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Tiffany’s blue boxes are red hot on the black market

February 6, 2014
February 6, 2014

Engagement season is in full swing, and so is the market for Tiffany boxes.

Yes, the little blue ones.

Deemed “an international symbol of style and sophistication” on the Tiffany & Co. website, the boxes fetch anywhere between $10 and $30 on sites from eBay to Etsy, depending on their age, size, and condition. Extra packaging like empty bags, pouches, drawstring purses, and white satin ribbons mean higher bids.

The listings, though, are usually prohibited. And the issue has been a sore spot between the luxury retailer and e-commerce sites.

Ebay’s official policy forbids the sale of “accessories or packaging without the accompanying product,” including boxes for branded items. According to the site’s guidelines, this policy is in place because sales of empty packaging may enable counterfeit and fraud. Meanwhile, Etsy’s policy mandates that every item for sale must be handmade, vintage, or a craft supply. Although empty luxury boxes meet none of those qualifications, Etsy does not explicitly forbid them, as eBay does.

On Tiffany’s end, web sales of empty boxes can be a cause for concern about trademark protection. Even the boxes themselves may be counterfeit, warns Tiffany’s spokesman Carson Glover. “We often find that the packaging sold on third- party sites is itself counterfeit,” he says. “The Tiffany Blue Box is a registered trademark and we rigorously enforce our trademarks and take action when warranted.”

Tiffany has already dragged eBay to court over counterfeits. In 2004, Tiffany sued eBay for aiding in violations of its trademark by enabling knockoff sales. The courts ultimately sided with eBay, ruling that the site can’t be held responsible for counterfeit sales unless they have specific knowledge of a fake. Nonetheless, eBay’s policy prohibiting sales of empty boxes and packaging does help keep the site out of further legal trouble.

So far there’s not enough awareness or reverence for the policy to put a definitive stop to the empty box listings. In the past two months, 19 listings labeled “Empty Tiffany Box,” were sold on eBay at an average price of $17.96. One recent purchase—of six empty blue boxes, two gift bags, and four white satin ribbons—closed at $95.00.

Ebay says its trust and safety department polices sales of empty boxes, asking users who violate their policy to remove their listings from the site. But with millions of listings to review, the department can’t catch every single empty box or otherwise offending item before it’s sold.

“We have keyword filters and monitoring tools in place to identify and remove listings that violate this policy,” says spokesman Ryan Moore. “In instances when a prohibited item may slip past these measures, every listing has a ‘report this item’ link allowing our community members to alert us to listings for our review and removal.”

On Jan. 15, eBay user Dominic Scicchitano sold his first empty Tiffany box. After 13 bids, it finally fetched $15.50. He got the idea to put the box on eBay after he sold an empty vintage gun box for over $100.

“People who collect are really the ones who like to have the box—they’ll find the jewelry, and they want it stored away in the original box,” says Scicchitano, who lives in Florida. “And there are probably some cheap guys out there who buy empty Tiffany boxes to make jewelry they give their girlfriends look more expensive.”

Scicchitano tried to sell an empty Rolex box twice, but eBay contacted him on both occasions and forced him to remove the listing.

“I don’t think people who make fake jewelry spend their time trying to shop for these boxes,” he says. “If I thought it was going to the underworld or something I really wouldn’t put it up there.”

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. 

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