Coincidence or Copy? When is a Design Too Close?

August 29, 2013 Cheryl Kremkow Jewelry Trends Tags: , , , 31 Comments

If you pay much attention to jewelry trends, you’ll realize that there is a fine line between inspiration and knock off. There’s a whole lot of sincere flattery in this business. Circle Pendants, inside-outside hoops, Journey pendants, initials, hearts. Almost every line has  standard styles that aren’t original.

With classic designs like knots and snakes, designs go back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. And they were probably copying each other too.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of all the press for Khai Khai Jewelry, a fashionable new jewelry collection launched by Haim Medine, brother of influential fashion blogger Leandre Medine, the Man Repeller.

It’s a great looking line but it makes me a little uncomfortable because it’s high concept. And I’ve seen the concepts before.

His Shockwave Collection sure does look like the Heartbeat Collection by Delphine Leymarie.

Khai Khai Jewelry and Delphine LeymarieKhai Khai Jewelry Shockwave and Delphine Leymarie Heartbeat

His Kharakter Kollection with hashtag, @ symbol and exclamation point rings is cute, but reminds me of Wendy Brandes. And she’s been making designs like this since 2008.

Wendy Brandes and Khai Khai JewelryWendy Brandes and Khai Khai jewelry Hash Tag Rings

And the arrows, kites, moons and stars look kinda like collections from Finn. The starbursts remind me of H. Stern. Star rings are similar to Sydney Evan. Catbird’s alphabet rings, including ampersands, another Khai Khai motif, have been popular since 2011. A lot of designs in the collection look familiar. I know I’ve seen the open geometric shape rings but can’t remember where.

Star rings by Sydney Evan and Khai Khai Jewelry

Are they direct line-for-line copies? Definitely not.  And clearly some ideas are just in the air and many interpretations arise independently. And I have to admit if it was just one piece that was similar, I wouldn’t even think anything of it.  That’s how trends work: everyone suddenly does evil eyes and who did it first isn’t relevant.

But when Khai Khai’s bio says he has “single-handedly dragged the jewelry industry into the wit and whimsy of the 21st century,” I have to say, um, not so much.

Inspired by? Knock off? Homage?  Coincidence? What do you think? How close is too close?

(UPDATE: I removed a retailer name by request. There are plenty of nerves exposed here and I’m trying to talk about this stuff frankly without implying that this is an issue just for one company or one retailer.)

31 Comments

  1. iris 2 years Reply

    I was fascinated reading this thread, and thank you so much Cheryl for discussing this! we,the designers and makers face this issue all the time… unfortunately we cannot afford fighting the legal battles with every copy cat that come along (i tried once and lost a lot of money, and ended up simply discontinuing that specific design). we simply need to keep on our toes and keep evolving… that is all we can do unfortunately….

  2. Betsy 2 years Reply

    Cheryl,
    Thank you SO much for posting about this. It’s rare to find people who are willing to go against the trends and comment on the truth. I recently have seen a couple of khai khai’s pieces around and i just COULD NOT believe my eyes. I did some research about it and stumbled upon this article…His pieces are blatant copies of so many different designers out there, both contemporary and classic. I don’t think there was a single original piece in his collection or one that I couldn’t find done (better) by another designer. Just because his sister is leandra medine of man repeller, he is getting all of this free press while the people who he copied had already gotten it. He has absolutely no creative drive and it’s really sad to see this happening, no one has commented because i believe they’re all too afraid of his sister, so as a connoisseur in jewelry…thank you again!!
    Keep doing your blog, i love it!

  3. Cheryl 3 years Reply

    I found another Heartbeat necklace that is even more similar to Khai Khai’s version than Delphine’s. It’s by Diane Kordas on Net-a-Porter: http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/420131.

  4. John James 4 years Reply

    Most designers seek to produce products that sell.They may be idealistic at the beginning of there careers but the savagery of the market place soon shakes this out of them.Jewelry design is about picking up on the mood of culture and helping people create a identity for themselves with in it.Sadly 90% of the market want what there society desires only a little but better.If you design something that sells it will be copied that’s just the way it goes.

