Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Counterfeit Watch Market and How to Spot a Fake

Since the technological revolution in Asia in the late 1970’s, counterfeiting has become a very profitable and lucrative business. Nearly everything that can be counterfeited, has been. From medication, to electronics, to designer handbags, to toothpaste, to watches. Millions of dollars of counterfeit goods are confiscated each year and an even greater number pass under government and police radar. The counterfeit watch industry alone is valued at several hundred million dollars annually. Swiss customs estimates that 30-40 million counterfeit watches are put into circulation each year compared to 25 million genuine watches. The lure of fast, easy money, driven by the demand for such products, has created an environment where the counterfeit industry can flourish. It may be tempting for consumers to purchase a knock off Rolex or Cartier watch for a fraction of the cost of the real thing; however, there are major drawbacks to owning and purchasing counterfeit watches.

There is little to no quality control in the counterfeit industry; therefore, counterfeit watches vary greatly in quality. A fake Rolex can range in price from $5 to $1,000 dollars. Counterfeiters can make large amounts of profit using cheap materials and labor. Watches that are made extremely cheaply can then be sold for a few hundred dollars at an incredible profit to the manufacturer. The counterfeit industry does not answer to any higher government oversight or regulations. There are little to no health and safety regulations or adherence to labor laws. Because of the generally low quality of these watches, they only last an average of 2-3 years. A fake Rolex that costs almost $1,000, may look almost like the real thing and may seem like a great deal until you realize that the watch will come with no warranties, probably no proof of purchase, and the manufacturer will not stand behind its product. If the watch was to break the day after it was purchased, there would be nothing that could be done.

Because counterfeit watches can vary so greatly in quality, it is not always extremely easy to pick out a fake. Boxes, papers, and serial numbers can all be faked. There are some simple things, however, that can tip you off right away. Follow your instincts. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Even the most cut throat discount dealers rarely mark luxury watch merchandise below 50% of retail. Buying a watch on a street corner or in a an area known for selling counterfeit merchandise is another easy tip off. When possible, always buy from a known and reputable dealer and have your purchase independently authenticated by a third party. Research the make and model of the watch you are looking to purchase. Check that the watch in question has all of the correct features, and none added. Check the fine details such as the clarity of the logo and check that the style of the hands and case back match the model. Most quality luxury watches are made with scratch resistant crystal or sapphire faces. Test the weight of the watch. Materials that fine watches are typically made of such as gold, stainless steel, or titanium, are heavy or have weight to them. If the watch feels suspiciously light it may be a counterfeit.

The counterfeit watch industry has grown into a large and very profitable, yet highly illegal business. And there are major drawbacks to purchasing counterfeit watches. Counterfeit goods infringe on federally registered copyright or trademark laws. Selling or manufacturing counterfeit watches or other goods can lead to heavy fines and jail time. When in the market for a new watch, it is always best to buy genuine. As a consumer, do your research, know the features of the model you are looking to purchase, test the weight, check the fine details, buy from reputable dealers, and whenever possible have the watch verified by a third party.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why is My Jewelry Not Worth What I Thought It Was?

Throughout the jewelry and gold buying industry, customers are often disappointed by the quote they receive when they bring in items for resale. There are several reasons that you may find yourself in a situation where your jewelry or precious metals are being quoted at a much lower value than expected.

In most cases jewelry and gold buyers are paying only for the value of the gold or precious metal in a piece. When someone purchases a new diamond ring, for example, the price includes the retail markup, craftsmanship, design, gemstones, and possibly a premium for a brand name. When you go to resell your jewelry, all of these factors that drive up the cost on the original purchase are negligible. There may be some exceptions when a piece becomes more valuable for resale as a jewelry item than it’s weight in gold. Maybe the piece has an exceptional stone or it’s brand name makes it more saleable. However, for the most part, the value of a piece will be determined by it’s weight in gold, silver, or platinum as determined by the market price and the percentage of that price that the establishment pays out. Because you are selling to another business, that also needs to turn a profit, they will only pay a percentage of the full spot price. It is also important to consider that the business you are selling to may not be the end destination for your gold or jewelry. In this case, the business will also only be making a percentage of the market spot value when they melt it down and sell it . Therefore, you will never receive what you originally paid nor will you receive the full spot gold, silver, or platinum price.

