Have you ever thought about diamonds? We mean really thought about them. Whether it’s your engagement ring (or one you hope to be wearing one day), a pair of earrings you were gifted for your 21st birthday or a super generous, well-deserved self-gift for getting through a particularly tough time, chances are you see them as the pinnacle of the jewellery world. Sure, pearls, coloured stones and engraving are all great ways to make a piece really stand out, but there’s very little that can compete with the world of diamonds. Right?
But have we put them on too high a pedestal? As we become more aware of the steps involved in the retrieval of said diamond before before it lands in your hands – or, more specifically, on your finger – the more problematic the iconic stone becomes.
Traditional, natural diamonds – which are no doubt the majority of diamonds you’ve seen up until now – were formed over 3 billion years ago deep within the Earth’s crust under conditions of intense heat and pressure. The majority of natural diamonds are found in Africa, and the extraction process often requires extreme labour. Despite this, millions of African diamond miners earn less than a dollar a day.
Thankfully, as is often the way in this world of incredible technological advances, there is an alternative, and the lab-grown (often also referred to as ‘cultured’) diamond industry is booming right now.
A relatively self-explanatory concept, lab-grown diamonds are very real diamonds that have been manufactured by humans in a controlled environment. They are physically and aesthetically identical to naturally-mined diamonds. They don’t require the back-breaking labour, and they don’t require the same amount of time (3 billion years would be one long delivery estimate). They’re also an awful lot more affordable.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the world of cultured diamonds, so we caught up with Laura Chavez, founder of London-based jewellery label Lark & Berry.
Having launched her brand in 2018 out of a desire to disrupt the industry with her unique style and individual approach to curating an affordable luxury jewellery offering, Laura has seen unbelievable success in just three years.
With everyone from Jourdan Dunn and Halima Aden to Dame Helen Mirren wearing her pieces to the Met Gala, the British Fashion Awards and even the Oscars, Lark & Berry is undoubtedly fast-becoming the go-to label for the most exquisite statement-making, ethical pieces of jewellery on a more realistic budget.
Q In your own words, how are lab-grown/cultured (side note: do you have a preference of term?) diamonds created in comparison to naturally mined diamonds?
“Scientists use heat and pressure to grow cultured diamonds in labs to exactly replicate the way in which diamonds form underground. After the diamonds grow, the process by which the uncut diamonds make their way to your jewellery is identical – they need to be cut and polished to give them that shape we all recognize in diamonds jewellery.”
“We like the term ‘cultured diamonds’, as we are offering beautiful stones that are grown, just like cultured pearls are grown for use in fine jewellery. ‘Lab grown’, although technically correct, just sounds so sterile. For example, I like to say I am drinking sparkling water, not water infused with carbon dioxide gas, just like I like to say we only use cultured diamonds!”
Q Talk us through the ethical and sustainable benefits of cultured diamonds.
“Imagine being able to source diamonds that are 100% real without digging up huge holes, without displacing land, without displacing wildlife from their habitats and without polluting water, land or air. Imagine diamonds sourced without putting a single person, or especially a child’s life, at risk. Well, this is no longer a matter of imagination. The tech is here, and it’s forever changed the way we think of our diamonds. The sooner we all embrace this change and support it, the better off our planet and its people will be!”
“Diamonds can even be grown using 100% renewable energy now. With each passing month, more of the top labs in the world are becoming carbon neutral in growing their stones. This level of sustainability is incomparably superior for the planet’s well-being when you consider the alternative – having to explore new lands with polluting equipment, digging holes that do permanent damage and exposing people to dangers in the mining process just for a diamond, which we can now create ourselves minus all these harms.”
Q What attracted you to working in this area of luxury jewellery specifically?
“In 2016, while pursuing my MBA in London, I happened upon the London Jewellery School in Hatton Garden. I took a general jewellery history course just for fun and love of jewellery. It was there I first learned of the existence of cultured diamonds. I was blown away. How was it that we, as humans, could now create better quality diamonds in a guaranteed conflict-free way – diamonds that not even gemologists could tell apart, yet we are still mining for them? It made no sense to me.”
“I’d always loved the idea of diamond jewellery, but I had never actually bought anything with diamonds due to their shady history. It bothered me greatly not knowing where the diamond would be coming from and who it might have hurt. And on top of it all, mined diamond luxury jewellery was so expensive.”
