Costco Wholesale is known for selling grocery and retail items. However, it seems that Costco engagement rings have become immensely popular of late because they are claimed to come from one of the most popular jewelry stores in the whole world, Tiffany’s.
Before you make the huge mistake of thinking that Costco’s Tiffany engagement rings come from the upscale New York jewelry store, you should know that these rings have diamonds placed on a silver shank and kept in place by six prongs – similar to what can be observed in a Tiffany engagement ring.
Costco is now facing a multimillion-dollar trademark suit filed by Tiffany. The company is trying to determine whether the Costco engagement ring has been associated with the famous New York jewelry store known for its signature blue boxes or if it’s just got its own style with the same name.
Costco rings have been sold for as much as $40,000 while the original ones from Tiffany & Co. merely begin at $11,000 and can reach truly exuberant rates. In 2011, the Costco website advertised a 6.5-karat engagement ring for the staggering price of $1 million. While typical Costco customers don’t have that kind of budget for a ring, it seems that some deals are simply too tempting to turn down.
Furthermore, it appears that there is a widespread assumption that a ring from Costco would come with a better-quality diamond than those advertised by prominent jewelry stores. According to 32-year-old insurance underwriter Julie Huezo from Olympia, Washington, her husband had purchased a $6,500 Costco ring for her in 2010. The Costco diamond was superior to those sold by other chain jewelry stores. Huezo said she didn’t care where the diamond came from, considering the price that had been paid for it.
However, not everybody is as enthused about the engagement rings Costco offers as Mrs. Huezo is. On the Weddingbee.com message board, there is a quite a popular thread regarding the Costco engagement rings. The vast majority of people said that they weren’t against the idea but not for them too.
Others said they loved the grocery items at Costco, but never actually bothered to look at their rings. They just might want to think again, since it is fairly possible that they could get essentially the same ring as those sold by top-rated jewelry stores at a significantly lower price.
Russell Shor, who is a senior industry analyst with Gemological Institute of America (GIA), perfectly assessed the situation by pointing out that a diamond is a diamond, regardless of the store it comes from. GIA is actually the leading authority in diamond rating and certification, so Mr. Shor can be regarded as an expert in this field.
He explained that if a discount store and a top jeweler both sell stones with the same specifications, they are essentially selling identical stones. The difference in the price range and market value is then set according to advertisement matters.
If a ring is purchased from Tiffany’s, it will always be perceived as being more valuable than if it had been purchased from Costco. While the rings are the same, the status of the New York jewelry store adds to the raw value of the one they sell.
Tiffany has a real reputation for its diamonds, said Shor. When you receive the ring in the famous blue box bearing the company logo, and you open it to find your diamond brought to you on a pillow, you need to be aware of the fact that you are paying for the experience, as well as the jewel.
Shor pointed out that there are people who are interested in simply purchasing the diamond, without taking part in the entire ritual carried out in upscale jewelry stores. While they constitute a far smaller target audience for jewelry stores, they remain significant to the development of financial goals in this industry.
Thus, they need to be provided with attractive alternatives. But is Costco jewelry a proper fit for this target audience? This remains a highly debatable matter as Costco’s reputation as a low-price retailer could even have a detrimental effect on the overall value of a jewelry item. Even being indirectly associated with anything cheap has the potential to make the price of jewelry plummet dramatically.
On the other hand, if the price of the jewelry item is attractive enough, it could be perceived as an irresistible offer. This could actually increase the perceived value of the jewel because people feel a special kind of pride when they can purchase an expensive item at a remarkably low price.
The nature of the effect that a store’s reputation has on the overall value of an item can be controlled by employing special advertisement techniques. In fact, this is the main issue that Tiffany’s took with Costco’s engagement rings.
The company said Costco is trying to cash in on its products using the Tiffany name. According to the initial complaint filed by Tiffany, the New York jewelry store claims that there are thousands of Costco members who believe they have actually purchased original Tiffany engagement rings because the advertisement campaign used for the Costco jewelry included the word “Tiffany,” which led to considerable confusion.
Costco responded to these claims by pointing out that “Tiffany” is a basic term for the kind of setting that was popularized in 1886 by Charles Tiffany. In fact, the term “Tiffany setting” can be found in the dictionary.
As for the Tiffany experience, it looks like Costco is barely able to imply it in regards to its products because what they offer is simply incomparable to what upscale jewelry stores do. The feeling of being in a Tiffany’s store simply cannot be replicated in a Costco retail store because it lacks its highly sophisticated nature.
Furthermore, the ring itself is sent to the buyer in a beige and red box, which is immensely inferior to Tiffany’s blue boxes. As for the quality of the customer service provided by Costco, it is notably poorer than that offered by upscale specialty stores. Costco does not re-size rings, nor do they do free cleanings, while Tiffany performs these services free of charge to its clients.
At the end of the day, your choice depends on the budget you have and just how much your fiancé is concerned with the store where she gets the ring from. Ultimately, the private value of a piece of jewelry is determined in relation to personal criteria.
In this case, the reputation of the retailer and the specifications of the stone will clearly contribute to the final evaluation of the jewel, but the proportion of their influence will be established according to the preferences of the owner.
In September 2015, this case was finally resolved, and it was proven that Costco Wholesale had willingly sold counterfeit Tiffany rings and therefore, must now pay damages to Tiffany & Co. for misleading customers.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain concluded that the evidence in the case was unable to prove that “Costco acted in good faith in adopting the Tiffany mark.” In spite of the fact that the term “Tiffany setting” is included in dictionaries, using it as an advertisement tool has clearly provided customers with confusing information about the products themselves.
Tiffany & Co. regarded this ruling as a significant victory because their brand relies heavily on their longstanding reputation. The company’s general council representative, Leigh Harlan, said: “We believe this decision further validates the strength and value of the Tiffany mark and reinforces our continuing efforts to protect the brand.”
It seems that Tiffany & Co. is not the only company to take issue with Costco’s grey-market production strategies. Major companies such as Calvin Klein or Omega have also had to defend their trademark products in similar cases.
The most important thing that customers are advised to take in from these cases is the fact that there is always a catch to the irresistible offers from stores like Costco Wholesale. Therefore, they are better of containing their initial enthusiasm towards the item and doing some research about the origin of the merchandise before hurrying to spend their money on it.
However, such instances are likely to occur again shortly because the immediate success of these offers that simply cannot be turned down is bound to outweigh the consequences. As long as a solid client base remains interested in such offers, they are likely to remain available on the market.
Therefore, the only foreseeable solution to this situation appears to be raising awareness towards the long-term consequences it might have. Unfortunately, enforcing such a strategy might take quite a long time, and its effects are likely to be outweighed by the following “irresistible” offers made by the likes of Costco Wholesale.
It remains to be seen what luxury items manufacturers will choose to do to defend their reputation in the future. Advertisement is a powerful means of influencing the general public, and since they are entitled to represent their products as best as possible, a surge in luxury commercials can be expected to follow. Moreover, such campaigns have high chances of being successful with the public because luxury has never actually gone out of style.
So, whether you care more about the specific characteristics of products you buy or the social impact of the company that produces them, doing your research before making a purchase remains the safest option available.
The Costco engagement rings case should be regarded as a cautionary tale for those looking to buy jewelry. The odds of being able to find Tiffany rings at Costco are predictably low, so when an offer seems too good to be true, it just might be because it comes with a notable catch.