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Lab-Grown Marketing: Multifaceted Messaging

Companies are branching out when it comes to promoting synthetics, with angles including size, quality and ethics.

Mar 11, 2020 6:04 AM   By Rachael Taylor
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RAPAPORT... When lab-grown diamonds first started to make noise in the consumer jewelry market, much of the marketing power driving them forward was about cutting through the confusion. Are they real? Why do they cost so much? Why should I buy them? Shoppers had questions, and the only way to make sales was to answer them clearly, concisely, repetitively and in unison. 

The messages have started to hit home, bolstered by strategic celebrity product placements and collaborations. Stars such as Lady Gaga and Emma Watson have worn them on the red carpet, while actress Penelope Cruz teamed up with Atelier Swarovski to create her own collection. Lab-grown producer Diamond Foundry has been pushing into the fashion market with tie-ins to trendsetting department store Dover Street Market and label Balmain, as well as co-creating collections with stylish jewelry designers.

Despite the recent maturation of the market, which is still in its infancy, education remains at the core of many marketing plans. “The evolution of our message to consumers in the last year about the created-diamond category has been driven by their unprecedented speed of acceptance,” says Amish Shah, chief executive of New York-based lab-grown brand ALTR. “However, the change in our narrative and message hasn’t been a significant one — we don’t ‘market,’ we educate and empower the consumer [to make their own choices].”

Diversifying their appeal

While lab-grown diamond companies’ campaigns generally tend to rest on the same pillars — price and ethics being the original struts — individual brands are starting to diverge in the minutiae. This is perhaps due in part to the ongoing difficulties of predicting future prices, as well as a barbed backlash against the sector’s early ethical claims. Last year, an independently substantiated report by research group TruCost — commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) — claimed that mined diamonds produced 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide per polished carat, compared to 511 kilograms for an equivalent lab-grown diamond.

Amid the increasing scrutiny, ethics remain at the core of Diamond Foundry’s strategy, but it has had to work hard to back up its millennial-friendly claims. It has invested in renewable-energy-powered facilities in the Pacific west to lower its impact, and it offsets unavoidable carbon emissions such as transportation of its goods and staff. These efforts have earned it a carbon-neutral certification from independent watchdog CarbonNeutral.

“The environmental impact will always be a focus for us,” says Ye-Hui Goldenson, Diamond Foundry’s director of public relations and communication. “We are not just making claims, but have been certified by third parties. We are finding that consumers today are more knowledgeable and selective than they have ever been before and are making purchases that are more thoughtful and impactful.”

Others, aware of the minefields, are avoiding this narrative altogether. “We never got into these controversies,” says Dror Yehuda, president of Yehuda, which specializes in scientifically enhanced natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds. “When you make certain claims, you better have the research to back it.”

Instead, Yehuda focuses on a simple message for all its diamonds: Bigger is better. “We continue to stress that in the same way you could purchase a larger diamond with [Yehuda’s] Clarity Enhanced Diamond, now you can purchase an even larger diamond with lab-grown diamonds.”

At Diamond Foundry and its consumer-focused jewelry brand Vrai, there is also an emphasis on larger stones; the US lab offers lab-grown diamonds of 5 carats and above. “Consumers are now familiar with lab-grown diamonds, and communication has evolved from education to providing more options for them to choose from,” says Vrai chief executive Mona Sadat Akhavi. “They feel equipped to confidently purchase larger stones and are understanding that it is an investment piece.”

At ALTR, the choice is not necessarily about size, but about increased quality. The fully integrated supplier has launched what it calls “the most hypnotic diamond you’ve ever seen”: the ALTR X. It features one of the brand’s 48 patented cuts, with 10 hearts and arrows and a light refraction of more than 97%. It also claims to have a “consistent supply” of type IIa lab-grown diamonds.

‘Unwanted results for De Beers’

“The industry at large had never encountered [the need for] value creation [through] branding and marketing,” says Shah, as it was previously sufficient to market diamonds based on their intrinsic value alone. “It’s been a difficult transition for the legacy companies that have existed in an industry that relied on marketing driven by a single company for the last 100 years.” Now, he says, the industry is gaining “new life from entrepreneurs creating brands that are educating and driving desire for today’s consumers.”

De Beers might have thought the launch of its Lightbox line — which focuses on reasonably priced jewelry with ungraded lab-created diamonds that go for a flat $800 per carat — would relegate lab-grown to the fashion realm. Instead, it has opened up a space for its competitors to own the luxury end of the market by focusing on innovation and advances in technology.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the move achieved unwanted results for De Beers,” says Yehuda. “It gave credibility to the segment. My guess is that they meant to deter other companies from going in, but achieved the opposite.”

A category apart

Rosemarie Ryan has worked with some of the biggest names in business, from Macy’s and Timberland to Google and YouTube. As cofounder and chief executive of New York-based “strategy and creative transformation” consultancy co:collective, she is an expert in gauging what consumers want and figuring out how to deliver it to them.

A recent client of Ryan’s was De Beers, which charged her with creating a marketing strategy to support the launch of Lightbox, its lab-grown diamond brand. With a fresh perspective not skewed by professional or personal attachment to mined diamonds, she maintains that the jewelry industry should stop comparing mined and man-made, and treat lab-grown as a completely new product category.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to compare, if you want to grow a category,” she says. “It will pull you back, and it just confuses people.”

Ryan believes this category has the potential to be a large one. “Diamonds are rare — and as a result, a lot more expensive — but lab-grown diamonds are much more accessible from a price perspective, and beautiful,” she says. “It gives people access to a category they didn’t have before and allows them to think about diamonds in a new way. It doesn’t have to be a gift from someone on bended knee; [lab-grown diamonds are] more casual and playful.”

The uncertainty over pricing is one of the issues dogging future projections of lab-created diamonds, and champions of mined ones are hammering home the notion that “real is rare.” Yet Ryan feels that even if prices fall and lab-grown diamonds become more plentiful, it won’t dull their shine. In fact, it could broaden their application. “If you look at other luxury goods, it’s not always about how scarce they are, it’s about how they are put together,” she explains. “You have to think of [lab-grown diamonds] as a high-end handbag or a really expensive coat. There is an opportunity for them to go outside of jewelry and turn up more in couture and on accessories.”

Indeed, it would seem this theory is already ringing true. Pop singer Drake, for instance, has a Garrison Bespoke sports jacket embellished with an OVO Raptors owl logo made of lab-created diamonds.

“You can have a lot more fun with [lab-grown] because the price point enables that in a way that a natural diamond doesn’t,” Ryan says.

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: Penelope Cruz wearing Atelier Swarovski lab-grown diamonds to a red-carpet event. (Swarovski)
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Tags: ALTR, Amish Shah, Atelier Swarovski, Balmain, CarbonNeutral, De Beers, Diamond Foundry, Diamond Producers Association, Dpa, Dror Yehuda, Lightbox, Macy’s, Mona Sadat Akhavi, Penelope Cruz, Rachael Taylor, Rosemarie Ryan, TruCost, Vrai, Ye-Hui Goldenson
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