Another type of jewelry that you may come across is gold plated or gold filled jewelry. Customers may bring in jewelry that they believe to be, or have been told, is gold. When tested however, the jewelry turns out to be only plated. This means that a thin layer or gold or silver was applied to a less valuable metal such as copper. Gold filled or rolled gold jewelry involves the bonding of a layer of gold to a base metal (usually brass). The quality and value of gold filled jewelry is determined by the FTC. Look for these markings on your jewelry items to indicate gold plated of gold filled jewelry.
• GF- Gold Filled
• GP- Gold Plated
• RGP- Rolled Gold Plated
• RP- Rolled Plated
• Gold Counterfeits: 999, 999 Gold, or 999 Solid Gold
• HE- Heavy Gold Plated
• 1/10 or 1/10 GF - 10k Gold Filled
• 1/20- Gold Filled
• EP- Electroplated

All jewelry must be marked so that the quality of the metal used is known. In North America, jewelry is usually stamped with it’s karat grade. Since pure gold is usually too soft to be used in jewelry making, most gold jewelry contains only a percentage of pure gold. A karat is the measurement of gold present in the metal (14kt gold is only 58.33% pure gold, 24kt gold ranges for 99.0% to 99.9% pure gold). Occasionally, jewelry will be marked with an incorrect karat stamp. As a general rule, always look for the karat stamp along with the manufacturer’s trademark. This shows that the manufacturer stands behind the product and quality. Federal Law in Canada and the United States requires that a manufacturer stamp be present whenever a karat stamp is used. If the jewelry is unmarked it is probably of low value and quality. If you are unsure of the quality of metal, you should bring your jewelry to a local jewelry store or pawn shop and have it tested.

While it is important to have realistic expectations when selling your gold or jewelry, it is also important to be informed. Sell to a company that is reputable and that specializes in the jewelry and gold buying industry. If you are unhappy with your quote, shop around to be sure that you are getting the most compensation possible for your items.

Fine Art Prints: Consumer Awareness

Changing technology within the art market has given rise to confusion about the value of art prints, editions, and reproductions and what the difference is between them. It is important for the art consumer and general public to become informed about the drawbacks, fraud, and misrepresentation that are rampant in the business and to become more educated about the industry and their rights as art consumers.

We have come a long way in the past few hundred years with the advancement of printing technology, to the point where anyone with the right equipment (such as a camera, scanner and printer) can create an attractive reproduction of an original work of art. Historically, fine art prints were all created by hand using traditional printing methods, such as etching or lithography, either by the artist or by an artisan with the artist’s supervision and/or authorization. These traditional methods involved creating an image on a stone or metal plate, followed by making a series of impressions of the image onto a substrate until the plate degraded from use. These print editions were truly limited due to the nature of the printing process, and were typically hand signed and numbered by the artist in pencil. When the edition was completed, the printing plates were destroyed. Many ethical issues have arisen as the traditional means of fine art printmaking such as lithography, serigraphy, and etching have become confused with modern mechanical printing processes such as giclées and photo reproductions. With today’s technology, artists and printers are able to make inexpensive reproductions of an original artwork like never before, which can be to an artist and art buyer’s advantage or disadvantage. One could easily mass-produce thousands of copies an hour, creating a low-cost way for a consumer to own a work of art. But often times, these low value reproductions, that are little more than posters, may then be labeled and sold as “limited edition prints” for far more than their actual value. Many reproductions have actually been made without artist consent or knowledge. Printers may increase the size of editions by creating unauthorized prints, often re-titling them “American” or “European” editions, or by changing the numbering. In some cases, entire editions have been forged.

