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.
Mid December with the holiday season on the horizon and having read too many pieces about social media addiction, I was ready for a break. Every time I reached for my phone, I had a Pavlovian instinct to click on the Instagram icon and that's when I knew it was time.