Having worn the pearl bracelet purchased on my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Shanghai only once, I wasn’t sure how much I should invest to replace the broken clasp. Pearls were the suggested “best buy” of the area, and I had watched a demonstration on how the pearls are harvested. I truly thought I had purchased pearls of great value. Looking carefully at the strand, the jeweler smiled at me and asked, “What are they worth to you?”

Besides the monetary appraisal, how do I value the experience of picking out each pearl in the pearl factory? I even have a photo of the young girl stringing them for me. As the pearls are sentimental and one of my souvenirs from the trip, I paid for the clasp. I just didn’t put the pearls in the same category as the $5 “Rolex” watches purchased on the street for stocking stuffers.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so it’s been said. Modern technology has enabled reproduction of all types of art, music, jewelry, or clothing. In the past, only the very wealthy could own original works of art costing thousands of dollars, designer jewelry or clothing, or purchase whatever music they desired. Now, almost everyone can own at least a print of an original, a designer knock-off or imitation, or make their own copies of music and videos. Often, only a very experienced and educated consumer could tell the difference.

Years ago, when my family visited Washington, D.C., my teenage boys were excited to purchase designer sunglasses for $2, offered by a young entrepreneur. Barely finishing the sentence, “Wow, these are soooo cool,” the glasses broke, and the street merchant was nowhere to be seen.

The Internet has changed the pace at which consumers can identify trends and find available products anywhere in the world. On-line auctions and discount warehouses bring the products within financial reach. And many advertise “proof of authenticity,” making it extremely difficult to determine an original from a counterfeit. Some artists do, however, allow less expensive prints, limited editions, signed artists’ proofs, etc., to be marketed. While the original oil may be sold for $10,000, a limited edition may be $675. Different products for different buyers, they say, or a compromise for starving artists.

I’ve become very sensitive to trademarks, copyrights, and respecting the value of original pieces. I examine closely to see if the original artist or producer has authorized the sale of a less expensive duplication. Then I ask myself, “What’s it worth to me?” Sometimes it’s purely a financial decision; other times it’s an ethical one.

I’ve discovered that a clear conscience is priceless. AA!