Faux jewelry is hot, even among the wealthy

FABULOUS FAKES

December 19, 1991|By Elinor J. Brecher | Elinor J. Brecher,Knight-Ridder News Service

Miami -- If all that glitters is not gold, you can bet that a whole lot of what sparkles isn't diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds, either -- especially in these recessionary times.

When it comes to flashy gems, "faux" is no longer "pas." Paste is anything but passe.

Just ask Nat Hyman, 28, founder N. Landau Hyman Jewels in Boca Raton, Fla..

Four years ago, the former real estate developer and architect from Allentown, Pa., opened his first boutique on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. As fast as the economy slid down the tubes, he says, his sales climbed through the roof. Now he's got 11 stores from coast to coast, with annual sales topping $4 million.

Mr. Hyman and other high-end costume jewelers such as Ciro, the 74-year-old British company now based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Impostors, the San Francisco-based chain; and Kenneth Jay Lane of New York, all report booming business.

It's no wonder. At Tiffany -- the company opened its first Florida store in Palm Beach Thursday -- Paloma Picasso's "chain reaction" 16-inch hammered gold necklace costs $16,000. At Hyman's, it's $149. Her 18-karat gold "love and kisses" pin is $480. It's $40 at Impostors stores.

Ciro's five-carat tennis bracelet in 14-karat yellow gold and Cirolite -- the company's brand of cubic zirconia -- is $695. The real thing at Mayor's can top $7,000.

A genuine, 16-inch, hand-knotted South Seas pearl necklace with 16mm pearls and a diamond clasp would cost about $500,000 to buy and $9,000 a year to insure. The Hyman version is $389.

The trick to fooling people -- and store clerks say that's the clear intent of most customers -- is to mix the fake with the genuine. But not everyone is interested in deception.

"Some of it is meant to look like real, but it's also playful, there are interesting designs, good feel, nice shapes. People like it because it's fun," says Keith Johnson, jewelry merchandise assistant at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bal Harbor.

Faux is so hot, says Mr. Johnson, that he can hardly fill the demand.

"I can't keep Swarovski in the store. I put it out, it's gone. Cubics are doing extremely well. You name it, it goes."

Retailers say wealthy women generally buy "serious" fakes for travel and public appearances, so if they get lost or stolen, it's no big deal. Likewise if they get bored.

"You can put it in a drawer and not have the burden of knowing you made a huge investment," says Mr. Hyman. "What's more, it doesn't include the extra cost of the new luxury tax and high insurance rates."

Spokesmen for the companies say their best customers are people who can easily afford real. "But they don't want it," says Mr. Hyman. "Their egos don't need to know it's real. When someone says, 'I wouldn't have fake,' it's because they can't afford the real anyway. The people who shop with us could care less."

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