded from an existing charm. Sharp detail is only achievable from a well made pattern and an expert mould cutter. At each important stage there is a risk that the item can be ruined if skill is lacking and care is not taken, even before the casting is passed to the finisher who checks and polishes the perfect finished piece.
Charms began during the Victorian era, as a way for the wearer to carry a memento of somebody or something special. This makes every charm unique and precious, so it’s important to make sure you’re buying something lovingly crafted, rather than illegally copied and mass produced. This also goes for collectors, as a collector myself, I know how vital it is to ensure I am adding a genuine piece.
Online shopping is convenient and easy but the fundamental disadvantage, no matter what you’re buying, is that it does not enable you to feel and see the item in ‘real life’. With that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips and advice to help with purchasing charms online and avoiding being caught out…
Know who you’re purchasing from Take time to explore the website from which you’re planning to buy. There should be an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, answering questions you might want to ask. An About page should also give you a feel for the company and the people behind the scenes.
Where is the company physically located? This should be transparent. When shopping for anything, the first thing I look for is a company’s location city and where the product will be shipping from. There is no good reason to hide this from potential customers if a trader is legitimate.
Consider Buying Direct Take extra care when purchasing from online shopping venues (eBay, Amazon, Etsy etc) which host independent sellers. If you prefer to shop on the big shopping websites, take some extra time to get to know the seller if you’re not sure. As has been proved, eBay for one are not motivated to eliminate fraudulent activity.
Communicate Drop a seller a line if you’re unsure or nervous about purchasing online, store owners are usually glad to hear from potential customers and to answer questions.
Maker’s Marks Familiarise yourself with a maker’s mark, especially if you’re planning to collect their range. If a maker uses a company stamp, it will be on all of their charms. Some counterfeiters don’t even remove original marks before copying but it’s easy to see they’ve been copied, again due to the lack of definition/legibility. Both this and a missing mark are tell tale signs. If in doubt, please contact me and I’ll do my best to verify.
It’s worth mentioning that this article applies only to new charms. Vintage charms are another potential challenge and one which I will cover in another article. If you have anything to add or to ask, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
The following are images which the owner/maker of some of the pictured charms has been kind enough to share with me. They illustrate the work involved from initial idea and original sketches to finished pieces.