Ex-Diamond Miners, Retail brands Join the Lab Grown Diamond Bandwagon

What’s common between the former CEO of Dominion Diamond Mines, former president of Russian diamond mining company Alrosa & former chairman of the World Diamond Mark Foundation? All run their own lab grown diamond brands today.

When last year the biggest name in mined diamonds, joined in the lab grown diamond rush, it sent ripples through the diamond industry. De Beers' Lightbox claims to sell “low-budget gems with mass-market appeal,” quoted by Vanessa Friedman in her New York Times article.

The rush to join lab grown diamond bandwagon is directly proportional to steadily growing number of customers who are demanding options when they walk in to jewellery stores (or browse for jewellery online). Lab grown diamonds – identical in every way to a mined diamond and indistinguishable without sophisticated equipment – has given diamond jewellers & retailers a legit choice to be offered to customers, giving them a price, size and quality option when choosing diamonds.

More recently, Signet-owned e-tailer James Allen launched a lab grown diamond collection. Days before Signet announced its lab grown diamond foray, Richline Group owned Gemvara, a site that primarily sells colored stones, began offering lab grown diamonds as an option for center and side stones.

The realization that consumer’s want best value for every dollar spent without compromising on quality or beauty, and if while doing this they can also contribute to saving natural resources & precious ecosystems, then it’s a deal breaker (rather a ‘dealcloser’!) for consumers today. ABN-Amro Bank predicted that this year will see increased pressure on natural diamonds from lab-grown diamonds. The bank says lab-grown diamonds are a game changer in the industry that will ultimately reduce demand for natural diamonds – even larger, better quality stones.

According to NPD’s Diamond Tracker, the turnover of the lab-grown stock is 11 months compared to 18 months for natural diamonds - that is a definite opportunity for jewellers/retailers to operate with a larger number of stones for the same money having a faster return period on their invested funds. Estimates suggest that the world’s 50 commercial mines would shrink to 14 by 2040 and there hasn’t been a major discovery of a diamond field for 20 years. With mined supply trimming in near future, today traditional diamond miners are grappling with declining prices for mined stones thanks to an oversupply over the past few years. [Source]

Meanwhile, newer lab grown diamond brands are finding their footing within the luxury space. Lab grown diamond jewellery is being worn on red carpets and by celebrities & even royalties (Meghan Markle!). The actress and entrepreneur, Nikki Reed’s Bayou with Love creates jewellery with lab grown diamonds and recycled gold. She describes lab grown diamonds as: “It’s a diamond that’s grown in a controlled environment from the tiny seeds of preexisting diamonds. In other words, they’re molecularly identical to mined diamonds, but you avoid the harmful environmental impacts that come with the more conventional process.”

Armed with experience from their diamond mining, distribution & comprehensive understanding of consumer habits, the newest lab grown diamond players are confident & aware of millennial psyche.

Earlier this year, jewelry manufacturer Frederick Goldman purchased lab-grown brand Love Earth to accelerate its entry into the business. Frederick Goldman CEO Jonathan Goldman said, “We have spent the past year studying how we would enter this business. Our purchase of the Love Earth brand has expedited those plans.” Dan Schneider, the founder of Love Earth and a former director at jewelry manufacturer Stuller, has joined Frederick Goldman as vice president of sales.

Andrey Zharkov, left the position of President at diamond mining company Alrosa and established lab grown diamond company called Ultra C. Zharkov, in an interview said, “Lab-grown diamonds will create an opportunity to buy polished goods for a wider audience. If previously the buyer could afford a 0.5-carat natural stone, now he will be able to buy a one-carat lab grown diamond. The consumer audience will expand. For jewelers, this is also a new opportunity - working in the segment of larger stones, as well as with colored diamonds at an affordable price.”

The businessman also hopes to spread the idea onto other traditional players in the industry. “Most of the lab-grown diamond producers in China, Israel, and the U.S. are technological companies, and they are newcomers to the diamond industry,” he says in another interview. “But I see a very high interest in lab-grown diamonds from the companies that have been big dealers and processors in natural diamonds.”

Ex-Dominion Patrick Evans’s company is producing lab grown stones in US location with access to cheap solar power. Based on his mining experience, Evans expects the supply of natural diamonds to have almost run dry by the middle of the century due to a lack of recent discoveries, a report claimed.

Jacques Panis, former president of Detroit-based watch brand Shinola, is helming New World Diamonds, another lab-grown diamond start-up. Speaking to Crains Detroit Business, Panis said, “We are very unique in that we are the mine to the market. We make product from the diamond seed to the rough diamond to cutting and polishing them to the finished jewelry. We own the entire diamond chain. That's important, because it keeps us very, very competitive in the marketplace and allows us to deliver immense value to the consumer and to ensure quality.”

Jewelry brand Âme, co-founded by Elinor Avni and diamond industry veteran and Moscow Diamond Bourse president Alex Popov, is also taking a multifaceted approach for its first retail store in L.A that offers four debut collections priced between $1,000 and $20,000. Popov said that the brand will be focused on creating fashionable jewelry (not bridal), including in particular necklaces, earrings and bracelets

Late last year, Richline Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, announced that its new lab-grown jewelry brand, Grown with Love, is launching at JCPenney and Macy’s. “By choosing a lab-grown diamond, future bridal and fashion customers now have a new, conscious choice, and can get a larger or higher quality stone for the same price,” said Michael Milgrom, senior vice president, product, of Richline in an interview.

Clean Origin, yet another lab grown diamond brand, is spearheaded by Alexander Weindling who is a third-generation diamond merchant. The brand counts Terry Burman (who served as CEO for Signet Jewelers, Sterling Jewelers and chairman Zale Corporation) as chairman of its board. Burman is quoted by Forbes as: “ As the market shifts, eventually most if not all companies are going to want to get into this product.” Burman also claims: “In any retail business, you always must think of putting the customer in the center of it. In this case, it is a product they want and that they can buy at a better price.”

While some brands are drawing from their experience of diamond industry, there are examples like Vrai & Oro that chose to do their own thing and succeeded. Vanessa Stofenmacher and Chelsea Nicholson turned Vrai & Oro into a $3 million business in 2016, got recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 and launched a lab grown diamond bridal jewellery collection.

Couple, launched in 2018 as the first luxury lab-grown diamond ring brand, is an online store which offers free express shipping, a lifetime warranty and a 60-day risk-free period for returns, exchanges and resizing. “Since we are cutting out the middlemen, we are able to offer this luxury product at a significantly lower price, without the negative environmental and social impacts often associated with mined diamonds,” claimed Couple co-founder, Jeff Brenner.

From being practically non-existent a few years ago, it is remarkable to see how consumer-centric branding and progressive, new-age marketing by young lab grown diamond brands has quickly multiplied awareness & demand about lab grown diamonds!