Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let the ring shine for you

When England’s Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton, he used the blue sapphire and diamond ring that had belonged to his mother, Princess Diana. The cost of that ring originally ran around 30,000 pounds.

It didn’t take long for those inspired by the ring to put a less-costly knockoff on their or their intended’s finger.

Almost immediately after the engagement was announced, a manufacturer in China began replicating the ring and selling it online for under 20 bucks. Of course, the replica doesn’t contain sapphires or diamonds. And the band on the finer versions of the replica is made of silver-coated copper. But still, for those who loved the design of the ring, it’s relatively cheap to put their fingers on one.

Few soon-to-be engaged couples are likely to find a Kate Middleton knockoff ring to be the jewelry that seals their marriage deal. But many might be inspired by the look of a ring they happen to see and like that is either too costly or not the just-right design.

When a reader and her fiance were shopping for engagement rings at a shopping mall, they found a setting they liked by an artist. It wasn’t, however, exactly what they were looking for. “We wanted a metal at a different price point,” my reader writes, “and we wanted a setting that would accommodate a different shape of stone.”

The couple didn’t know the name of the artist who designed the ring. “It didn’t occur to us at the time to try harder to find who he was” so he could do a custom design. Instead, they used his setting design as an inspiration, then made the changes they wanted and commissioed a local jeweler to make the ring for them.

Later, when she thought more about it, my reader began to feel badly about using the artist’s design as a jumping-off point for her engagement ring and having someone else make it. So she went back to the store in the shopping mall to see if the original setting was still there so she could try to find out who the artist was “to perhaps buy something else from him to make karmic amends.”

Alas, the ring was no longer for sale and neither was anything else from the artist.

“I feel solidly that it was not the ethical thing for us to do,” my reader writes, “and I would not do it again if I had a chance.” She asks: “Is there a point at which using an artist's design as ‘inspiration’ is OK, or is it just stealing?”

My reader is being too hard on herself. Sure, it would have been nice if she had tried to contact the artist whose design she originally liked to see if he might be able to design something inspired by that design but more to her liking.

But unless she and her fiance replicated the design exactly, no harm, no foul. Finding inspiration in a piece of art is far different from commissioning someone to make a cheaper exact knockoff of the original.

The right thing is for my reader and her husband to enjoy their rings and the design they came up with to reflect their new life together. If that shopping mall store ever does get in more jewelry from that original artist, good on them if they choose to buy a little something from him to reward him for inspiring them.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

1 comment:

William Jacobson said...

Jeffrey,

Picasso is quoted as stating "good artists imitate, great artists steal" but who know where he got that! ;)

Copyright law in this situation would protect against only a near complete copy of the design elements of the original ring. If, as your reader claims, she truly used the design as inspiration but made significant changes before the final, she is likely in the clear. The design elements were likely not designed by the creator of the first ring; they were, you guessed it, copied.

An engagement ring is hopefully something that will be worn for a lifetime, so by all means strive towards making it as perfect for you as you can. So long as you don't copy the ring as a whole, you are likely in karmaic balance, but if you like the designers work, by all means seek out and buy other pieces by the artist to "pay him back"

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

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