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Rocking the foundations

As lab-created diamonds reach high-end quality, upscale brands with links to old houses are using them in new haute collections.

By Rachael Taylor

Image: Oscar Massin

The explosion of lab-grown diamonds has happened apart from the Fifth Avenues and Place Vendômes of the world. It has largely separated the established heritage jewelers residing in these opulent enclaves — which have yet to embrace man-made gems — from the upstarts focused on fashion and newness. Yet a clutch of emerging brands, each trading on old-world luxury names, is now breaking this unspoken rule.

“This is a once-in-a-century paradigm shift for our industry,” says Los Angeles-based designer Jean Dousset, an industry veteran with a 28-year career in the business. Much of that career has centered on creating engagement rings with mined diamonds for a starry clientele including actresses Amy Adams, Eva Longoria and Janel Parrish. But Dousset is also the great-great-grandson of famed jeweler Louis Cartier. As such, he has a deep respect for the traditions of the trade and understands top-tier luxury. Yet when he launched Oui by Jean Dousset — a new line of engagement rings designed to reach a wider audience at lower price points — he did so exclusively with lab-grown diamonds.

Rather than seeing this as a departure from his jewelry pedigree, he feels it is in line with what his forebears did. After all, the Cartiers were provocateurs in their time. The iconic jewelry house pioneered the use of platinum, for instance, at a time when it was considered an industrial metal rather than a precious one.

“My heritage goes hand in hand with the spirit of innovation that is the driving force behind my brand,” says Dousset. “The definition of luxury may evolve, but heritage and craftsmanship are what remain. That’s actually the very reason I am so enthusiastic about lab-grown diamonds, as they represent a bold and innovative vision for our industry that’s been set in its ways forever.”

Regenerating the classics

In France, two more jewelry houses with links to prestige names are following suit. Luximpact, cofounded by former Harry Winston chief executive Frédéric de Narp, is revitalizing two heritage names that might be less familiar than Cartier but still have long histories: Oscar Massin and Vever. And like Dousset, it’s using lab-created diamonds to do so.

“There hasn’t been much of a market for luxury jewelry set with lab-grown diamonds to date, [but] we seek to change this,” says de Narp. “By showing designers and consumers the beautiful pieces a heritage house can create with grown diamonds, we hope for other brands to adopt similar sustainable and ethical practices, in turn expanding the market.”

Oscar Massin was a 19th-century French jeweler believed to have pioneered diamond settings such as illusionary, tremblant and pampille. Fellow Luximpact cofounder Coralie de Fontenay describes Massin, whose company shut down in 1891, as “one of the most famous jewelers you have never heard of.” The new Oscar Massin seeks to pick up on elements of haute couture, incorporating lace-like flowers, beading, and delicate filigree work into wearable, stackable contemporary designs.

“The entire brand — both in business and design — is built on considerations around our impact on the planet, and Oscar Massin was a pioneer and a diamond reformer in the 19th century,” says de Fontenay. “In relaunching this prestigious name in the luxury jewelry industry and preserving its DNA, it only seemed natural for us to honor his legacy of innovation and disruption by embracing the best lab-grown diamonds, a fruit of human genius.”

Vever’s revival, meanwhile, is occurring in partnership with seventh-generation members of the original family, brother and sister Camille and Damien Vever. The French jeweler, known for its Belle Époque style, stopped trading in 1982 but had been creatively dormant since the 1930s. Creative director Sandrine de Laage — who used to work for Harry Winston and Cartier and is also heading up design at Oscar Massin — is faithfully recreating the signature flourishes of Vever’s Art Nouveau glory days: bejeweled nymphs, flowers in bloom, butterflies with translucent enamel wings.

“There are long-standing biases about lab-grown diamonds, but we are confident that we can change the industry standard, because the stones are of the highest quality that can be found,” says de Laage, adding that Luximpact is working with US supplier Latitude Diamonds. “There was no doubt in our minds that we could create with these diamonds and present collections that are in line with our expectations and experiences.”

A higher caliber

Dousset, who also sources from an American supplier, agrees that quality is a factor when it comes to accepting lab-grown in luxury jewelry. “I felt the time was right to begin working with lab-grown diamonds because the quality had so vastly improved; the stones were now up to our strict diamond standards. I had watched the industry with interest for years, but couldn’t get on board until the quality was there with the polishing, cut and make of the diamonds.”

Today, he asserts, lab-created diamonds “have matured to meet their natural counterparts in every way. The most respected gemological laboratories have concluded this, and so have I. Working with lab-grown diamonds has been completely liberating and has given us the opportunity to deliver the quality of diamonds we strive for, without compromising any of the 4Cs, at a new, irresistible price.”

That pricing structure has allowed Dousset to cater to a new customer. Entry-level prices for engagement rings in the Oui collection, which he sells online and at the Jean Dousset showroom in West Hollywood, California, are now below $5,000. “A 1-carat lab-diamond Oui engagement ring starts at $3,700, whereas a comparable Jean Dousset design with a 1-carat natural-diamond center stone would start at $6,800,” he says.

‘Jewelry that speaks to people’s values’

Luximpact’s goal is less about lowering prices, as the quality of the stones it uses makes for little difference in pricing compared to natural, the company says; rather, the point is to tap into a new consumer mind-set. Oscar Massin has just signed a deal to have Saks Fifth Avenue stock its products in New York and Los Angeles, making it the department store’s first lab-grown diamond brand.

“Saks understood that there was a hunger to consume in a way that has minimal impact on the planet,” says De Narp.

De Fontenay affirms this, adding that “younger audiences are open to new ideas, and we anticipate that they will be attentive to a product and model that we put forth as a solution to the industry’s effects on the environment.”

For Dousset, combining stories of heritage, luxury craftsmanship and lab-grown diamonds is about creating “jewelry that speaks to the time period we’re living in — jewelry that speaks to people’s values and needs and isn’t hidden away in exclusive salons.”

While he comes from “the most traditional jewelry world in Paris,” he continues, “I believe in Jean Dousset being the jewelry brand of the future, and part of that is offering people more affordably priced luxury diamond jewelry. For me, lab-grown diamonds are the future.”

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

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