The other day I got the following email: "I saw on your website that you make custom jewelry, which got me very excited. I found three rings that I really like, but unfortunately two of them are not for sale in the US. So I was hoping you could custom make them for me. I attached three pictures and I was wondering if you could tell me the prices for custom making these rings?"
Unfortunately in a world where everything is so readily available on the Internet, where the lines are blurred on ownership of ideas and artwork, and where anyone seems able to download just about everything for free (and seems to do it whether or not it is the right thing to do) this type of query is far too common. It's particularly prevalent in the jewelry community. For some reason jewelry is not considered art (granted it often isn't) so an anything goes attitude runs rampant both outside the jewelry community, and sometimes within it. So let me make a few things clear.
All jewelry designs acquire copyright protections the moment they are created (assuming they are original). An individual or company does NOT need to actually file any papers on copyright for their protection to be considered legal and intact, although if you plan to vigorously and legally protect your copyright it is better to do so. Copyright protection is different than patent protection. Patents can be obtained for unique new working elements in jewelry (unique clasps or hinged mechanisms) and it is a far more time consuming and expensive process than applying for copyright protection. People who violate copyright laws do so at risk of being sued and if they produce something in quantity that violates copyright they risk losing a lot of money. So when someone comes to me and asks me to copy another jeweler's design directly I can be sued.
More importantly, however (at least for me) is that it is quite simply the WRONG thing to do. Why would you trust a jeweler who is willing to wrongfully copy someone else's designs with: your own stones, to tell you the truth about the metal they are using, or to be honest with you about anything else?
Now understand that there are many jewelry designs out there that are not truly unique, whose history in some cases goes back over 4000 years, or are just truly so basic that just about everyone makes a version of them. In these cases the designs are pretty much in the public domain. But to take another designer's work and directly copy it is just not the right thing to do.