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Sustainable style

Digital-first retailer Brilliant Earth shows that ethical practices make for a viable business model.

By Joyce Kauf

Image: Brilliant Earth

Since the early 1940s, the 4Cs have been the go-to criteria for selecting a diamond. But Brilliant Earth has added another two Cs to the decision-making process: compassion and commitment.

“There is so much intrigue around diamonds. But the industry itself presents social and environmental challenges,” says CEO Beth Gerstein. “We wanted to take a holistic approach and create an ethical alternative.”

She and chairman Eric Grossberg founded the San Francisco-based company in 2005, and today, it has showrooms around the country. The core values of being more transparent, sustainable and responsible are integral to every aspect of Brilliant Earth’s business — beginning with the sourcing of its diamonds.

Setting higher standards

Gerstein viewed the Kimberley Process (KP) definition of conflict-free diamonds as “too narrow,” so Brilliant Earth redefined the criteria by offering “Beyond Conflict Free” diamonds. It sources the stones from countries — such as Canada — that meet its exacting standards: adherence to the strictest environmental laws, and no association with either conflict or human-rights violations.

The company turned to technology to facilitate these aims, becoming one of the first jewelers to incorporate blockchain into its traceability and transparency efforts.

To reduce its environmental footprint, Brilliant Earth uses 100% recycled metals, and it makes its ring boxes out of wood from forests with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The company itself is certified under the Carbonfree product standard and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC).

The jeweler’s holistic approach also includes giving back. The Brilliant Earth Foundation supports initiatives to create “long-lasting sustainable changes,” such as educational and vocational training in diamond mining communities. And in partnership with the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), the Brilliant Mobile School in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has helped educate children whose only other option might be working in the mines.

Targeting young people

While dedicated to environmental and social issues, Brilliant Earth is also a successful business. Gerstein and Grossberg, who both have MBAs from Stanford University, created an omni-channel marketing strategy that is digital-first and data-driven. And it puts a strong emphasis on producing beautiful jewelry for millennials and Generation Z.

Gerstein dismisses the belief that those generations are an elusive segment with little interest in diamonds; on the contrary, she says, they are “the core of the industry right now” but are not well understood. “They love diamonds, but the industry hasn’t changed to appeal to them. They are a less traditional consumer who wants something a little more unique, a little more distinctive, so you have to tailor your offering to that desire.”

The digital-first aspect of Brilliant Earth “resonates with them,” she states. In addition, “our values are part of our DNA, and that comes across as authentic to a younger customer.”

In response to consumers’ concerns about the impact of mining, Brilliant Earth introduced lab-grown diamonds to its collections in 2012. “Being from outside the industry, we looked at it from a fresh perspective and have been able to raise the level of the inventory,” says Gerstein. The company’s lab-created diamonds are independently rated for sustainability based on climate neutrality and investment in clean technology.

The newly launched Solstice collection includes the “red-carpet-ready” Glacé necklace, which contains 77 carats of lab-grown diamonds. Retailing for $100,000, it marks the brand’s highest price point to date.

Still, Gerstein emphasizes the importance of offering clients a choice. “We have a lot of consumers who love the technology behind lab-grown, but also those who are drawn to the romantic history of natural diamonds,” she explains.

In another move toward inclusivity, the company introduced a gender-fluid collection in 2020, along with more diverse ring sizes.

Among the evolving trends Gerstein has witnessed is a change in the bridal market: While previously, the fiancé would select the engagement ring, couples are increasingly shopping for the ring together. In general, she’s also noted that “consumers want both digital and branded, which has worked to our advantage.”

Quick to adapt

The company’s focus on customizable pieces and digital selling gives it a lot of flexibility. It “allows us to react quickly to consumer trends and introduce product faster while not investing in a lot of inventory before we see the signals of whether it works or not,” says Gerstein. “This helps us to continually refine the product and offer the best assortment.”

Its inventory model, with its emphasis on data, has been an advantage. “Testing and optimization across all offerings is critical in a digital environment,” Gerstein states. “Because we have such a data-driven approach, we’re constantly creating new products [and evaluating what sells best]. That [approach] is a core capability that has served us well across bridal and fine jewelry.”

Brilliant Earth’s swift response to Covid-19 also demonstrated its adaptability to changing consumer needs. “Two weeks after the shutdown, we introduced virtual appointments, which give us another option, especially as the pandemic ebbs and flows,” Gerstein says.

Consumers have increasingly high expectations for engaging with digital and in-store experiences, she observes. As such, “it is important to change with the times and innovate and introduce new, compelling experiences.”

The jeweler recently launched a virtual showroom option to provide a more personalized and integrative experience, including recommendations based on wish lists and other key data. By the time the customer makes an appointment for the showroom, “we already know her preferences because of the digital insights we’ve gained,” says Gerstein.

Growth goals

In September 2021, Brilliant Earth issued an initial public offering (IPO) that Gerstein describes as “16 years in the making.” The focus now is on driving brand awareness and expanding the number of showrooms. There are currently 15, and she considers a higher target under 100 “very achievable.”

She has high hopes for the company’s ongoing growth. “We’re at the beginning of our journey. There is so much potential for us. Our mission- and data-driven strategy positions us incredibly well.” In addition, “given our deeply loyal customer base, we have a very significant opportunity to further develop that relationship.”

There is plenty of room for “expanding beyond engagement into fine jewelry and self-purchasing,” Gerstein believes; in those areas, “we’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Designs that delight

Customizable creations

Brilliant Earth’s “Create Your Own” (CYO) option lets consumers personalize their rings with a curated selection of settings and a choice of natural and lab-grown diamonds. The Hearts and Arrows round diamonds are always a customer favorite, and fancy shapes — particularly ovals, emeralds and cushions — are also popular.

Engagement rings

Bridal is the brand’s top-selling category. Classic yet delicate silhouettes that are thinner and have luxe, hidden accents are popular, as in the Petite Comfort Fit, Petite Elodie, Lumiere and Luxe Viviana rings. Three-stone designs with fancy-shaped side stones are also trending, such as the Aria, Opera and Cometa styles.
Hidden accents and unusual fancy-shaped accent stones such as carré and trapezoid are trends likely to continue in 2022. Classic looks will remain strong, but with modern twists such as satin finishes and textured shanks.
Most of the engagement ring settings range from $1,000 to $3,000, without the stone.

Wedding bands

The shared-prong “floating diamond” bands of the company’s Versailles, Monaco, and Riviera designs are all big sellers. Modern classics are performing well for both men and women, especially the comfort-fit and diamond bands. The beveled-edge Bette style is a new favorite, and the use of alternative metals is increasingly popular. Brilliant Earth foresees distinctive textures, larger carat weights and fancy shapes continuing into 2022.
Fine jewelry Earrings and necklaces dominate this category. In the earring department, round and fancy-shaped diamond studs are top sellers. Multi-stone hydrangea/bouquet cluster studs are generating solid sales, as are solitaire studs with gemstones. Diamond hoops round out the category.
Diamond-accented pendants continue to be a customer favorite, led by the elegant and timeless diamond halo necklace and the sapphire pavé twist pendant, which updates a classic with a structural style.
Strand necklaces, a look the company started offering in 2021, are performing well, especially the bezel strand necklace across all metal settings.
The whimsical Ombre ring in the jeweler’s Coastal collection shimmers with diamonds and a variety of gemstone combinations ranging from sapphires, aquamarines and lab-grown alexandrites to rubies, garnets and morganites.

brilliantearth.com

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2022. To subscribe click here.

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