INTERVIEW: De Beers sheds light on its move into machine-made diamond jewellery

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While De Beers has been busy showcasing its Lightbox Jewellery brand to the trade at the JCK show in Las Vegas, Professional Jeweller managed to catch up with the company’s executive vice-president of corporate affairs, David Prager, and Sally Morrison, who is heading up the lab-grown fashion jewellery brand, to find out a bit more about the move into machine-made diamond products…

How long has a lab-grown diamond brand been in the pipeline?

De Beers Group has long had the capability to produce lab-grown diamonds through our Element Six business unit – a world leader in diamond synthesis for industrial purposes for more than 50 years – and the technology to produce gem quality lab-grown diamonds is exactly the same as that used for industrial purposes. We regularly look at various developments in the jewellery sector and over the past 18 months we undertook extensive research to gain a deep understanding of consumer views and perceptions of lab-grown diamonds. This research revealed that consumers do see a place for lab-grown diamonds in jewellery, but that they see them as fun products that belong in fashion jewellery, and that they feel their pricing should reflect this. Meanwhile, the research also showed that there is widespread confusion regarding lab-grown diamonds.

As the world leader in lab-grown diamond technology, Element Six can produce the highest quality lab-grown diamonds at relatively low costs, so we saw an attractive opportunity to enter the jewellery market for lab-grown diamonds with an offering that reflected what consumers told us they wanted and that no other producer was providing – fun, fashion lab-grown diamond jewellery, at an accessible price. And we also saw the opportunity to help address the confusion in the sector by launching a brand that would be entirely clear and transparent, in terms of the product, its positioning and its pricing – with a linear approach to pricing, consistent with the linear cost of production for different sizes.

Why did you decide now would be the right time to launch it?

Once the research was completed, the brand and product line needed to be developed, which took us up until now. We also wanted to launch the brand before the JCK trade show in Las Vegas so that we could engage with trade participants at the show to provide more information about this new offering.

What has the reaction been so far?

While there was some initial surprise that De Beers Group is entering the lab-grown diamond space, most people appreciate that the brand offers consumers something entirely new and innovative in the fashion jewellery category that will clearly differentiate lab-grown diamonds from natural diamonds, as consumers tell us they see them as very different products. There has been a positive reaction to the new offering of colour and sparkle at an accessible price, and also to the look and feel of the brand. We’ve also received support for Lightbox’s commitment to helping clarify the current consumer confusion about lab-grown diamonds, by being very clear about what they are, how they are produced and how this influences their value. Of course, it’s early days and we’ll no doubt continue to see a range of reactions, but on the whole, we’ve been encouraged by the response so far.

What type of consumer do you envision purchasing Lightbox jewellery?

Lightbox is for any consumer who is looking to celebrate more light-hearted moments and wants to add a bit of sparkle, colour and fun to their lives, without spending too much. It’s for everyone from younger consumers either buying for themselves or their friends, through to jewellery collectors who may see it as an inexpensive way to brighten up their jewellery wardrobe with a bit of colour.

What’s your central marketing message?

Lightbox Jewelry’s central marketing message is colour and sparkle at a friendly price.  The brand aims to be inclusive and lighthearted.

How will you make sure consumers don’t get confused between man-made and mined?

Lightbox will always be completely clear with consumers that it is a lab-grown diamond brand. This is evident through all branding and marketing, as well as in the stones themselves – which contain a laser mark so they can be quickly and easily identified as lab-grown. In addition, while we will always be clear that Lightbox is a De Beers Group business, the De Beers name, which is so synonymous with natural diamonds, will not be used in Lightbox branding to avoid any risk of consumer confusion. Lightbox will not be sold by De Beers Jewellers or Forevermark, as these will always remain natural diamond brands.

Do you think investing in lab-grown will impact the De Beers’ Group’s mined diamond business at all?

All our consumer research shows that people see diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products, bought for different reasons, so we don’t expect there to be any negative impact. In addition, developing a brand that helps consumers understand lab-grown diamonds, how they are produced, what they are and what they are not will be beneficial to the sector as a whole.

While we are making a serious investment in Lightbox, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s nowhere near the scale of what we are investing in our natural diamond business, as we see a very bright future for natural diamond demand. To provide some context, we are investing US$94 million in Lightbox over four years, while we currently have $3 billion of investment planned in our natural diamond business. Demand for diamond jewellery is at record highs, reaching US$82 billion globally last year. Lightbox will be a very small business compared to our core natural diamond business, but provides a complementary revenue opportunity by offering consumers a product that they tell us serves a very different purpose in their lives from a natural diamond.

Do you have any plans for Lightbox to launch outside of the US?

At this stage, we’re only focused on the US but will consider additional markets in due course.

Can you reveal anything about the launch plans in September?

Lightbox Jewelry products will available via the brand’s own e-commerce platform in September, and will likely pilot in limited bricks and mortar retail later this year.  The Lightbox team is just starting to talk to potential partners, and it’s early days yet, so watch this space!