Amid all the controversy over lab-grown diamonds—from their rightful positioning in the marketplace to whether they are inherently more sustainable than mined diamonds—the question of design is often overlooked. For many consumers, however, a contemporary piece of jewelry that looks both chic and distinctive is the biggest motivator to purchase.
Kimaï and Courbet, two European lab-grown diamond jewelry brands, seem to understand this implicitly. Both brands promote their lab-grown diamond and gold styles as ethical, sustainable, and transparently produced, but it’s their classy aesthetic that is most eye-catching.
London-based Kimaï was founded in late 2018 by Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus, both of whom grew up in Antwerp, Belgium, in families steeped in the traditional diamond trade.
“Sidney and I discovered [lab-grown diamonds] because more traders and jewelers in Antwerp began offering them,” Warch tells JCK, “so while some retailers may be less willing to adapt, there’s absolutely a change happening, which is exciting!”
While it’s tempting to see their decision to pursue the lab-grown category as adversarial, both women say their families have been extremely supportive, “partly because they, too, have seen the industry and consumer perception shift as well,” Warch says.
In the beginning, Kimaï, which retails direct through its website as well as through two Browns locations in London, avoided the bridal category—Warch and Neuhaus felt it was saturated. Instead, they placed their “focus on classic, everyday styles and elevated statement pieces,” says Warch.
It didn’t take long, however, for customer inquiries about engagement rings and bespoke designs to push Kimaï into bridal sooner than expected. “It was a bit of a risk as we introduced our first collection with six styles in late 2020 during the pandemic, but there’s been so much excitement from our community so far,” says Warch. “Our engagement rings make up about 40% of our business today.”
The brand offers a range of lab-grown diamond fashion styles, from pinky rings to statement necklaces, set in 18k yellow, rose and white gold, with plenty of personalization options. The engagement ring options include six simple, 18k gold rings with interesting lines and a smattering of pavé on the bands. The site also offers a bespoke service.
While the founders emphasize the accessibility and transparency of lab-grown diamonds, a deep commitment to personalized customer service is critical to Kimaï’s success.
“Being able to have that one-to-one conversation where we’re able to create something truly unique and meaningful that’s reflective of their relationship or personal style is what’s most appealing,” says Neuhaus.
Place Vendôme in Paris is home to the oldest and most venerable jewelers in the world (Boucheron, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels—the list goes on). That Courbet, a 4-year-old French lab-grown diamond jewelry brand, has also set up shop on the world-famous square is an indication of the category’s high-end potential.
Founded by former Richemont executive Manuel Mallen and Swedish creative director Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, the brand, which is named for Gustave Courbet, a 19th-century French painter and political provocateur, is targeting a young consumer base.
“In most cases, our customers are purchasing their very first diamond,” Mallen tells JCK. “Some come to us after doing their own research, while others are happy to discover everything there is to know about those alternative stones from us, as we welcome all of their questions.”
Courbet’s bridal selection starts around 1,480 euros (around $1,766) for a simple solitaire featuring a round 0.2 ct. F VS+ lab-grown diamond set in 18k gold. In its fashion Céleste collection, Courbet offers a statement necklace of diamond-set links for 21,800 euros (about $26,000).
Mallen makes clear that the opportunities for the brand’s lab-grown jewels are not limited to a single category.
“Even if, currently, engagement rings are the first thing our customers come to Courbet for, we strongly believe that soon lab-grown diamonds will extend to every jewel category where mined diamonds are traditionally used,” says Mallen. “We believe that there is more to man-made diamonds than just a potential for seasonal fashion or accessories. Some cultured stones are exceptional and fit for fine jewelry, and Courbet opened the doors to the Place Vendôme to these 2.0 stones, paving the way for a new, more sustainable jewelry.”
The brand’s “2.0 stones” include a piece of high jewelry featuring a 9 carat brilliant-cut lab-grown diamond—“a first record,” says Mallen, “and this is just the start!”
Top: The Billie engagement ring in 18k recycled yellow gold with 1.5 ct. oval lab-grown diamonds, starting at $1,980; KimaïFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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