Business 28 June 2017
In an age of glitter tears and unicorn trends, it seems like we are all longing for some sparkle these days. And yet, not all that glitters is gold. How do we dig out something beautiful from dark places? I sat down with Beth Gerstein, co-founder of ethical jewelry brand Brilliant Earth, to talk about diamonds, love in the 21st century, and how doing business with a social mission can help improve the human condition.
After getting an MBA from Stanford, it was your own experience as a young woman shopping for an engagement ring that led you to co-found Brilliant Earth in 2005. Can you share your story with us?
When I was searching for an engagement ring with my then-fiancé, it was very important to me to find a conflict-free diamond that I could really feel good about wearing. We went to numerous jewelers to find a ring, and I always made a point to ask about the origin of the diamonds they offered. None of the jewelers could tell me about where their diamonds came from. I knew other couples who also wanted to find a diamond that supported responsible practices and were untouched by human rights abuses. We founded Brilliant Earth to help cultivate a more transparent and compassionate jewelry industry.
No one wants their expression of love to create harm. Can you explain what conflict diamonds are, the impact of mining abuses on communities, and how you are working to change this global market?
Conflict diamonds have funded devastating civil wars in Africa in the past, and still contribute to violence, exploitation and environmental devastation. The Kimberley Process was created by the diamond industry as a response to this to certify diamonds as conflict free. Unfortunately, conflict diamonds are narrowly defined by the Kimberley Process as diamonds that are used to fund rebel attacks against established governments. There are also other human rights violations that it does not take into account. We go beyond the usual standard to offer diamonds that are not tainted by human rights abuses or environmental degradation.
Our beyond conflict free diamonds come from mines that follow strict labor, trade and environmental standards. We work with a third party auditor, SCS Global Services, that independently verifies that our natural diamonds are traceable to their origins and confirms our chain of custody protocols. We also offer lab-created and recycled diamonds, both of which are eco-friendly alternatives. We believe that it’s important to be a force for change in the diamond industry and that beautiful jewelry need not come at a high human and environmental cost.
Millennials are known for being more conscious consumers and this industry seems ripe for disruption as a new generation comes of age. How has the appeal of ethical jewelry impacted your growth?
We have found that millennials are very interested in ethical sourcing. In fact, our survey on engagement ring preferences found that 80 percent of millennials believe that ethical sourcing is an important consideration when buying an engagement ring. Millennials have been an important source of growth for us, since these couples are really interested in knowing where their purchases come from and how they’re made. This is true of everything from coffee to t-shirts, so it only makes sense that customers care about the ethical origins of a purchase as large and emotionally important as an engagement ring.
One advantage we’ve seen as an ecommerce brand that’s popular with millennials is the opportunity to expand our brick and mortar presence in areas where we already have a strong online presence. This allows us to be a truly omnichannel retailer and gives customers in those areas the option of a personalized in-person experience. We recently opened showrooms in San Diego and D.C. and have another showroom on the way in Denver.
Brilliant Earth Rings
Many jewelry brands traditionally market engagement rings to men, while Brilliant Earth seems much more focused on marketing to women. Can you explain this strategy and how it might reflect the more active roles of women today in romantic relationships and planning for their own futures?
We market to both women and men because we know that many couples make engagement ring decisions together. Even in cases where the engagement is a complete surprise and one partner purchases the engagement ring alone, we know how important the other partner’s input is in the purchase.
For example, our customers tag their partners in our Instagram posts and create Pinterest boards of ring ideas to let their partner know what kind of rings they like. We also get many couples who shop for an engagement ring together.
From vintage Art Nouveau to modern rose gold, I think the artistry of your rings appeals to this generation’s creative nature. How has inviting people into the design experience resonated?