“So, the idea began to bloom in my mind: someone needs to start a designer brand whose entire range of jewellery is made the right way for the planet – a brand that provides more people access to high quality, everlasting pieces.”
Q What has been your most ‘pinch me’ moment since launching in 2018?
“It’s so hard to pick just one! I would say these are all tied for first place:”
“We’re the first exclusively cultured diamonds brand to be worn at the Met Gala by both Regina King and Lana Condor, we were also worn at the Oscars on the red carpet by various celebrities and most notably in the opening performance by Billy Porter. We’ve also been worn at AMFAR and at the BFA’s by models and celebrities. We’ve been on every other major red-carpet event, and we were named one of the ‘Great British Brands of 2020’.”
“But despite these achievements, my favourite moment might be one that took place just before the pandemic. We had a family of 3 generations come into our London Flagship location – daughter, mom and grandmother, and they all wanted to get piercings together. It was so inspiring to see three people spanning that many generations excited about sharing an experience Lark & Berry could create for them. We were not only offering beautiful jewellery to them, but we were also creating a familial memory. If this isn’t a ‘pinch me’ moment, I don’t know what is!”
Q What is the biggest misconception around cultured stones that you find amongst clients, and are you seeing an increase in interest as understanding around them and their merits increases?
“Most people are becoming very supportive of cultured diamonds once they understand all the benefits – especially once they see that ultimately, cultured are just diamonds, the very same as mined. We’ve had customers who only recently became aware of cultured diamonds email us to tell us how happy they are a company like ours exists. We’ve recently seen a 1,000% increase in engagement ring sales. I think that’s a great sign that customers are realizing they want a better diamond that doesn’t cost them or the earth more.”
“That said, the resistance does not come from people like you and me, most of the resistance we have faced (thankfully, in a sense) has actually come from the mined diamonds industry. As you can imagine, they want to keep selling the diamonds they have been digging up for years. They’ve tried to portray cultured diamonds as unflatteringly as possible, but the fact is, cultured diamonds have so many undeniable benefits over mined. Even the most famous mining company has now started growing their own diamonds and selling them to customers as well! I think they’ve realized cultured is the future and don’t want to become obsolete – it’s just like what happens when a new technology disrupts any industry.”
Q Cultured stones are a more affordable take on luxury jewellery, but many believe that they lose much more value once sold than natural diamonds do – is this true?
“Monetary value for both mined or cultured diamonds is dependent on finding a buyer in the future. Many people think their mined diamonds will keep their value, but unless they are auction-type, rare finds, any diamond is hard to sell for anything close to its original price. Any diamond dealer that tells people otherwise is just trying to make a sale under false pretenses.”
“I’ve had people tell me they were only able to get 15% – 20% of what they paid, for example. So, when people buy any diamond, I tell them they should buy it because of what it represents to them. This can be a special moment or a reminder of how a piece makes you feel. I tell people that no matter whether their diamond is mined or grown it will still last them forever, and it can still be passed on to heirs. With cultured diamonds, however, you’re also placing value on the fact that they didn’t cost the planet as much. And cultured will most certainly cost you less, as well!”
Q Alongside your classic diamond pieces you work with a lot of coloured stones. Are you seeing any particular trends emerging in that space right now?
“Yes, we are seeing many more people open to experiment and mix colours – both in engagement rings and piercings, for instance. We have a wide range of jewellery – from piercings to engagement and everything in between, and we’re seeing trends in every category move towards experimenting more.”
“Going for the mis-matched piercings look on both ears is also becoming extremely popular. Stacking coloured stones piercings or rings is another trend that we love.”
“We hope to re-open our London flagship store in Marylebone on April 12 so that we can begin piercing again!”
Q To date, what has been your most popular piece/collection?
“The Veto collection has been such a mainstay for female self-gifting. It offers such variety! It’s home to pieces of both white and coloured sapphires, has many popular piercing pieces and many popular rings and necklaces from every price range.”
“The Veto collection was also one of our launch lines, so it holds special, sentimental value. The ‘Veto’ name is one that really embodies our brand ethos, as in we shall ‘Veto’ the way we used to do things as lovers of diamonds, such as using mined diamonds for fine jewellery. The Veto line is a key one for us representing an embrace of sustainable change by way of using cultured diamonds.”
“I also love our engagement rings line. I’m so thrilled to see it succeeding. I think our bespoke services offer such a unique experience. We get really into bringing our customer’s fantasy rings to life, and they love seeing their creativity flourish.”