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INTERVIEW: Green Rocks CEO Leon Peres on why lab-grown diamonds are an opportunity not a threat

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Green Rocks Diamonds is a specialist in laboratory-grown diamonds, founded in Florida in 2016 and with offices in Belgium and London. Despite this relatively short history, it has firmly established itself as one of the biggest global players in the lab-grown market.

It describes itself as the world’s only lab-grown diamond grower with a primary focus on cutting and polishing.

Where other companies tend to sell rough stones, Green Rocks works with renowned Israeli cutters in order to ensure its products are “perfectly cut and polished”, according to its CEO, Leon Peres.

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“We like to think of it as new world technology meeting old world diamond cutting craftsmanship to create the finest lab-grown diamonds on the market,” he adds.

In a year when a company like Green Rocks could have sat back and taken a conservative approach to business it has done anything but.

The brand spent the majority of 2020 and the pandemic giving its retailers all the support it could muster, going above and beyond to help them weather the storm in any way it could.

Peres describes: “During this last year, our focus has been entirely on supporting our jeweller partners and helping them exhaust every sales opportunity they have had during these challenging times.”

So what gives Peres and Green Rocks the motivation to be so proactive at such a trying time? “Quite simply,” the CEO explains, “if our retail partners succeed, then we all succeed together.

“Our jewellers have been and always will be the priority in everything we do and every decision we make. We stayed fully operational through Covid – albeit it at a distance – so our jewellers did not miss one sale.”

This team spirit among Green Rocks and its partner retailers has paid dividends in the past 12 months.

“Our product has continued to grow during numerous lockdowns,” says Peres. “The pandemic has been a very challenging year for the jewellery industry, yet demand increased towards the latter half of 2020.

2020 was the year that hammered home just how important connection and the people closest to us are.”

“Consumers have been unable to spend money on experiences and travel. This helped the diamond market make a strong recovery during Q4 of 2020 and I anticipate this demand continuing as we progress into 2021 and perhaps into 2022, as the recovery of travel and large-crowded activities will be slow.”

He goes on to explain why lab-grown products are perfectly placed to take advantage of this situation: “People are still getting engaged – love is not dead! 2020 was the year that hammered home just how important connection and the people closest to us are.

“We saw a surge in ‘lockdown engagements’, but often on a tighter budget where a laboratory-grown diamond can fit in so beautifully.”

Moving forward, Green Rocks is looking to add even more strings to its bow when it comes to retailer support and cooperation.

“There is a lot in the works for 2021,” the CEO promises, “all with the aim to make our inventory more accessible to our clients and easier to make sales from.”

Where other companies might consider a website overhaul a job to be undertaken once every couple of years at best, this appears to be something of an ongoing, never-ending cycle for Green Rocks, as it strives to ensure it provides the best online experience possible for partners.

“We are working on improving our website to make sure that our customers all over the world have up-to-date access to our inventory,” Peres explains, “while also implementing a new type of imaging software to allow retailers to sell diamonds directly from our platform.

“360° videos have become the standard for diamonds – however, we have more planned to make them more authentic, with videos of the stones on hands and mounted in a ring.”

This move will not only make it easier for Green Rocks retailers to browse its stock, but will in turn give stockists’ websites added shine for when end customers prefer to browse on the web – a trend that has become all too prominent in the last 12 months due to the closure of non-essential retail stores in most countries.

Peres says: “The ability to transition to an online presence, and making sales online, was very important for traditionally set up jewellers in 2020. We expect this to continue and will make it as easy as possible for our jeweller partners to do this with our inventory.”

Lab-grown diamonds can bolster your natural diamond offering or bring in new clients…”

Further adding to the Green Rocks web offering for clients, Peres even mentions the introduction of a Green Rocks University online training and education programme for retailers, helping them to better understand the product they are stocking.

He describes it as “a fully online platform with extensive training courses available for free about laboratory grown diamonds including the growing process, grading reports and much more”.

Discussing the motivation behind the ‘university’ programme, he says: “We offer service and education to our jeweller partners through a London-based team who understands the market for both natural and laboratory-grown diamonds extremely well.”

Asked why there is a need to educate jewellers on lab-grown diamonds, Peres explains: “This is a new and disruptive product, and one that UK and European jewellers can sometimes be fearful of, when really laboratory-grown diamonds are a great opportunity for jewellers rather than a threat.”

Balance
As discussed in Professional Jeweller’s feature about the diamond industry this month, the lab-grown versus natural debate can be a heated one, with many parties taking a hardline stance one way or the other and jewellers sometimes fearful that stocking more affordable lab-growns will eat up their current mined diamond business.

Green Rocks, however, is more balanced in its views on the two different products, and with good reason.

Unlike many companies that have firm ties to either lab-grown or natural stones, the supplier actually has a foot in both camps.

While Green Rocks itself only deals in lab-growns, its parent company Ofer Mizrahi Diamonds has a long history in the mined diamond trade, helmed by the owner with the same namesake.

