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Bend It Like Burton Or Pretend In A Pale, Reflected Light

Rumour had it that Elizabeth Taylor was obliged by her insurers to wear simulated diamond replicas of her trophy pieces on occasions for security reasons. Liz Taylor's tempestuous relationship with Richard Burton was legendary but so was their love and the fabled diamonds he gifted her. I simply cannot imagine him risking her fury by suggesting she put on her simulated diamonds whatever the occasion might have been.

Burton bought Taylor some legendary bling, including the famous Burton-Taylor diamond. More than their cost, the rocks Burton bought his lady love stood as enduring symbols. Symbols are strange things. They sometimes defy logic. The Liz Taylor-Richard Burton relationship was an almost constant high voltage, unstable melodrama. Yet the symbols Burton gave Taylor signified a permanence in their relationship. Long after both of them are gone, those symbols still stand.

The Burton-Taylor and indeed most of the jewellery associated with the two great actors would be way out of reach for most of the world. There are also a great many for whom those symbols don’t resonate the way they do with others. Still, these people still respect the fact that those symbols meant something to both Burton and Taylor — as well as proclaiming something to the world in general.

Some of those who don’t buy into the symbolism of a diamond could opt for symbols of their own choosing. Most of us are full of admiration for the success of Swaroski in so successfully promoting a brand essence and global presence that symbolises creativity, craftsmanship and artistic merit. Swarovski has presented a product with attributes and a symbolism of its own. Regardless of what gold, silver and diamonds stand for, Swarovski sells its own symbolism. I really admire them.

To come up with a product that you present as a copy of something else, however, is in my opinion, self-defeating. You are in effect stating that your target market consists of pretenders. And your symbolism is a hollow reflection of the original.

And if you want to move your simulant product up the perceived value chain and beyond the borders of its own market, what do you do? You have to resort to cheap shots at the other original product in order to break into the wider market.

The pretender marketplace surely does exist — there are plenty of people who set great store by appearances. I can imagine someone reclining on a sun-lounger by a sumptuous pool in Miami, Marbella or maybe Las Vegas, wearing a large simulant solitaire and matching ear-studs, confident that people will assume that as she can afford the luxurious hotel, the bling is real. It might not say much about the self-esteem of those people, but that market does exist!

So why, I wonder, does a company like Charles & Colvard choose to join the bandwagon of those belittling diamonds instead of striking boldly out on its own like Swarovski? The new chief executive of Charles & Colvard recently announced a strategy of positioning moissanite, the company’s flagship product, as an "ethical" alternative to natural diamonds.

An act so cynically and calculatingly opportunistic, that it sets a new low in marketing, one that seems to have taken its inspiration straight  from the Donald Trump school of “ethical” marketing practice! The theory seems to be that if you create enough noise and confusion and throw around bucket loads of dubious claims some of it will surely stick and you will reap the benefit.

Really? What sort of symbolism do we derive from the Forever One line of moissanite jewellery? Even that brand name hitches a ride on the famous A Diamond Is Forever that established the original firmly as a symbol of a relationship.

You don’t have to buy a million-dollar diamond to bend it like Burton. You can do it by choosing a symbol of your own. But that symbol has to stand in its own right. Buying a product whose chief boast is that it copies another is only for those who want to live in a pretend world that derives value from the rather pale reflection of something else.


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