In this special Carat* London PJ newsletter takeover, we kick off with an interview with one half of the husband-and-wife team behind the lab-grown diamond jewellery brand.
Scott Thompson discusses the history of Carat* London, and the long and rocky road he traversed in his mission to offer truly Gentle Diamonds.
What is Gentle Diamonds and how does it relate to Carat* London?
Gentle Diamonds is a sister brand of fashion jewellery company Carat* London. The brand focuses on working exclusively with more sustainable lab-created gemstones, including diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. Its mission is simply to be gentle.
Can you talk about the history of the brand?
Gentle Diamonds is a manifestation of the original plan behind Carat* London back in 2002. The idea was to create a jewellery brand around innovations in more affordable and more sustainable lab-created gemstones.
Back then, we had invested with the early lab diamond grower Gemesis using early HPHT technology and closely followed the early developments with Apollo Diamond and various other labs, pioneering in CVD diamond tech. We were very bullish about their potential but we were around 15 years early to the party.
HPHT and CVD both had significant limitations at the time but one of the biggest limitations was that, even if the keystone was lab-grown, the melee had to be mined diamond, and at that time, this was commercially unviable without significant scale in HPHT tech. Blending mined diamond with our lab-created diamond keystones contradicted the mission, which wasn’t going to work for us.
Despite these setbacks, we continued with Carat* London, which naturally developed into a fashion jewellery brand using high-end simulants, including high-quality hand-cut and polished CZ, lab-grown corundrum (sapphire/ruby), and we even experimented with moissanite.
In 2013 we knew of breakthroughs happening with CVD and HPHT diamond growth rates from some labs, and it wasn’t until 2017 that we saw them scaling.
An ex-colleague of mine from Gemesis contacted me in late 2017, informing me that the economics looked more favorable to restart our lab diamond operations. I agreed, but the next hurdle was the all-important price. Retail prices were still 70% on mined prices, and the supply of melee goods was still unreliable. I mentioned that we would be willing to reinvest when market prices were significantly lower than their mined diamond equivalent. I remember he laughed and said that it would be improbable any time soon.
He called me back six months later, saying we should start getting ready since prices and production quality were finally beginning to meet our expectations.
We started setting the brand up in late 2017 and decided to create a new concept within Carat* London with distinctly clear messaging about our intentions to work exclusively with lab-grown gemstones. Diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald, and so Gentle Diamonds was born.
And about its journey to becoming more sustainable?
Our sustainability centers around two main ideas – social and environmental sustainability, or what we call ‘clean and green’.
‘Clean’ in that we contract with primary producers of rough lab grown CVD and HPHT lab-created diamond, so we have no middlemen. And that our producers will allow audits from an independent organisation on working standards in manufacturing, minimum wage, equal opportunity employment, and zero use of child labour. And ‘green’ in that we intend to pay back any carbon created in our gemstone supply chain. These processes are ongoing, and we hope to reveal more about them in the coming months with a significant announcement. Sustainable gold and locally made are other areas we are working hard on.
How has trading been this past year?
COVID has hampered our core efforts in retail, but online has been great, with our e-commerce growing over 200% year-on-year. We have sold across our bridal and fashion jewellery as well as loose diamond selections.
Retail is in our blood, and we know seeing and touching is believing. We had 80%+ conversion rates with or bridal ranges in our retail stores and significant early success with our Gentle Diamonds fashion ranges. We now have over 200 bridal options and over 300 choices in fashion. We expect to have over 1,000 options by the end of summer.
We also opened new sales points with Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Shanghai and launched limited ranges inside Selfridges department store in London.
You have also moved into wholesale since we last spoke. How was that process? Has it gone as expected so far?
Pre-COVID, in the UK, we had some great conversations with quite a few partners about launching our Gentle Diamonds fashion and bridal ranges. However, we put our wholesale plans on hold after the lockdowns. We have since seen a pick-up in inquiries after Christmas.
We have a complete training, VM, and packaging offering and a wide range of social media support from our extensive social following.
We offer our partners a wide range of fashion and bridal and access to our loose diamonds and, notably, a ‘noncompete online’ contract.
This means that we don’t compete online with our partners, so any orders originating from their territory, either from their stores or directly through the Gentle Diamonds website, are picked up by customers at our partner stores the same margins had they sold the item direct to consumer.
Can you describe your e-commerce offering for retailers and how this works with your Shopify plug-in?
In some cases, we can offer a complete systems integration with our plug-in module to a customer website to enable the same tech and supply chain features that might only be available to larger retailers.
What does the Gentle Diamonds business strategy look like moving forward through 2021?
We are raising more capital this year and will expand our UK and Hong Kong operations as things improve. We are also looking at markets in Europe.
What should we expect from Gentle Diamonds and Carat* in the coming year?
We have some big news coming later this year around a marketing partnership and a Gentle Diamonds Foundation, but we can’t say much more than that right now. I can share it with you later in the year.