A diamond bar, gems on display like at an art gallery, mirrors that sparkle and shine: Sustainable fine jewelry e-brand Vrai sought out high-end design with high-touch features for its new retail showroom on Los Angeles’ Melrose Place.
The company, which has a second showroom in the works and is planning for more, expects customers to fill its flagship store’s appointment book as well as walk in to see, touch, and experience its Vrai-created, lab-grown diamonds in person.
“We really wanted a space where people can experience the diamonds,” CEO Mona Akhavi says. “But it’s more like an art gallery than a traditional store. We wanted it to be approachable but have a West Coast, effortless luxury feel to it.”
The entire Vrai team is excited about the showroom, which opened Sept. 2 at 8472-A Melrose Place, because it is a long time in coming, Akhavi says. The store was supposed to open last February, but coronavirus-related slowdowns delayed the opening until now. Los Angeles was the company’s first choice, because it’s the location of Vrai’s headquarters and has “a great community of customers, stylists, and influencers who have been with us for years,” Akhavi says.
“[The delay] gave us more time to collect data and information from our customers,” Akhavi says. “We have seen our virtual appointments growing by five times, and we know our customers love connecting with our diamond experts. They’ve been asking us: ‘Can I see the piece in person?’ and that gave us the confidence that our customers wanted to feel and touch their jewelry.”
The boutique showcases the brand’s core collections, new releases, and collaborations—such as Vrai x RandM, the brand’s recent partnership with stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn—all of which feature diamonds sustainably made in Vrai’s zero emission foundries.
The showroom’s centerpiece is its diamond bar, which store designer and architect Cass Calder Smith created to draw guests into the shop, Akhavi says. At the bar, customers can view Vrai’s lab-grown diamonds directly, without being separated from the stones by a glass case.
Smith, who has also designed a Tesla showroom and an SJP store for Sarah Jessica Parker, helped boost the boutique’s “effortless luxury feel.” Rather than put the gems behind a case or in a box, Smith opted for custom-built, wood-bordered wall frames, a nod to artist Donald Judd and his 1970s minimalist vibe.
Future stores, including one slated to open later this fall in Northern California, will feature Smith’s diamond bar and its signature light fixture: a geometric piece that serves as a tribute to Vrai’s many unique diamond shapes, Akhavi says. Mirrored panels on the boutique’s ceiling also catch the light, animating the room with movement.
The boutique has two private rooms behind the main space where customers looking for custom work or engagement rings can meet with Vrai staff.
“With 17 different [diamond] shapes, customers can feel like they’re designing the pieces themselves,” Akhavi says. “They want an experience as part of the purchasing journey, whether they’re at the beginning stage and learning about jewelry or want to create the design in person. With the showroom, we can connect even more with our customers, who are superengaged with [the brand]. They’re constantly talking to us on social media and on email.”
The new showroom is just the beginning, Akhavi says. “At the end of the day, this is the best way to showcase our mission. Our goal is to show the beauty and opportunity of our Vrai-created diamond,” she adds.
Vrai is the jewelry brand of the Diamond Foundry, a Silicon Valley–based lab-grown diamond startup that utilizes solar power and technology to create its products: diamonds for the jewelry and semiconductor industries. The Diamond Foundry, which includes actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its investors, has a valuation of $1.8 billion, according to the Financial Times.
The Diamond Foundry also recently opened its second lab-grown diamond production facility in Trujillo, Spain, which is located in the country’s Extremadura region.
On its website, the Diamond Foundry describes the Vrai brand as bringing “iconic innovation in diamond jewelry direct to consumers” and a “values-driven digital-first jewelry startup.” Vrai has two other retail showrooms in China, Akhavi says.
Another Diamond Foundry brand, Vrai & Oro, had a Los Angeles–based store at the Row DTLA, a Los Angeles retail complex. It opened in late 2017 and closed in January 2018. Vrai officials said they consider the Vrai & Oro location a test of the concept; its closing is separate from the new Melrose showroom, which is Vrai’s first retail opening as a brand.
In a blog post written at the time of the store closing, Vrai & Oro said, “The fact is that retail is a true challenge—one that we would never enter into lightly, and we have to give props to those thriving in that environment.” Diamond Foundry purchased Vrai & Oro in November 2016.
Top: Vrai opened its flagship U.S. retail showroom in Los Angeles this month, offering a sleek design and a bar area to display its lab-grown diamonds. (All photos courtesy of Vrai)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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