A Spanish jewellery company endorsed by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars is under investigation over accusations it sold items it falsely claimed were made entirely of gold and silver.
Luxury goods maker TOUS, which sells its jewellery, handbags and accessories in more than 50 countries, is the subject of an inquiry launched by the National Court in Madrid, which investigates serious criminal cases.
The case stems from a complaint made by a consumers’ group alleging that some of the company’s products were “not entirely made of gold as indicated in its advertising”.
The criminal complaint was initially made to a court in Cordoba in southern Spain.
“The court in Cordoba decided that if the case was proven there may be victims across Spain, so it should be investigated by a national, not a local, court,” a spokesman for the court told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
TOUS, which is based near Barcelona, has denied the claims.
The company, which has more than 700 stores globally, is famous for its bear cub pendants in gold and silver, as shown off in a 2015 worldwide advertising campaign featuring Oscar-winning US actress Gywneth Paltrow.
But it was accused by Spanish consumers’ group Consujoya of selling jewellery it said was pure gold – but which in fact contained plastic.
“When a consumer buys a bear and pays over €400 ($440), do they know that it is mostly made of filling and not gold?” the consumer group posted in a statement on its Facebook page.
Rafael Valenzuela, of Consujoya, said after a series of complaints from consumers, his group bought two types of gold pendants made by TOUS, opened up the jewellery and found plastic inside.
The group accused TOUS of fraud, false documentation, misleading publicity and “corruption between individuals” – all charges the company denies.
It seems this case could have repercussions for the entire jewellery business
RUBEN SANCHEZ – FACUA
TOUS, which was founded in 1920, said in a statement that its products were certified by external laboratories “in accordance with the highest quality standards”.
Santiago Pedraz, the investigating judge, has summoned a TOUS manager and a representative of an independent company which assesses the quality of its products for questioning.
The company said it uses a process called electroforming, which uses an electrical current to mould jewellery of all shapes and sizes with pieces of greater volumes which at the same time are light and made without using welding.
TOUS added that in some cases the jewellery “could contain non-metallic cores to help it with stability”.
The statement added these products abided by legislation regulating precious metals and were always accompanied by a certificate which explains how they were made and guarantees that they contain pure gold or silver.
Giovanna Tagliania, secretary-general of the Spanish Association of Jewellers, Silversmiths and Watchmakers, told Al Jazeera that Spanish law allowed jewellery to be made using the process of electroforming.
“It does not imply fraud nor manipulation. It is a practice which allows companies to offer consumers products with a better design at an affordable price,” she said.
Under Spanish law, the investigating judge must first decide if there is a case of fraud to answer or not.
If the judge decides there is a case, then it will be sent to the criminal division of the National Court for trial at a later date.
Ruben Sanchez, vice president of Facua, another consumer action group, said: “What is at stake here is whether TOUS fooled customers by not stating clearly that this jewellery was made with products other than gold or silver. It seems this case could have repercussions for the entire jewellery business.”