LONDON — British jeweler Vashi is looking to demystify diamond buying and change the way consumers shop for the precious rocks with a new store on Piccadilly that’s focused on inclusion and personalization.
Vashi Domínguez, whose background is in diamond wholesale and retail e-commerce, has teamed with James McArthur, the investor and longtime luxury goods executive, on a retail concept that allows customers to compose or design their own diamond jewelry, and take part in the process of creating it.
The first Vashi store opened quietly last week at 46 Piccadilly, a short walk from the luxury diamond strip of Bond Street, and an official launch is set for Wednesday.
With skeptical, price-conscious and experience-loving Millennials in mind, Vashi is also adopting a more democratic approach to sales, offering prices that are about 50 percent lower than Tiffany & Co. and 30 percent less than the big British high street chains such as Ernest Jones and Goldsmiths, for similar quality diamonds.
“This is all about accessible luxury,” said Domínguez, whose title is founder and chief executive officer.
“When I was in wholesale, I always felt that something was not quite right. There was something unprofessional about the business. With retail, I always felt that people should be getting an unbelievable experience, and not be made to feel intimidated, or have wait weeks to have a ring resized. There are a lot of legacy issues with diamonds, and the customer experience was flawed.”
Domínguez used to run a diamond wholesale company supplying the big brands, and a decade ago he started Vashi.com, which sells diamond jewelry. The shop, he said, was a long-held dream and the aim is to meld service, personalization — and the raw emotion of purchasing or receiving a diamond — no matter the price point.
The store at 46 Piccadilly, across from Fortnum & Mason and right near the Royal Academy, spans 1,500 square feet over two floors and marks the start of Vashi’s omnichannel business. It also showcases the direction in which the brand is heading.
With its floor-to-ceiling windows, sparkling rings sitting on open shelves, and big communal table with a jeweler plying his craft at one end, the shop bears zero resemblance to a traditional diamond jewelry store. Then there are the walls, rough and industrial looking, with a white neon sign at one end that spells “The One.”
Customers work with sales staff known as “guardian angels” and are able to handle the settings and the diamonds, which have all been handpicked by Domínguez. The brand owns all its stock and also certifies the diamonds. McArthur, whose title is vice chairman, said Vashi adheres to the international Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which helps prevent conflict diamonds from entering the pipeline.
Customers can also look at the rocks under a microscope — no tweezers or white gloves required — and play around with stones and settings. They are able to create mood boards in-store or hand the Vashi jewelers drawings and have something made to order. Jewelry can be engraved with writing, images and children’s fingerprints.
Downstairs, customers can take an active part in the process of putting the jewelry together and even set stones in rings. The jewel-making process can also be live-streamed for customers who can’t make it to the shop. At the end of the process, Vashi also puts together coffee table books filled with images of the design process.
The store is open seven days a week.
McArthur has a long history in luxury goods, having served, at separate times, as chief executive officer of Harrods, Balenciaga and Anya Hindmarch.
At Gucci Group, from 2000 to 2007, he was the executive vice president overseeing the Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen brands after the group invested in those labels. During his tenure at Gucci he also oversaw M&A activity, integrating Bottega Veneta and Boucheron into the group.
McArthur said what interested him most about Vashi was being able to lift the veil on the diamond business, and to treat the consumer in a more inclusive — and personal — way.
“There is nothing wrong with paying less for diamonds, and we are more than happy to go through all the layers of sales margin with the customer. It’s not about obfuscation, but about making them the authority, the hero,” of the process, he said.
McArthur added that with luxury goods generally, “it’s rare for any brand to let you in on the process of making something, and the diamond industry is deliberately mysterious and it can be a scary experience buying a diamond. We want to approach the story in a different way — and make it a wonderful experience.”