  5. Halle 4 years Reply

    What a great post. A great dialogue was started as well. More industry insiders should be discussing this topic as it does touch a nerve! Keep them coming!

  6. Caroline Bacher 4 years Reply

    An interesting topic and a great conversation. While the symbols are “common property” I do agree that the designs in which they are incorporated into are a little too similar for comfort. Shame on Khai Khai who is posing as a unique, high end designer–it’s soulless.

  7. Sarah 4 years Reply

    I noticed a number of years ago the bluenile reproduces items that designers make. The items in question are not necessarily originally, like the star, but it is interesting to see how they show up on bluenile after being offered by designers.

    Case in point a star necklace ny Dana Rebecca designs

    http://www.danarebeccadesigns.com/Julianne-Himiko-p316.html

    http://www.bluenile.com/mini-diamond-star-necklace-14k-white-gold_32392

  8. Gina Pankowski 4 years Reply

    Thank you Cheryl for starting this great conversation.My take on it is that Universal symbols, Pop Culture, trends all pass through our vission and as designers and makers our personal filters should be able to edit, twist and recreate our own inspired designs. We need to challenge ourselves to be the trend setters. Dive deeper into what you know and what you love and your originality will show.
    From my own learning and teaching experience I feel skills and experiences will free you to design original work. More than once a student has brought a picture of a piece of jewelry to class to say “I want to make this” I kind of love it then to put the tools in their hands for the first time and say “Try this”. Light bulbs start flashing and a new respect for the object is born. I feel a designers success will be short lived if all they can do is cut and paste, materialy or digitally.
    I agree with Andrew that if you’ve been copied it’s time to “move on and keep creating”. I’m an admitted jewelry addict and I feel we need to look away from our field to create something new or honestly give credit to our inspiration and make it your own with a twist.

  9. Kristy 4 years Reply

    It makes me want to throw up a little if that’s what Khai Khai is putting in his bio. To be fair, his style is definitely distinctive with the clean square outlines and straight forward pave. But original and witty? Please. While some of his age-old motifs are executed in original manners, there is barely a subject he touches that I find ground-breaking. Try harder. It makes me sick that his connections have propelled him straight into the press frenzy.

    However, I do think the stars are a case of coincidence. For both the plaintiff and defendant, star rings are not new concepts.

    There are many old ideas under the sun. But can we all try a lot harder to be creative and not straight copy paste what we see in the environment around us?

    My own personal frustration with “coincidence and copy is my Monsieur Stack Ring set http://kristylin.com/products-page/rings/monsieur-stack-ring-set/

    being diluted as the “Sir Thing Ring” on ModCloth.com http://www.modcloth.com/shop/rings-pins/sir-thing-ring#

    They have since changed the name from Chaplin Ring (which I had mentioned as inspiration). I have since seen the trickle-down effect of various versions of my original in Topshop, Accesorize, and Forever 21. My family and friends were actually the first ones to notice and send me pics.

    Now, I didn’t invent the idea of the old man face with hat, glasses, and mustache. And when I tell people (that aren’t friends and family) about the similarities I seem like a delusional small-town designer. But in my design process, I specifically picked that hat (I was going to do a top hat first) and those glasses (I was going to maybe do half-moon glasses) and the original Chaplin name put it over the edge.

    There are differences enough that I can probably say it’s inspiration and not downright plagiarism. But it’s just frustrating that people will have already seen some cheapened version of my idea in Forever 21 before they see the original thang.

    • Cheryl Kremkow 4 years Reply

      Kristy I do think the similarities to your very original design and the style you mentioned on Modcloth (and this stack style: http://www.modcloth.com/shop/rings-pins/mix-master-rings) are very suspicious. This is not a star ring, which several commenters have pointed out is not at all original.

  10. katrine 4 years Reply

    I personally feel like these pieces aren’t unique enough to really talk about copying… They probably are, but the symbols are too common, it’s like using the color blue or the same material, it’s everyone’s.

    Also the finished look really isn’t the same, it’s just similar symbols and even in the company I trained in 8 years ago we had a star piece… Then who copied that one? At the very least, the star is everyone’s.

