TOUS is coming under the microscope of the Spanish National Court in light of allegations of false advertising. The Madrid-based court has given the green light to an investigation into claims that the 100-year old Spanish jewelry, accessories and fashion company has marketed and sold items that it erroneously claimed were made entirely of 18 or 24 carat gold or silver, in a move initially prompted by the filing of a formal complaint by the Association of Consumers and Users of Jewelry, a Spanish consumer rights group, in 2018.
As first reported this week by Spanish publication El Mundo, National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz and prosecutor Joaquín González are expected to question a representative for TOUS, as well as an individual from Applus – the lab responsible for testing the quality of TOUS’ products before they are offered for sale – about the specific composition of TOUS’ jewelry. Of particular importance, according to the complaint, is whether the products that TOUS advertises as “gold” or “silver” – which it sells by way of its own stores and stockists like Bloomingdale’s – consist of non-metallic materials, and thus, whether such advertising runs afoul of Spanish law.
According to the Association of Consumers and Users of Jewelry’s 2018 complaint, it commissioned third-party analyses conducted by two different laboratories, both of which found that “non-metallic materials” were present in certain pieces of TOUS jewelry, despite the well-known company presenting that its jewelry was made of “18 and 24 carat [gold] or silver.”
The Association of Consumers and Users of Jewelry reported these findings to Spain’s Guardia Civil, which conducted its own analysis of the jewelry and “reached the same conclusions,” thereby, leading the law enforcement agency to file a complaint of its own with the National Court, citing potential violations of the “applicable regulations [in the] heavily regulated [jewelry] sector,” namely, the Spanish Ley de Metales Preciosos – or Precious Metals Law – which governs newly-crafted (i.e., non-antique) jewelry made from “platinum, gold and silver.”
In a statement this week, a rep for TOUS denied the allegations, asserting that all of its gold and silver jewelry is “always in line” with the law, including the Precious Metals Law, and consistently “meets all the global standards of precious metal certification.” Pointing to its reliance on “official laboratories” – i.e., labs that meet the requirements set forth by the Precious Metals Law – “that [ensure the compliance of its jewelry],” and its dedication to creating jewelry in “accordance with the highest quality standards,” TOUS noted that some of its products “could contain non-metallic cores to help provide it with stability.”
However, that is not necessarily problematic from a legal perspective, as Spanish law allows for the use of materials that give stability to jewelry, but only in certain cases and only when such use is clearly reflected in a product’s labeling and marketing. The same goes for jewelry that is plated in a precious metal. For instance, the law requires that “metal objects coated or plated with precious metals must be clearly referred to as ‘gold metal,’ ‘silver metal’ or ‘plated metal,’” and makes it a violation for companies to fail to distinguish “between objects of precious metal and those of low alloy or those coated with precious metals.”
Founded in 1920 by Salvador Tous Blavi and his wife Teresa Ponsa Mas as a small watch repair business, TOUS has evolved into a notable player in the jewelry market with 700 stores in 56 countries, and annual sales that topped $515 million as of 2018.