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Pandora tomorrow (6 May) releases its very first lab-grown diamond jewellery collection, named the Pandora Brilliance collection.

In honour of the occasion, Professional Jeweller caught up with Pandora UK managing director, Kate Walsh, to get the lowdown on the new release, and to find what other tricks the brand has up its sleeve for 2021.

How has business been since shops reopened across the UK?

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It is so exciting to have our stores reopened. I was out on the road last week traveling around the Midlands in stores to see how things have been going, and the mood out there is amazing.

I think what’s different to the exit from the previous lockdown is customers are much more comfortable with health and safety restrictions and how to shop in a Covid-secure fashion. They’re really enjoying being able to come back into store to engage with our store teams and see the product in real life again.

How have footfall and sales been so far?

It’s looking very promising. I think there’s more confidence now people are starting to have the vaccination, so we’re certainly seeing a faster switchover back from e-commerce – which has been very, very strong for us over the last 12 months – back to the physical store environment.

We really see that as a reflection of customer confidence, and also an appetite to get them to see our product in real life.

What’s been really interesting is that certain categories are performing even better in the store than they were online. In particular, we’ve seen a real demand for our ring category. And of course, we’re seeing a lot of customers that had Pandora gift cards for Christmas as it’s been their first opportunity to come in and shop with us.

People are going to really fall in love with the designs. They’re beautiful.”

And also we’ve been able to help and assist customers that needed to perhaps exchange an incorrect size, a bracelet that doesn’t fit. And we’ve been really happy to have extended our returns policy so that we can help every customer that comes through our door and make sure that we find them the perfect piece of Pandora to suit their needs.

Pandora will undoubtedly have plans in place for the eventuality of another lockdown, but how confident are you that you won’t need to rely on those plans?

I am the voice of optimism. I would really love to think that we’ve seen the end of lockdowns, but if the last year taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected, especially with the different test systems and all of the different periods we’ve been through in the pandemic.

I’m extremely proud of how flexible and adaptable the sales teams in our stores have been, in terms of closing and reopening stores.

We’re pretty much ready for anything at this point, but I’m really hopeful that with all of the measures we have in place and, of course, the government guidelines, that we’ll continue to see things remain under control and not have to go into another lockdown.

Could you talk about the new Pandora Brilliance collection and why now is the right time for Pandora to move into lab-grown diamonds?

This is a really exciting new initiative for Pandora. We’ve always been proud of making our jewellery accessible to a broad range of women, and I think this is just the next opportunity to bring diamonds to the everyday woman in a really accessible way.

I’ve been learning a lot about lab-grown diamonds over recent months. Even though they’re not mined, and they’re made above ground, there’s still an awful lot of craftsmanship that goes into creating the beautiful pieces of jewellery that will be known as Pandora Brilliance.

Effectively, the lab-made diamonds have exactly the same kind of chemical properties that a mined diamond might have. It gives all of the benefits and beauty and sparkle of a mined diamond, but it’s a sustainable option for our customers.

It’s great to be able to make diamonds accessible to more and more women, and hopefully encourage women to treat themselves as a self-purchase. You don’t have to wait to have a diamond as a gift anymore.

At the moment, the UK is the only market that’s going to be offering Brilliance.”

And I’m sure that people are going to really fall in love with the designs. They’re beautiful. I’ve seen them in the showroom, and honestly the sparkle is fabulous. They look amazing. It’s going to be another exciting new collection to offer to our Pandora customers, new and existing.

Is there a specific company that you’ve worked with that produced the diamonds?

We are working with a European partner, and we’re not producing the diamonds at our usual crafting facilities. At the moment, the UK is the only market that’s going to be offering Brilliance, so our lucky UK customers can get something exclusive that they can’t get anywhere else in the world.

For anybody that’s been through the four Cs, I remember doing my GIS training a few years ago, and you’re able to tell the quality of lab-made diamonds from Pandora in the same way that you can classify and judge the clarity, the cut, the colour and, of course, the carat in the same way that you would the mined diamond counterparts.

So it really is a fascinating part of the jewellery industry, when you get into all of the details, and something that I think our customers will really enjoy learning about. We’re definitely going heavy on the training and the education so that we can really help to understand and share the benefits of our lab-made diamonds.

Is there a reason that the UK was the first market to get this offering from Pandora?

We have a very loyal customer base here at Pandora with the second largest market in the world, and we have got a great network of our owned and operated and franchise stores, along with a very strong e-commerce channel.

We think that we’re going to be able to do a great job of bringing this new collection to the customer in a fully branded Pandora environment.

Lab-grown diamonds can be a little bit controversial sometimes. Is there any hesitation in moving into this market?

We definitely don’t see the Brilliance collection as competing with the natural or mined diamonds. I think it’s all about customer choice. In the same way that fashion products can be created in many different ways, it’s really about customer preference.