    • Cheryl Kremkow 4 years Reply

      Agrees Katrine. The star is common property, like the snake. It probably wasn’t a good example for this article.

  11. Holly 4 years Reply

    To my eye, the Khai Khai “designs” are not much more than CAD monstrosities. Sorry. Look at Delphine Leymarie’s lovely sensual lines, the balance, the exquisite shift of the lines when viewed from different angles. Art is not the same as commerce. Not by a long shot.

    We see this all the time in amber, which because of the price point, is even more prone to derivative copies- and copies of copies. But these CAD widgets poppped lovelessly out of images harvested online, only with an eye towards sales sales sales- that’s just kind of sad. It looks like student work. Copying is always a way to learn in art, that is long established. The problem is the ease of technology as a way to crib it. And also a superficiality in the consumer.

  12. HelOnWheels 4 years Reply

    IMHO, Khai Khai’s designs are copy, not coincidence. His “Sun is Shining” charm looks A LOT like Wendy B’s Gloriana necklace. The question mark and exclamation point rings are very gaudy versions of Chao and Eero designs that they’ve been making for years as part of their “Signs” collection. Just because you slap a few diamonds on somebody else’s designs doesn’t make it your ideas. It’s disgusting.

  13. Jessica Giern 4 years Reply

    Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding!!!! These are the most obvious and universal designs. EVERYONE does them. You may as well have pulled circles and squares and the color red and been like “WHO COPIED WHO?!?!?!?!?!” Everyone does the same shit in that industry.

    • Laurent-Max 4 years Reply

      Right Jessica Giern,the above mention similarities are so world know topics,the same as the many squares and circles .One thing i like to mention is that i know the heartbeat design already more than 30 years ago.Than if i see all latest designs where we can see facet stones in all shapes and materials i’m getting very tired.If one student show me again such idea i’m getting mad.
      Where is the originality?
      They don’t follow a personal process, they look around on internet to see how fast they can belong to a certain group,just likes sheepes.Promoting themselves and waiting how much people will like their idea.Learning in a decent way and appropriate time your necessary skills is also a no no according many.Luckily their are still honest and moderate artist on this world,maybe not so popular ,but sincere and these i like!

  14. Andrew 4 years Reply

    Also, forgive the flaming here, but in the ‘JEWELRY’ business, its hard to consider a ring with a flat ampersand ‘jewelry’ its fun fashion and that’s great. It’s not like it’s a piece by Jose Hess who created a unique look, or a piece from Pedro Boregaard that is truly a work of art. No disrespect intended

  15. Andrew 4 years Reply

    Its all very good to lament the ‘copying’ of other artists work, but it goes much deeper than that. If you have ever shopped at Walmart, Target or bought anything made in China, then you are part of the problem too.
    People want to pay as little as possible for what they receive. Chances are the originals cost much less than the ‘designer’ item. Chances are that this company is in the business of knocking off and they proudly do it too. The buyers for the big chain stores don’t care. 99% of the end users don’t care. If you’ve ever chosen to pay less for something then you are part of the problem. I’m going to bet without even knowing that all of the Khai Khai items are at least 30% less and come with packaging. Its unfortunate, but it is what it is. The only ones who are upset and shocked by this are small independent designers or deep pocketed designers who have the resources to sue. The rest of us just need to move on and keep creating….

  16. Delphine 4 years Reply

    Wow indeed! I’d noticed the “inspiration” from my pieces, but I am stunned to see the breath of designers whose designs were simply copied. While I understand that designers can be inspired by similar topics or trends — after all, great minds think alike, and you can’t own an idea– this seems to be more of a definite “design” process for them. The part that really infuriates me is that they are able to use their press & fashion connections to spin their “collection” into something cool, new and fresh while it isn’t original, and also get into hot and trendy stores. So I find it dishonest on quite a few levels… I am definitely shelving the pavé version I already had in the works, there is no need for me to look like I am copying them now, and that is pretty sad. And thank you Sheryl and Monica for raising awareness on this copycat issue and being such great defenders of the many talents and originality of independent designers!

