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To Catch a Thief

Jewel thieves are the world's most stylish criminals -- and Mike & Maaike are perhaps the world's most stylish jewel thieves.  Together they've "stolen" the Hope Diamond, the Golden Jubilee, the Great Chrysanthmum, Daisy Fellowes' Cartier "Tutti Frutti" demiparure, and Imelda Marcos' Van Cleef & Arpels ruby necklace, among others. 

But don't panic and lock up your family heirlooms yet.  The artists' "Stolen Jewels" line is an exercise in transformation, not literal appropriation.  Or, in their words,

an exploration of of tangible vs. virtual in relation to real and perceived value.  using google image search, we browsed through some of the most expensive and often famous jewelry in the world, the low-res images we found were stolen, doctored, then transfered to leather, creating a tangible new incarnation.  with the expense and intricacy of the jewels stripped away, their essence and visual intensity are extracted.

While the Queen may not abandon her Crown Jewels, Mike & Maaike's results are quite striking (and presumably less expensive to insure):

Great Chrysanthemum Diamond

Hope Diamond

Surely a mere copy of an image of the Hope Diamond doesn't carry a deadly curse -- but might Mike & Maaike's project nevertheless involve legal liability?

Jewelry designs are, of course, subject to copyright.  The Hope and Great Chrysanthemum diamonds, however, are notable not for their settings' originality but for the size and value of the stones, so they would be unlikely to qualify for protection.  Moreover, the Hope Diamond's current setting is old enough that even had it once qualified for copyright protection, the design might now be in the public domain.  So far, Mike & Maaike are in the clear.

The photos of the originals, however, might be copyrighted -- in which case Mike & Maaike's efforts could be considered unauthorized derivative works.  As a practical matter, however, the pictures have been so altered that it's hard to tell which of many images of these famous gems the artists' might have used -- even with Google searches as a clue.  Moreover, "Stolen Jewels" hardly interferes with any potential market for the photos.  So Mike & Maaike, even with their online "confession," can probably rest easy. 

And the rest of us can enjoy their work, currently on view at the Velvet da Vinci Gallery in San Francisco. 

(Via Angela Gunn -- who offers some amusing speculation about potential knockoffs -- and Oh Gizmo!  And while we're at it, let's not forget the Trademark Blog's prediction that our future includes a "Napster for jewelry....")