What would Jesus do? Probably not wear a lead WWJD cube necklace from a Pacific Rim jewelry manufacturer.
But a two-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee, boy who did contracted lead poisoning, prompting the Tennessee Department of Health to issue a warning about the necklaces. On September 30, Kmart pulled WWJD $2.99-$3.99 necklaces, pendants, and crosses from 2,000 stores. Wal-Mart removed its $2.97 costume jewelry from 700 stores.
Diane Denton, spokesperson for the Tennessee health department, says the boy had worn the necklace only a dozen times over a two-month period—while in church. But by putting the necklace in his mouth, Denton says, the lead content in his blood rose to four times higher than safe levels.
Denton says the problem stems only from Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese necklaces. The department notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which could order a recall. The grades of pewter most frequently used by the overseas manufacturers contain 65 to 80 percent lead.
Family Christian Stores, the largest Christian chain with 270 shops, does not sell the imports. "We've contacted each vendor and verified that all the products meet U.S. government standards," senior gift buyer Michael Hupp told CT.
Family teamed with Bob Siemon Designs of Santa Ana, California, to make the original WWJD cube jewelry. Siemon's products use 92 percent pewter, enough to be considered lead-free. "Quality isn't an accident," Siemon says.
His firm, which includes 325 employees in an 80,000-square-foot plant, has produced 4 million WWJD pieces of jewelry in the past year. The necklaces retail for $3.50 and are available in 6,000 Christian stores.
Siemon began making jewelry in 1970 as a 19-year-old college art student. As a newly born-again Christian, he vowed to reach the world with a message on jewelry that did not fall apart like the cheap products that characterized the industry at the time.
The WWJD phenomenon (CT, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 75) seemed to be an answer to prayer. Siemon tried to copyright the slogan but legally could not. Nevertheless, he carved out cubes to make a unique necklace.
In Asia, a manufacturer copied and modified his design and began selling the products to U.S. mass merchandisers. "They took a wonderful concept and plagiarized it," Siemon told CT. "They did the opposite of what Jesus would do."
Even though his company's sales have fallen markedly because of the lead scare, Siemon is glad the markets have been closed to copycats.
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