  17. Claire Baiz 4 years Reply

    One “similar design” could be chalked up to the concept of critical mass–but it looks like this a pattern of behavior–maybe even a business model. Buyers: put the kibosh on Khai Khai.

  18. Ruthie Cohen 4 years Reply

    Fortunately this is a topic that is covered with ALL of our students. We do not condone plagiarism in our school and have had to dismiss two in seven years because of that. There is enough of “too close for comfort” in the real jewelry world. I hope that if that is discouraged at the student level, maybe they will follow through when they are out in the jewelry world. We know of some schools where copying is encouraged. Yuck!

  19. Jennifer 4 years Reply

    I think it very telling that the originals are all individual artist and the copies are all one company!
    Shame on them for not coming up with their own ideas. I think this type of behavior should not be rewarded, but shunned.

  20. Evert P. Botha 4 years Reply

    It is shameful that someone would copy someone else’s design or intellectual property.

    • Drake White 4 years Reply

      Totally agree, I would never condone copying, regardless of what it is, however in that particular case the @ symbol and a star are so generic that you can hardly call it copying.

  21. WendyB 4 years Reply

    Wow — thanks for this. It’s a bit of a relief to see the other examples! As for me, obviously I did not invent the hashtag or the “at sign” or jewelry that uses that and/or other punctuation so I can’t complain when someone else makes jewelry like that too (as long as it is not a Topshop situation where the letters used my font too). My bigger problem is that I absolutely did pitch MY designs to press and stores — and been passed over — only to see the very same folks get very excited about this line months or years later. The best example is this one: http://wendybrandes.com/blog/2013/02/wwd-likes-social-media-jewelry-buy-yours-from-me/ My digital/social-media-inspired jewelry was pitched to the same writer months before, and, as you see, not in the story.

    You’re so right when you say “clearly some ideas are just in the air and many interpretations arise independently…” but, as you also point out, saying that this person “single-handedly dragged the jewelry industry into the wit and whimsy of the 21st century” is a laughable exaggeration.

  22. Cheryl Kremkow 4 years Reply

    Obviously the idea of a snake ring doesn’t belong to anyone. But Delphine’s heartbeat feels very original. So even though Khai Khai may be thinking earthquake and using pave, it does seem a bit too close for my comfort. Especially since Khai Khai is getting so much press for originality.

    • teddy 4 years Reply

      You’ve got to be kidding me if you thinking the idea of a heartbeat on a ring is in anyway original. Same for hashtags and ‘@’ symbols. These are hallmarks of trend and the times that I don’t think anyone can claim to own creatively unless they are actually changing them. Making a ring out of a heartbeat doesn’t change it. The real problem here is that people are creating incredibly generic and trendy jewelry. If you are inspired solely by trend, you must accept that there are 100’s of other designers that are also inspired by trend.

      • Les 4 years Reply

        Good on ya teddy. i am in complete agreement with you. none of these images come close to being original. if they did i would be sued every time i used the @ symbol in my email address. it is tragic that anyone could gain acclaim from using these images.

  23. Monica 4 years Reply

    Wow, I was just thinking about this! I saw Khai Khai’s debut on Moda Operandi and had this nagging feeling that I had seen the Shockwave before. Then a few weeks later I was sitting next to Delphine Leymarie at the WJA Gala and I realized where my uneasiness came from: she was wearing her heartbeat ring. And I wrote about Wendy’s rings in 2010.

    This is an ongoing issue when you see a lot of jewelry designs, there is definitely a very fine line between “inspiration” and “duplication.” (further complicating things is the fact that the shockwave/heartbeat jagged line is almost identical to the Twitter “activity” symbol)

    I have learned to trust my gut on these thing–if a design makes me uneasy, I try not to give it press time. But it’s hard to know. There should be enough inspiration to go around: as Kimberly McDonald recently tweeted: Respect yourself enough not to copy someone else’s work. How can the world understand your vision if you use someone else’s imagery?

    • Cheryl Kremkow 4 years Reply

      Unfortunately most of the consumer press doesn’t have the opportunity to see as much jewelry as you do Monica. They don’t have enough context to get that uneasy feeling.

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