It is important for the collector or art consumer to become educated about the multiples industry. Learn the reputation of the gallery or source you are purchasing the multiple from. Some art suppliers and galleries have a reputation for selling fraudulent artworks and/or grossly over pricing them. Know that it is a conflict of interest for a certificate of authenticity to be issued by the same company that you are buying the work from, so it may be suspect. Ask about the printing process used, where the art was made and if the artist was still living when the multiple was created. Look for the artists signature, in pencil, outside of the printing area or in the printing plate itself. If possible, have the signature authenticated by an expert, especially with more notable artists like Picasso and Dali. Often times an estate of a deceased artist will make special print editions authorized only by the estate, these usually display a seal and/or signature by the estate and are fully authorized even though the artist themselves did not have a hand in the printing process. Many states in the U.S. have know enacted “Multiples Laws” to protect the consumer from fraud. The State of California, for example, has created a long list of information that the art dealer or distributor must provide the consumer before the purchase or sale of a multiple.

Purchasing Original Prints and Fine Art Reproductions is a great way to bring beautiful and affordable art into your home and can be a great investment. As the art market is always changing, there is never any real guarantee that a reproduction or even an original piece of art will appreciate in value, or even remain the same value as when purchased. Invest wisely. Do your research, know your rights, check on your state laws, and purchase art because you love the work and not just because someone told you that one day it will be worth millions.


Original Print: A work of art created by hand and printed by hand, either by the artist or a professional assistant (often called an artisan) from a plate, block, stone or stencil that has been hand created by the artist. The plates or stencils the art is printed from bear no resemblance to the finished work of art, which means it is not a copy or reproduction of anything.

Fine Art Reproduction: A mechanical technique for the making of multiple impressions of images for mass distribution. These prints are typically photographs of paintings or original prints, are printed on a wide variety of surfaces and range in quality and price depending on factors such as materials, publisher and availability. Some knowledge may be required to distinguish between these and original prints and the marketing by the art trade can be deceptive, often misrepresenting them as having investment potential. This printing method has reduced production costs, making the image considerably lower in value than an original print.

Limited Edition: A general term that can be applied to both Original Prints and Fine Art Reproductions. It is a print from a predetermined number of impressions made from a plate, stone, screen or photomechanical method, after which no more impressions are to be taken and the plate, screen, etc is then destroyed. These are usually signed and numbered by the artist.

Open Edition: An edition where images will keep getting reproduced over and over again as long as there are people to buy them, especially with Fine Art Reproductions (ie: Posters). In the case of Original Prints, the edition is only limited by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate or stencil degrades. These images may be signed by the artist, but they are not numbered.

Lithography: This printing method was invented in Germany in the late 1700’s by writer, Alois Senefelder. An Original Lithograph print is made through a technique in which an image is drawn by the artist or artisan on a lithographic stone or metal plate, then images areas are chemically treated to accept ink and repel water, while non-image areas repel ink and retain water. One plate must be drawn for each color in the finished print, and all plates are separately impressed onto the substrate to create a final image, which is the reverse of the image on the plate. This technique quickly grew in popularity and is still in use today as a way to create multiples. The lithographic process can also be used to make fine art reproductions, but the process involves photographing an original artwork and transferring the color separation to photosensitive lithographic plates. These reproductions are usually called posters.

Serigraph: Serigraphy is another form of printmaking also known as silk screening. Photographic processes are used to block out areas of a porous screen. When ink is applied only those areas that have not been blocked out will be printed. As in lithography, each color must be applied using a separate screen. As serigraphy uses a heavier layer of ink in creating prints, it is a very durable form of printing, yielding colors that are richer and more fade resistant than most other forms of printing.

Giclée: A fairly new print reproduction process, done through the use of a digital printer, of creating high quality fine art prints that achieve results much closer to the true colors of the original artwork. Artwork for these prints may actually be created on the computer or on paper then scanned into a computer. Giclée comes from the French term “to spray.” Giclées are produced on inkjet printers that use Light Light Black, Light Black, Black, Cyan, Light Cyan, Magenta, Light Magenta, and Yellow inks, rather than traditional ink jet printers that combine only Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black to achieve different and more exact colors. Because there is less ink applied to the substrate (ie: paper or canvas) compared to a serigraph, using this giclée method is felt by many to be a less durable and fade resistant form of printing, therefore more precautions need to be taken when handling, storing and displaying a giclée. After the giclée is printed, artists may hand-embellish them with texture gels to simulate brushstrokes, making them even more like the original work, or they may choose to add more paint texture on top of the print to make it its own individual work. In a mass-production setting, artisans will hand-embellish the giclée, but in many case the images will not be as true to the original art.