Vrai, an international lab-grown diamond jewellery brand that also grows its own gemstones, is making serious moves to enter the UK market.

The sustainable, business-to-consumer brand says its products are designed to find a middle ground between the more affordable jewellery of the bigger retailers and the exorbitantly priced luxury pieces.

In conversation with Professional Jeweller, CEO, Mona Akhavi, described Vrai thus: “We grow our own diamonds in our foundry in the US, and our foundry is the first one to be certified to be as zero-emission.

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“We’ve gone through an audit, one we do every year, that measures everything from employees traveling to the office all the way to the proprietary technology we have – we’ve looked at all aspects and we’re entirely carbon neutral.

“For now, we’re business-to-consumer. We work with third-party marketplaces as a distribution channel and we also do a lot of collaborations, working with influencers, opinion leaders, activists, people that align with us to work on new collections and designs in various markets.”

The company has headquarters in LA, with showrooms in the US and China, but its reach far extends beyond those countries.

“That whole area has grown 500% for us over the past year, which is absolutely incredible.”

Akhavi said: “We’re now open in Germany, just about to open in France and Spain, and we’ve expanded our operation internationally as well. Now we have operations in Canada, in Dubai, and we’re about to open LA showroom in the next couple of weeks. By the end of the year, we’ll have a San Francisco showroom.”

Surprisingly, Vrai’s operation is primarily online, but with the opening of a swathe of showrooms the company clearly recognises the need for a physical footprint.

“There’s a strategic, offline presence that we want to create,” Akhavi explained. “We’re always going to stay mostly online, but with the expansion of our appointments we see that consumers want to come and meet us and see the jewellery in person, so we’re taking the steps to create those touch points in the right places with the consumers.”

Home-grown

Like a lot of the industry at the moment, what Akhavi really wants to talk about, however, is the origin of Vrai’s diamonds. Vrai deals exclusively in lab-grown stones, all of which it creates itself.

The CEO said: “We’re uniquely positioned as a jewellery company because we are vertically integrated. We’re fortunate to have our foundry. We control the entire process. That’s very unique to us.

“It gives us the opportunity to create more affordable pieces, and those savings are definitely something that we want to transfer to the consumer.

“And we’ve got millennials and Gen Zs, consumers that are gaining a bit more spending power. They want a luxury lifestyle, but to them luxury these days is something that has a positive impact, something that is sustainable.”

The proof is in the pudding for Vrai, and there is no denying that its business model is working. Akhavi said: “We’ve seen the impact over the past two years in various areas. Our engagement ring sales growth increased by 140%.”

“It’s going be a really great year to watch us as we expand and move through some of these projects in the UK.”

When it comes to the sustainability of the brand, Akhavi is quick to assure PJ that it does not just rely on the environmentally friendly reputation of lab-growns to power its sustainable label, however.

“Everything we use,” she said, “from the diamonds to the recycled solid gold to our packaging, probably should be the industry standard for sustainability.

“We use compostable materials from the outer box to the inner box. This is the sort of information that hopefully consumers are looking at, and that’s differentiating us from some of the other groups.”

Vrai in the UK

Turning to the brand’s expansion into the UK, which began in February, Akhavi added: “We’ve got a service that became explosively popular over the last year, and that’s what we’re really investing heavily in to bring to the UK. It’s called Virtual Appointments.

“We host a virtual appointment for consumers who want to learn about diamonds and purchase something with one of our diamond experts.

“They go through that over a half-hour or an hour call. It’s almost an offline experience – we have all the pieces and samples they can look on on the video, we can walk them through a purchase and an experience and we show them all of our inventory of diamonds.

 

“That whole area has grown 500% for us over the past year, which is absolutely incredible.”

The Virtual Appointment service is not the only focus for Vrai in the UK. “We’re also looking at working with more UK partners,” the CEO confirmed, “whether that’s collaborators, designers, influencers and potentially third-party marketplaces that we partner up with.

“It’s going be a really great year to watch us as we expand and move through some of these projects in the UK.”