LONDON – Luxury diamonds are becoming increasingly democratic, and if that sounds odd, think about it: De Beers Jewelers’ best-sellers include the Enchanted Lotus stud earrings, delicate white gold and diamond earrings, which cost £1,550.
That’s £100 less than Gucci’s Jackie 1961 small canvas and leather shoulder bag; £1,000 less than the Fendace Quilted Silk Baguette and almost £3,000 less than the large Lady Dior bag.
Handbags, no matter what they’re made of, have risen in price faster than fine jewelry. The big brands use their star power, captivate consumers and regularly raise their prices – without much resistance.
The big brands are also building credibility in new categories, from sneakers to fine jewelry, relying on their almighty names to keep the business afloat.
Céline Assimon, chief executive officer of De Beers Jewelers and its sister brand De Beers Forevermark, sees the luxury turnaround as more of an opportunity than a cause for panic. And she uses her previous experience at brands like de Grisogono, Piaget, Louis Vuitton and Cartier to rise to the challenge.
Assimon took over as CEO of De Beers Diamond Jewelers in August 2020, succeeding François Delage. She took over the role from Forevermark a year later, succeeding Nancy Liu, who left the company.
She believes the extremely competitive environment, where cloth bags can cost more than diamonds and fashion houses sell fine jewelry, “pushes everyone to do better and it means the pure players can’t get too complacent,” Assimon said .
“It also means we can open up audiences and offer more options to customers who may not have gone to a jewelry store to buy something small in the past. Twenty years ago, the Place Vendôme wasn’t as inviting as it is today, and I think that’s a good thing. Democratization is a good thing,” Assimon said in an interview.
More competition and a potentially wider audience means De Beers Diamond Jewelers can also take increasing risks.
Assimon said every time the company launches a high quality jewelry collection: “We push the limits, we try different materials and daring combinations. We want to plant a seed in the minds of our customers and show them what is possible.”
De Beers’ Light Rays collection is a good example: it mixes fancy colored rough diamonds and polished diamonds in tones meant to mimic the sun’s rays. The jewels are made of colored titanium and black rhodium-plated gold and represent rays of light. The result is jewelry that looks more like embroidery or miniature paintings.
Assimon said she’s also seeing a shift on the customer side. People want to invest in fine jewelry and wear it regularly. Gone are the days when family jewels were locked away in a safe and taken out twice a year for formal occasions.
“The function of jewelery has changed compared to the 1960s or even the 1980s. Women do not play the same role in the family. They’re more active than ever, they shop for themselves and they’re also involved in design,” Assimon said.
“We’re definitely seeing a trend towards more wearable garments, regardless of price. Customers want jewelry that is versatile, lightweight, and fun. The jewelry we make is not allowed to go in the safe,” she added.
Assimon said bridal wear — and the way people jazz up their engagement rings after being married for a few years — is a great example of changing consumer tastes.
Bridal wear is an important business for De Beers and is also growing.
“Lately we’ve noticed a greater appetite for bigger and better quality. People seem to be budgeting more for their engagement rings,” Assimon said, adding that customers are also becoming more experimental, opting for quirky cuts, unconventional designs and colored stones, some of which offer better value for money than clear diamonds.
She added that De Beers has done a lot of work to educate customers about colored diamonds in particular.
“Customers have asked for yellow-orange or brownish-pink diamonds, which are very reasonably priced in comparison. Single color diamonds (such as fancy yellow stones) are out of reach for most, while two-tone ones allow you to have something different. Increasingly [couples] participate in these new types of purchases that express personality and a different take on the traditional wedding,” she said.
Additionally, those who have been married for a few years choose to shake things up by slipping their engagement rings onto their right hand and pairing them with “jackets” that sit next to them.
A bestseller at De Beers is the platinum and diamond Dewdrop Crown ring, set just below the engagement ring. Designed to look like small water droplets, it can also be worn alone.
Assimon said that she personally loves stacking multiple rings on one finger. So she started brainstorming with the design team and that’s how they came up with the idea for the jackets and crowns.
“They’re very simple, but they really change the personality of the engagement ring,” she said.
At Forevermark, Assimon is focused on bringing the brand aesthetic and merchandising closer to that of De Beers Jewelers. Assimon said if De Beers Jewelers is ‘couture’, then Forevermark is more like ready-to-wear. She described it as “super contemporary and curated to the taste of the local markets”.
She wants to bring the two brands closer from a merchandising perspective and make sure they complement each other.
According to De Beers, less than 1 percent of the world’s diamonds are eligible to become Forevermark. The diamonds are all responsibly sourced and the company ensures that strict business, environmental and social standards are followed at all levels.
They are sold through a select group of authorized Forevermark jewelers and are available as loose diamonds or as finished jewellery. They are stamped with a microscopic brand logo and a unique number.
De Beers launched the Forevermark brand in 2008, and since then the company has tried to track and track every single diamond it mines and sells. Last September, it began piloting the Code of Origin, a unique, custom code designed to guarantee that a diamond is natural, conflict-free, and ethically sourced.
The Code of Origin pilot is part of De Beers’ overarching mission, Building Forever, to achieve its multiple sustainability goals by 2030. The project takes inspiration from Forevermark.
Assimon said customers who choose to buy “fewer, better jewels” are also very concerned about the origins of the stones and the communities that work in the mines.
“Sustainability and traceability are fundamental elements today, and they continue to be a key factor influencing the purchasing decisions of customers across the industry,” said Assimon. “They are no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. People choose what makes sense and they look for brands that act responsibly.”
FOR MORE FROM WWD.COM ABOUT DE BEERS, VISIT:
De Beers’ Stephen Lussier on diamonds, dreams and the economy of desire
Making a positive impact with De Beers’ Building Forever 2030 goals
De Beers tries to track, tag and promote every single diamond it mines