Sunday, August 7, 2011

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Sometimes, it's Rhodium.

It has been said, by a former Queen of England, I believe, that even "brass shines as fair to the ignorant as gold to the goldsmiths." But if you thought you were buying gold, you're not likely to be pleased to find out that it was really only brass with a nice shine.

In the competitive world of retail jewelry, shiny sells. And very few materials offer as much shine as Rhodium. So making jewelry shine - even gold, silver or platinum jewelry - sometimes means plating it with Rhodium. Unfortunately, much of this plating is a secret to consumers, as most retailers don't ever mention that the little gold or platinum ring you just purchased is actually plated in a metal you've likely never heard of. Most consumers find out when the Rhodium wears off and the jewelry loses its shine, or even changes color.

My firm, along with Baker Law PC, is currently pursuing claims against J.C. Penney Corporation, among others, for selling jewelry that is not as advertised. The case against J.C. Penney has been pending for several years, and involves a wide range of claims regarding the jewelry sold by J.C. Penney. You can take a look at the latest complaint here.

Many of the claims in the lawsuit against J.C. Penney are based upon the Federal Trade Commission's Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries. The Federal Trade Commission issues guidelines for the jewelry industry intended to prevent deceptive advertising. For example, the FTC says:

"It is unfair or deceptive to misrepresent the type, kind, grade, quality, quantity, metallic content, size, weight, cut, color, character, treatment, substance, durability, serviceability, origin, price, value, preparation, production, manufacture, distribution, or any other material aspect of an industry product."

The FTC has some guidelines about fine print, too. Let's just say they frown on it. If you are going to brag about the brilliance and size of your gemstones using giant, bold-face letters, then you'd better use the same giant, bold-face letters to tell consumers that the gemstones are man-made and not natural. Take a look at the FTC Guides here.

The rules are not terribly burdensome, and are really just common sense. Mostly, they ask that retailers not lie about the jewelry they sell. If it is plated in Rhodium, say so right there in the ad. If that sapphire or ruby is made in a lab and not by Mother Nature, put that in the ad too. If you are using shiny metal to make a ring look like it has dozens of diamonds when it really only has one, or none, make that as clear as your sale prices. Even if brass looks as good to the ignorant as gold to goldsmiths, they are not the same. Don't use advertising to trick consumers into thinking they are getting something they are not. It's really that simple.

Iron ore cannot be made into gold, or so said Mark Twain. Neither can Rhodium.

We are actively pursuing false advertising claims against jewelry retailers, particularly those selling in Alabama and California. If you or someone you know has purchased jewelry from J.C. Penney or another jewelry retail outlet in the past four years, contact my office by email ( or toll free at (888/714.7199). I will be glad to help you evaluate whether you were tricked by slick advertising, or actually got what you paid for.



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