In a move sure to further disrupt the jewelry industry already disrupted by consumers’ rapid turn to lab-grown diamonds, De Beers has introduced engagement rings under its lab-grown jewelry brand Lightbox, a category it once reserved exclusively for its Forevermark natural, mined diamonds. Now it offers a selection of 16 lab-grown diamond engagement rings priced from $500 to $5,000.
While the company positions the move as a limited market test, it is groundbreaking for De Beers, whose fortunes have been inextricably linked to natural diamond futures.
De Beers is the world’s leading natural diamond company, with its reach into diamond exploration, mining, grading, marketing and retail. It singlehandedly made the diamond engagement ring the symbol of everlasting love in its famed 1947 “A diamond is forever” ad campaign.
Into The Lab-Grown Diamond Fray
When De Beers first dipped its toes into the lab-grown jewelry market with Lightbox in 2018, it was positioned as fun, pretty, affordable fashion jewelry that “may not be forever, but is perfect for right now,” said Bruce Cleaver, then-CEO De Beers Group and now its co-chairman.
At the time, LGD were reserved for earrings and necklaces set with an emphasis on colored stones, but also available in clear-white diamonds.
Initial prices were set at $800 per carat, exclusive of the setting, and the company has held the line on per-carat price since then. However, it has since added a finest grade above its standard offering, priced at $1,500 per carat for LGD stones of finer cut and clarity with the clearest color rating.
It stepped deeper into the bridal waters in 2021 when it offered individual LGD stones which customers could take to their chosen jeweler for setting.
But Lightbox couldn’t hold the line forever as the unit market share of lab-grown diamonds to be set into finished jewelry pieces is now approaching 50%, according to diamond industry analyst Edahn Golan.
The move into lab-grown engagement rings is described as an experiment to learn more about the category and LGD’s appeal in the wedding jewelry market.
“Lightbox is running an in-market test to provide consumers with a high-quality product with accessible pricing so we can understand more about consumer interest in this space. Following the test, we will analyse the results before deciding on next steps,” the company shared in a statement.
Consumer Demand Pulls Lightbox In
Frankly, there isn’t a whole lot to learn: consumers demand lab-grown diamonds for engagement rings. With inflation cutting into people’s spending power, a cheaper alternative to sky-high mined diamond prices is welcome.
A 2022 survey conducted by MVI Marketing (The MVEye) among 1,200 jewelry consumers in six countries found 61% would choose an identical lab-grown diamond ring priced at $4,900 over 26% who’d opt for a $7,000 mined alternative of the same carat weight and quality. However, more couples are using the LGD pricing advantage to trade up to a bigger LGD center stone.
One LGD producer gave Lightbox a welcome. “ALTR would like to congratulate the empowered consumer whose educated decisions have driven the most powerful houses in the diamond industry to adapt and offer lab-grown diamond engagement rings,” said ALTR’s Amish Shah, founder and CEO.
New Vision For Lightbox
According to MVI CEO Marty Hurwitz, Lightbox discovered it couldn’t realize the market potential for LGDs by restricting the brand to fashion jewelry.
“They finally realized that they couldn’t really make the LGD biz work for them unless they sold bridal,” he said and noted the bridal line is currently very prominently featured on Lightbox’s website.
Further, the company has announced plans to open Lightbox boutiques in the U.S. in 2024 after testing popup locations, demonstrating its intent to reach deeper into the lab-grown diamond market.
Clearly, Lightbox, now guided by new CEO Antoine Borde with solid consumer marketing credentials after years with Danone Group, Coty and L’Oréal, looks committed to offering lab-grown diamond jewelry in any shape the customer demands, no longer hindered by the company’s self-imposed fashion jewelry guardrails.
“I would say they are getting much more support from their shareholder – DeBeers – to expand the market and grow their business,” Hurwitz observed.
Engagement Rings Are The ‘Holy Grail’ for Diamonds
Lightbox’s initial position that lab-grown diamonds were reserved for frivolous purchases and mined diamonds for the important ones didn’t cut it. So moving into bridal was the critical next step.
“With De Beers making a move such as this, it’s like when a giant takes a step; the whole earth shakes,” said diamond analyst Golan. “It’s a ‘know your enemy’ strategy: to understand the creature chewing away at your lucrative mined diamond market.”
Through this test, Lightbox will gain visibility into the appeal of lab-grown diamonds in the bridal market that its conceded to competitors for too long now that LGD’s share has reached nearly 40% last year, according to The Knot.
It will be ready to assume its self-appointed leadership position in the LGD jewelry business. “Lightbox was a very early player in the game. We have set the standard for the industry. We want to continue to set the standard for the industry,” Lightbox CEO Borde stated in a JCK interview.
But it may ultimately be more impactful for De Beers’ core natural diamond business. It is effectively getting inside the belly of the beast that threatens its cash cow.
“The bridal market is the Holy Grail in the diamond business. That’s the thing De Beers really needs to protect. It needs to understand why consumers prefer one to the other,” Golan said, with the insights gathered helping raise its power and influence in both markets.
No question that further commoditizing lab-grown diamonds will only help De Beers elevate the prestige, status and allure of natural diamonds, making LGDs the instantly gratifying ‘Big Mac’ alternative to its ‘Kobe beef’ burger alternative. And Lightbox’s LGD bridal offerings could be the way it does it.
Nonetheless, there is going to be plenty of future business in the lab-grown diamond jewelry business for Lightbox to get its fill and more.
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