A Tale of Two Rings – Hemmerle vs. Tiffany & Co.
ake a close look at these two rings. Do you see it? The differences to the untrained eye may seem subtle, so much so that someone might make the assumption that they were made by the same designer. But the truth is these rings come from two very different worlds, and the fact that the second exists is a problem.
The first ring is thoughtful, highly executed and tactile. The ring forgoes a traditional gold bezel, instead, the diamond has been set in hand wrought iron and the elegantly balanced white gold interior, with its champagne hue, has been cleverly arranged to embrace the faint colouring of the solitaire stone. The lines are straightforward and humble—it’s something any collector would dream to possess and wear with pride. A masterclass in design. This one-of-a-kind creation is by a family-run jeweller called Hemmerle.
Based out of Munich, Hemmerle has been pushing the boundaries of jewellery for four generations, and has been exhibited and inaugurated into numerous world-class museums.
Hemmerle old cut diamond signet ring.
Hemmerle blue sapphire signet ring.
If you were to take a look at this ring’s ancestry, you would discover it’s been a constant evolution. It has come to represent a decades long discussion about pushing the limits of minimalist design by integrating different materials, textures, and colours. What’s even more incredible is no two have ever been, nor will ever be, the same.
Tiffany's new ring collection.
Tiffany's New Collection
The second ring was recently launched by multi-billion dollar jeweller, Tiffany & Co., as part of its new men’s engagement collection. Its traditional bezel setting competes with its modern titanium and gleaming white platinum finishes. In addition, it will likely be produced en masse in a near blasphemous manner. What’s problematic about this ring design is that despite the probable millions spent on its creation and launch, it seems that there has been no evolution, no homage, and no respect paid to its genesis. To clarify, I’m not taking issue with the idea of a men’s engagement collection, a message I actually find exciting. My issue is with the physical design Tiffany’s new collection. For me It’s familiarity in scheme and balance is too close for comfort, and to hail it as new and innovative, as so many people are, is a grievance.
An antique Unger Bros. advertisement threatening legal action against wholesalers and retailers selling copies of their designs.
Keeping these rings in mind, let’s talk about the concept of an original idea. It’s challenging, and very few people have the ability or resources to come up with something one-hundred percent unique. So, if you struggle with original ideas, the next best thing is to ~take inspiration~ from someone else. This is something I fully understand, and would come to expect from anyone working in the design field.
However, the number one rule when using someone’s design as inspiration is that the concept is respected and expanded upon.
Not The First Time
This isn’t the first design controversy to have happened in the world of luxury. In 1994, Yves Saint Laurent filed a lawsuit against American designer Ralph Lauren in a French court over the Tuxedo dress. Originally designed by Mr. Laurent in 1966, he re-showed the look for his Fall/Winter collection of 91/92. Shortly after, Lauren’s copy appeared on the pages of a French fashion magazine, and 123 of them would be sold before they were pulled from the racks.
The Yves Saint Laurent Tuxedo dress.
The Ralph Lauren Tuxedo dress.
So my questions are: why would a jeweller, with an endless amount of resources, who thrives on collaborating with named designers, and works tirelessly to protect those designs and trademarks, wade into the world of corporate copycat? And why are people rushing to glorify a design which isn’t original, instead of calling it out for what it is?
I’ve been noticing a trend happening in the jewellery industry; one I find alarming and disheartening. Increasingly, some big name jewellers are turning away from innovation and towards living off of their past glories, regurgitating archive designs, or not putting the time into making a “new and innovative” concept truly their own. To add insult to injury, the press and public figures who may have given credit where it was due in the past, will simply turn a blind eye to these transgressions and present the consumer with an idealized concept from the perpetrator, all because of the marketing dollars spent by their advertisers.
The result is an entire collection of designers and innovators being overlooked and marginalized, despite the countless hours spent pursuing their passion of challenging the status quo, taking on more risk than any corporation would dare to, and all with far fewer resources.
1994 New York Times article documenting the ruling on Yves Saint Laurent Vs. Ralph Lauren.
Reflecting on the Past
I remember reading in The Cartier’s about a time when Jean-Jacques Cartier created a vanity case in Stainless Steel for his sister-in-law, a decision he would soon regret due the material’s manufacturing challenges. The case would end up costing Cartier London a lot more than it made them, however, Jean-Jacques stated that the challenge was worth the cost because he proved it was possible. This of course was when Cartier was still a family-owned company, but maybe it’s time for corporations to reflect on what had previously made them so great and embrace the old mantra of, “Never copy, only create.” Afterall, when a client is investing into a jewel they will covet, they deserve nothing but the best in design. Anything less is not only disrespectful to the client, but will be viewed as tasteless.
Turning back to 1994 and the case of Ralph Lauren vs. Yves Saint Laurent, the presiding judge previewed the two dresses in person commenting, “The Saint Laurent dress…I must say is more beautiful—though, of course, that will not influence my decision.” Despite recognizing slight differences in construction and materials, she would ultimately call these discrepancies an attempt to cover up the plagiarism which had taken place, and rule in YSL’s favor. She decreed, “The tuxedo dress belongs to the artistic patrimony of the house of Saint Laurent. It’s a unique original and thus cannot legally be copied by anyone else,” and would award Saint Laurent $350,000 in damages. A small, but unprecedented win for the world of design. As you can see, excellent design will always reign supreme.
My Open Letter
To the consumer: I believe your dollar will be stronger, more respected, and cherished at a family firm like Hemmerle, or with one of the other many passionate individuals you will read about here. With a little bit of research you will find a bounty of design excellence, and the artists you discover will be grateful for your patronage. If you are ever at a loss for direction, I invite you to contact me, I’ll ensure your dreams come true and show you what this industry can really accomplish.
To designers of all crafts and creeds: remember your unique perspective has value, and with it you can change the world, so let your passion shine. Challenge yourself and think critically. It may not always be the easiest path, but it will always be the most fruitful.