No doubts about it, Japan enjoys the most active silver culture of anywhere on the planet. That is not to say that it produces the best silver, but it certainly consumes the best the world has to offer in such enormous quantities that you cannot blame the worlds designers for seeing it as their primary market. You can wander around Harajuku and find the legends of USA, UK, European and ethnic silver all within about 1000 metres of each other. And on top of all that you can find a vast array of Japanese home grown talent that in turn, due to the concentration of inspiration available to them, produces some truly amazing and innovative silver. Where else in the world are there monthly magazines solely devoted to silver? It truly is a silver maniacs paradise, but with a bit of a downside.
Such is the demand for silver and popularization of mostly American brands in the fashion media that certain brands – namely Chrome Hearts, Gabor, BWL, Travis Walker – the big names of US silver, have become the victims of an avalanche of East Asian produced copies. Partly due to demand but also by the fact that by the time you slap on the luxury goods import tax foreign silver become ludicrously prohibitively expensive. You think that Chrome Hearts is crazily overpriced in dollars? Wait till you get to Japan and virtually DOUBLE that price…
The issue of out and out copying is a fairly easy one to take a side on and is obviously a huge problem for artists the world over. I would really recommend people have a read through and search the Silver Anarchy forum for any questions and information on fakes and indubitable items on the internet and auction sites.
However the really problematic issue for me in Japanese silver is where a design has clearly taken a huge and reverent amount of inspiration from another brand:
Now I won’t insult you by pointing out which is the real Chrome Hearts piece on the top of the above image, but the other one is a ring from Fuga. Now they have not carbon copied it, but it has taken a bit of a liberty, no doubts about it. The images at the bottom are slightly more disparate – the one the left is a Share One’s Fate design and on the right is an old Gabor piece. SOF has always been clear that he was massively inspired by Gabor and I feel that he has been successful in bringing his own identity to the foundations laid by the master.
My take on the situation is that some designs have become so iconic in Japanese popular culture that their origin is assumed in the fashion consciouses’ consciousness. In this way it does not matter that Random rips off Crazy Pig Designs’ evil skull ring as so long as they are adding something to the design they are respecting the original piece. In the same way as someone using a ubiquitous piece of art as inspiration is not guilty of copying the original because they are not claiming it as their own, taking inspiration from a classic piece of biker silver is like paying respect to a design that everyone not only already knows, but most importantly already knows WHO the original designer was. In some ways certain designs have become almost like a “signet ring” or a “cocktail ring” – fundamental forms in mainstream jewelery.
This is a topic so close to my heart that I really wish I could articulate my feelings better on it. Till then feel free to chime in with your own opinion.
As something of a conclusion – never buy fakes and don’t let anyone ignorant be suckered in. As for those who are inspired by iconic work, give them time to find their own style and keep the scene alive. Most importantly, remember how lucky you are if you in the privaleged position to own some of the original pieces that have inspired a whole new generation of silversmiths.