We find that customers love using our create-your-own-ring process because it gives them a chance to create a piece that reflects their own unique style. Customers can choose their ideal ring setting, whether they’re drawn to classic solitaires, distinctive halo designs, or delicate nature or vintage inspired styles. Then, customers can choose the center diamond they want from our wide selection. The ability to filter diamonds by metrics like shape, carat weight, price, origin, clarity, cut, and color really allows customers to get exactly the diamond they want. Customers also have the option of choosing a unique colored gemstone such as a sapphire, emerald, or aquamarine through our create-your-own-gemstone ring process. We believe the process of creating your ring should be a special, unique experience you can feel good about.
Thank you Beth! Your commitment to forging a business model that combats human suffering is inspiring. As the words of J.R.R. Tolkien remind us, while all that glitters is not gold, we can be the ones to unearth something brilliant and hopeful. Let us all believe in our power to bring light to dark places.
THE QUICK 10
1. What app do you most use?
PocketCast to listen to podcasts.
2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Check my email.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Whatever is in the break room.
8. What's something that's always in your bag?
A handwritten note from my kids.
9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Fully loaded Kindle, my husband, fruity cocktail.
3 min read
"More grapes, please," my daughter asked, as she continued to color her Peppa Pig drawing at the kitchen table.
"What do you say?" I asked her, as I was about to hand her the bowl.
I shook my head.
I stood there.
"I want green grapes instead of red grapes?"
I shook my head again. I handed her the bowl of green grapes. "Thank you. Please don't forget to say thank you."
"Thank you, Momma!"
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children?
Many of us are busy training our young children on manners on the other side of the Zoom camera during this pandemic. Reminding them to say please, excuse me, I tried it and it's not my favorite, I am sorry, and thank you. And yet somehow simple manners continue to be undervalued and underappreciated in our workplaces. Because who has time to say thank you?
"Call me. This needs to be completed in the next hour."
"They didn't like the deck. Needs to be redone."
"When are you planning on sending the proposal?"
"Did you see the questions he asked? Where are the responses?"
"Needs to be done by Monday."
Let me take a look. I didn't see a please. No please. Let me re-read it again. Nope, no thank you either. Sure, I'll get to that right away. Oh yes, you're welcome.
Organizations are under enormous pressure in this pandemic. Therefore, leaders are under enormous pressure. Business models collapsing, budget cuts, layoffs, or scrapping plans… Companies are trying to pivot as quickly as possible—afraid of extinction. With employees and leaders everywhere teaching and parenting at home, taking care of elderly parents, or maybe even living alone with little social interaction, more and more of us are dealing with all forms of grief, including losing loved ones to COVID-19.
So we could argue we just don't have time to say thank you; we don't have time to express gratitude. There's too much happening in the world to be grateful for anything. We are all living day to day, the pendulum for us swinging between surviving and thriving. But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
If you don't think you have to say thank you; if you don't think they deserve a thank you (it's their job, it's what they get paid to do); or if you think, "Why should I say thank you, no one ever thanks me for anything?" It's time to remember that while we might be living through one of the worst recessions of our lifetimes, the market will turn again. Jobs will open up, and those who don't feel recognized or valued will be the first to go. Those who don't feel appreciated and respected will make the easy decision to work for leaders who show gratitude.
But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children? Remind them with flashcards? Bribe them with a cookie? Tell them how I proud I am of them when they say those two magical words?
Showing gratitude isn't that difficult. You can send a thoughtful email or a text, send a handwritten card, send something small as a gesture of thank you, or just tell them. Call them and tell them how thankful you are for them and for their contributions. Just say thank you.
A coworker recently mailed me a thank you card, saying how much she appreciated me. It was one of the nicest things anyone from work has sent me during this pandemic. It was another reminder for me of how much we underestimate the power of a thank you card.
Apparently, quarantine gratitude journals are all the rage right now. So it's great if you have a beautiful, leather-bound gratitude journal. You can write down all of the people and the things that you are thankful for in your life. Apparently, it helps you sleep better, helps you stay grounded, and makes you in general happier. Just don't forget to take a moment to stop writing in that journal, and to show thanks and gratitude to those you are working with every single day.