The maxim popularized by the diamond industry is that “diamonds are forever.” Unfortunately, the environmental degradation brought about by diamond mining is also a ‘forever’ affair. Soil erosion, rampant deforestation and destruction of ecosystems are the costs of mining this symbol of wealth.
However, with more consumers becoming acquainted with the importance of sustainable sourcing, the diamond industry is also witnessing a gradual shift in buying patterns.
Vandana Notandas Jagwani, 28, made a business out of the attraction that lab-grown diamonds could hold for the younger generation. In February, she launched Vandals, India’s first-ever retail outlet for jewellery made of lab-grown diamonds, in Mumbai.
Vandana had unparalleled exposure to the jewellery making business as she was the creative head of her father’s iconic jewellery brand – Mahesh Notandass Fine Jewellery. She also has a degree in jewellery design from the Central Saint Martins University in London. However, all this did not translate into her family being supportive of her business idea.
“I had figured that although the diamond industry is very resistant to disruption in the form of lab-grown diamonds, they cannot resist anyone from building a market. Jewellery made of lab-grown diamonds costs only 40 percent of the jewellery made of diamonds extracted from the earth,” she informs.
Lab-grown diamonds are created by either subjecting slivers of diamond seeds to extremely high temperatures and pressure (similar to the conditions in which natural diamonds are formed) or by placing the seeds in chambers of carbon-rich gas and heating it.
Vandana explains, “After production, lab-grown diamonds go through the same cutting, polishing and inspection processes as natural diamonds. The jewellery making process is the same.”
After finishing B.Sc in business administration from Babson College in Massachusetts (US), Vandana had joined her father’s business where she managed designing, marketing and branding processes. “Designing was my passion and starting a luxury jewellery line made of lab-farmed diamonds had always been on my mind. But my idea was outright rejected by my father. As he has been in the industry for long, he thought it was too risky and was bound to fail.”
However, Vandana started working on her jewellery line in the dead of the night so that her family would not find out. She managed everything from sourcing the diamonds, procuring other materials, designing the pieces, to planning the launch of the brand – all by herself. “I was lucky to have contacts in the industry; but what could have been done in one phone call if my father was on board, took five calls,” she jests.
In fact, Vandana told her father only when the brand was ready to be launched. “I told him that the jewellery is ready and I am launching Vandals,” she recalls. Once her father saw Vandana making the impossible possible, he was proud of her. “At the launch he came to me and said, “Vandana, You killed it!” she recollects fondly.
Shock and curiosity
Vandana’s collection attracted curiosity and shock from jewellery lovers when they saw that lab-grown diamonds have congruent characteristics as that of diamonds pulled out from the earth’s bowels. There were also a lot of people who were aware of lab-grown diamonds but did not where they could purchase jewellery made of them.
“As far as the industry is concerned, I got positive responses from those who do not consider it a competition,” Vandana adds.
On being asked whether synthetic diamonds could be viewed less favourably by jewellery lovers owing to the perception that anything in laboratories is not rare, Vandana says, “Lab-grown diamonds are harder to source than natural diamonds because in the case of the latter, the industry is developed. Yes, jewellery made of lab-grown diamonds is cheaper than natural diamond jewellery; but the brand is about adoption of sustainable technologies. Vandals is not affordable luxury, it is progressive luxury. I want people to buy my jewellery proudly and not feel like they are sacrificing something.”
The future of lab-grown diamonds
Across the world, environmentally-conscious young consumers are now buying gems that follow ethical processes in mining and distribution. However, the market for lab-grown diamonds is in its infancy and whether older buyers will share the same outlook of responsible consumerism is yet to be seen. Vandana is not daunted by this challenge.
She says, “The onus of creating awareness and building a market is also on us. The advantages of being the first players can only be reaped when the market has been established. Once people have more information, it will create a steady stream of customers for lab-grown diamond jewellery.” She believes that lab-grown diamonds will be favoured by modern brides as they are educated, financially responsible, environmentally conscious, and don’t shy away from going against the tide.
According to Vandana, the aftereffects of the COVID–19 pandemic on her business will be significant. She says, “The next six months will be tough for the luxury business – it will be about survival and that will depend on the level of security of capital that businesses have. The silver lining is that it may also filter out competition. I will be focusing on educating people about lab-grown diamonds and answering their questions so that when businesses are back to normal, they can come to the store and touch and feel the products and should they choose to buy, Vandals should be the first name they can think of!”
(Edited by Athira Nair)