A pioneer and entrepreneur to the core, Mizrahi was able to foresee what laboratory grown diamonds would bring to the market long before others understood the impact they would make.

Mizrahi, despite his own strong position in the natural industry in Israel, was always a true believer in the product and its potential to strengthen the jewellery industry. It is a belief that seems to have paid off.

It is perhaps for this reason that Green Rocks has had such success in convincing jewellers – most of whom have a long history of dealing in natural gems – that lab-growns can in fact act as complementary rather than competitor to their existing diamond selection.

I truly believe we grow and cut the best laboratory-grown diamonds in the world at a price point that is extremely competitive for jewellers.”

Discussing Ofer Mizrahi’s “decades of experience in the mined diamond sector” and how that meshes perfectly with Green Rocks’ lab-grown focus, Peres explains: “When presented correctly, lab-grown diamonds can bolster your natural diamond offering or bring in new clients who are already highly engaged by the product. Our team is uniquely positioned to understand this and help jewellers succeed with both products.”

Speaking to Professional Jeweller recently, Green Rocks UK sales manager, Maiko Eaton, put it well when she said: “We are manufacturers of both mined and laboratory-grown diamonds. We do not encourage jewellers to only push laboratory-grown diamonds.

“There is and always will be a market for Mother Nature’s diamonds. There will always be consumers who value and choose mined diamonds, but increasingly there is a growing market of consumers who see that laboratory-grown diamonds offer them a price point, size, colour and clarity upgrade, or align with their environmental beliefs, and are open to exploring both options.”

She concluded: “To not offer the option to your clients is to do them a disservice. Give consumers a choice and they will choose the product that holds most value to them.”

Growth
So where does Green Rocks go from here? With the lab-grown segment of the industry growing so rapidly, is the company looking to take on the big names like De Beers? It certainly looks well-positioned to do so.

“Do we want to take on De Beers?” ponders the CEO. “In laboratory-grown, no, as they are growing and producing laboratory-grown diamonds for a very different end of the market, one that is relevant but not one that we see being the long-term future for the product.”

He explains: “When consumers choose a laboratory-grown diamond, they do so because they want a top-quality stone that is perfectly cut and untreated. This is what we have seen play out in the USA where the market is a few years ahead of the UK and Europe, and I fully expect this to be the case here.”

So what is next for the company? “Who we are and what we try to do represents the best in our industry,” Peres says. “I truly believe we grow and cut the best laboratory-grown diamonds in the world at a price point that is extremely competitive for jewellers.

“Now we have to work very hard to earn the trust of tens of thousands of retailers globally. My vision is to become the luxury brand for laboratory-grown diamonds, offering a product that retailers are going to be proud to sell and consumers will want to buy.”

The Diamond Terminology Guideline

The Diamond Terminology Guideline is a one-page document created by the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ), along with nine other national and international organisations, including the World Diamond Council, the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, the Responsible Jewellery Council and the Natural Diamond Council (NDC).

It sets out the involved parties’ preferred nomenclature regarding both natural and synthetic, or lab-grown, diamonds. Condemned phrases include those such as ‘authentic’, ‘natural’ and ‘real’ in describing lab-growns, and the guideline has now been approved by UK Trading Standards whose goal is to protect customers from unfair trading.

However, while the document’s creators include the Natural Diamond Council, there appears to be no counterpart from the other side of the fence – none of the listed collaborators works exclusively with lab-grown stones. So how does someone in the lab-grown business feel about the Diamond Terminology Guideline?

Leon Peres, Green Rocks Diamonds CEO, comments: “First and foremost, anything that is opening up the conversation about diamonds – laboratory-grown or natural – and is educating jewellers on both is a good thing for the industry.

“Terminology is important. There are certainly some questionable phrases used for laboratory-grown diamonds, ‘cultured’ being one of the more problematic ones in my opinion. We need an industry standard, so I praise the NAJ for collaborating with the NDC on this.

“Was the document overly protective of mined diamonds?” Peres wonders. “Perhaps, but I think this was to be expected given the guide was written in collaboration with the Natural Diamond Council who inevitably have an interest in protecting their own product.

“It is certainly a step in the right direction. Collectively, as an industry, we need to stop the discord between mined and laboratory-grown diamonds and a clear standard of terminology, without a doubt, will help this.

“Mined diamonds are not ‘unsustainable’ – there is a lot of good that can be said right now about new initiatives in the mined industry to further sustainability, traceability, and ethics. Equally we should not be promoting the misconception that laboratory-grown diamonds are any less ‘real’ than their mined counterparts.”

Peres concludes: “Natural diamonds are a gift of nature, while laboratory-grown are the gift of human talent and brilliant minds. Some consumers see value in natural diamonds; for others, it is in a laboratory-grown diamond. For the jeweller there is money to be made with both products.”

Tags : Green RocksGreen Rocks DiamondsLeon PeresMaiko EatonOfer Mizrahi
Sam Lewis

The author Sam Lewis

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