This is just another way to bring diamonds to the end consumer and, ultimately, the customer decides. I think that there’s definitely space for both. I’m sure many, many customers will choose to shop between the mined diamond category and the lab-made diamond category. So absolutely, we wouldn’t want it to be seen as unhealthy competition in any way – we see that there’s space for both.

Combining the lab-made diamonds with sterling silver is something that isn’t widely available.”

For some people, a mined diamond can be a little bit expensive. It really depends on which diamonds you’re talking about, and the quality of that diamond, and the lab-grown option is something that for some people will be more affordable and more accessible when we’ve got starting prices at £250.

Combining the lab-made diamonds with sterling silver is something that isn’t widely available, and having that sterling silver option keeps the price point down as well. So there’s less of a price barrier if you want to treat yourself to a lab-grown diamond and have it more as the kind of everyday styling piece.

Then we have got diamonds up to one carat which are more expensive than the entry price options and would be great as that special gift. I think there’s space for both in women’s lives.

What has been really, really nice is we work with a lot of franchise partners who have jewellery stores selling lots of different brands of jewellery, including very often mined diamonds, and they very much see space for both, and we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

They feel that it’s a really good move on Pandora’s part, and that it’s a growing market, one as a big brand that it will be great to have a presence in.

Does this signal a move away from natural diamonds for Pandora?

We haven’t used an awful lot of mined diamonds in our collections over previous years. We have done a small number of limited edition charms where we’ve sometimes incorporated stones, but over the last years we haven’t actually used that many mined diamonds in Pandora products.

However, we’re already at 99% man-made stones in Pandora, so we would really see the lab-grown diamonds as an extension of that.

What sort of pieces does the collection contain and are you planning to expand it if it sells well?

I do hope so. There’s a great choice of products already. We’ve got rings, earrings, bangles, bracelets, necklaces and even a really cool ear cuff, which is something a little bit different and quite unusual. We’re really trying to encourage people to start the collection and build a collection that they can stack and style.

When it comes to the metals, we’ve got yellow gold, white gold and sterling silver. The rings in particular stack together beautifully. We’ve really tried to take that Pandora DNA of encouraging our customers to be creative, and wear their own jewellery their own way. You can also do that with our new Brilliance collection.

We’re really keen to hear the feedback from our customers. And the great thing about the jewellery industry, and of course Pandora, is when you come into one of our stores, all of our product is behind the counter, which means that you have to engage with one of our store teams, if you want to shop.

We’ve really tried to take that Pandora DNA of encouraging our customers to be creative, and wear their own jewellery their own way.”

And what that means is that it gives us a real richness of customer feedback. So I think it’s going to be really interesting as the first market globally in Pandora to launch Brilliance to get that real-life feedback from our store teams when they’re introduced in the collection to our customers that come through the door.

We’re really excited for 6 May, going out there on tour, looking forward to speaking to some of the customers, and to see what else they might be looking for in a diamond collection. It’s always great to get inspiration for the future as well.

What would you say to retailers who are uncertain about the idea of stocking lab-grown diamonds?

At this stage, we’re selling Pandora Brilliance through our concept stores and our e-commerce platform, and I think that’s the beauty of that business model – that, often, if we’re launching something that is really new, it gives us that opportunity to understand the customer, understand their shopping needs.

Then, if we are looking to expand the collection to some of our multi-brand retailers in the future, hopefully that can be on a basis of sound insights and actual data that we have.

What can we expect from Pandora through the next sort of 12 months?

Pandora is a business that likes to introduce new, exciting product. I’m really happy that in the summer we’ll be relaunching some of the product that was only available on e-commerce last year, during the previous lockdown.

Of course, for the customers that like to come in and to see the products in person, some of them were disappointed to have missed out. So it’s a really exciting opportunity to bring back some of that product.

And actually, it’s been really interesting coming out of this lockdown, because we’ve had three different collections launch from January through to March when all of the stores have been closed, so the choice that customers have at the moment is quite vast. And we’ve literally got something for everyone, so I think we’ll continue to build on that Pandora DNA of meaningful moments, but also great style.

In the summer we’ll be relaunching some of the product that was only available on e-commerce last year.”

It’s also really interesting to see that things like the Zoom effect has really encouraged people to buy more earrings. We’re seeing more statement pieces being worn necklaces doing very well. It will be really interesting as things start to reopen. Will people be buying into the same styles and the same product? Or will we see a shift again?

I think responding to our customers’ needs is always first priority for us, but it’s great that we’ve got the flexibility within our collections and our assortment to offer styles to so many diverse customers.

And it was just great getting into store and remembering how many different people we see shopping in Pandora, whether that’s the grandma with a granddaughter, or sisters or best friends getting matching rings is something we’re seeing a lot of at the moment.

You just see so many different customer profiles in our stores, and that’s what makes it such a great place to be. It’s always interesting. And you just see people really styling it their own way. So we’re looking forward to more of that over the coming year.

Read more about the Pandora Brilliance collection below:

GALLERY: Pandora makes first foray into lab-grown diamonds with new Brilliance range