HONG KONG — Luxury purchases are often carefully weighed; decisions that typically occur as the culmination of a journey into a brand’s story, as the luxury houses like to say. For the sake of client education and ultimately conversion, houses have become more transparent, lifting the veil, at least partially to clients from hosting workshops and private events to providing thorough service before and after sales.
Counterfeiters, however, can exploit these efforts for quality customer service. In a first, Compagnie Financière Richemont SA revealed that it uncovered instances of counterfeiters phoning its client services, garnering painstaking detail about products with the goal of replicating them.
On Dec. 20, Richemont won a permanent injunction against such a company: the Hong Kong-based Dynasty Jewelry Ltd. and two defendants Shelly Hui and Desmond Wong for infringing activities.
The luxury conglomerate lodged a complaint in Hong Kong’s high court alleging that Dynasty had created and sold over 100 pieces that copied the products of Richemont brands, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget and Cartier, utilizing that technique. Its activities included forging its brand name trademarks as well as copying signatures such as Cartier’s Love and Juste Un Clou motifs, and Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra Clover and Frivole series.
The equivalent retail prices of the genuine items would exceed 10 million Hong Kong dollars or $1.28 million, Richemont’s counsel, Anthony Tong of law firm Robin Bridge & John Liu, said.
WWD’s two e-mailed requests to Dynasty Jewelry for comment went unanswered. Dynasty’s web site describes itself as company founded in 1995, which annually manufactures over 100,000 jewelry pieces.
“What makes this case unusual is that the offenders called our client relations center directly to gather information on the products they planned to counterfeit. This is the first time we’ve come across such an approach,” Richemont said in a statement. “By its nature, the luxury industry demands levels of client experience that go above and beyond other sectors. Luxury customers quite rightly expect not just impeccable service, but in many cases significant detail about what they are buying.”
“Fortunately, highly trained, knowledgeable staff such as our Cartier colleagues in Hong Kong can distinguish between legitimate customer queries and suspicious inquiries. Our colleagues showed exemplary judgment in remaining professional while also raising the alarm internally. That was the key to us uncovering this infringement.”
A transcript of a recording used as evidence in court obtained by WWD showed one of Hui’s calls to Van Cleef & Arpels. In it, she launches into over a hundred questions regarding minute details — ranging from available colors to materials and size.
Throughout the conversation Hui offered various reasons for her many queries, telling the assistant on the line that she is helping to buy for her friends in mainland China, where the product is more expensive. At one point, Hui even stated, “I am afraid because there are so many counterfeits on the market.”
Midway through — in an effort to narrow down the questions — the assistant says, “Perhaps Ms. Hui, does your friend have any preference for a particular design?” and suggests viewing the brand web site.
Hui becomes testy and responds: “They asked me to check for them, they trust me, want me to buy for them. You don’t want to answer me?”
She added: “You think that I am very annoying?”
After answering 50 more of Hui’s questions, the assistant says, “Perhaps we can first inquire what does the customer want since we have too many products and we can’t cover them all at once.”
Hui takes offense once again, to which the assistant responds, “Ms. Hui, actually what you have asked covers almost all of the collections, and it’s quite a lot.”
At this point, Hui asks to be transferred to a supervisor to lodge a complaint against the assistant, and a manager takes the call.
Nicolas Bos, chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels, said, “We owe it to our customers to do everything we can to protect the heritage and integrity of the Van Cleef & Arpels maison, built on over a century of innovation, craftsmanship and care. In the past few years, we have redoubled efforts to stamp out unbranded copies of our iconic pieces, and we will continue to relentlessly pursue anyone who steals or unlawfully benefits from our precious designs.”
“A jewelery icon does not happen overnight,” Piaget ceo Chabi Nouri said. “It is achieved through a combination of heritage, authenticity, creativity and endurance — it involves the talent of a whole business. To steal the unique design of a jewel is not any more acceptable than to mark a fake product with a maison’s name. Piaget will not tolerate copies of its design treasures. Our successful action in the court of Hong Kong is just one illustration of our determination.”
The matter is not yet concluded, however. Richemont will be seeking “exemplary and additional damages for the flagrancy of the counterfeiting activities,” its counsel Tong said, although the proceeding is not expected to be seen before a judge in the next 12 months due to a busy court schedule.