Founders Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus

LONDON — Kimaï, the young fine jewelry label known for its use of lab-grown diamonds and a favorite of the Duchess of Sussex, is now ready to bring on investors to lead its next stage of growth, having completed a seed investment round of $1.2 million

The round was led by Talis Capital, whose portfolio also includes the chat-based commerce platform Threads, as well as a number of high-profile investors including designer Rebecca Minkoff; head of the Facebook app Fidji Simo; Cartier France’s former managing director Coralie De Fontenay; and billionaire businessman Xavier Niel.

The brand’s founders, 26-year-olds Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus — who are both Antwerp-raised and from diamond-trading families — said they were looking to bring together a group of people with the right type of background and experience, people they can always turn to for advice.

“Some of our investors didn’t even know about the concept of lab-grown diamonds before,” said Warch, pointing to the nascent brand’s ability to gain traction and build an audience from early on, even if it had zero backing at the time.

Kimaï was started in November 2018 as a response to Warch and Neuhaus’ desire to create a fine jewelry brand that was transparent and had a more modern outlook. The duo started with $10,000 that went toward building an e-commerce platform, shooting product and producing content that would educate customers’ about the lab-grown industry.

“The jewelry industry hasn’t evolved with us, everything is still being done the same way so it made sense to us to bring in innovation,” said Warch. “Coming from diamond-trading families, we’ve always been conscious of our impact on the planet and could never find satisfactory answers as to where a diamond comes from. A diamond can change hands 10 to 15 times, so it’s a non-transparent and untraceable” manufacturing process.

As a response to the need for a more up-to-date approach, Kimaï chose to go the direct-to-consumer route, offer a monthly drop model and more modern, made-to-order designs like earcuffs and hand chains. The rest came from Warch and Neuhaus’ will to hustle — with a little help from Meghan Markle.

A Kimaï campaign image

A Kimaï campaign image.  Courtesy Photo

“We knew that without funding, we’d need to have someone on board who is aligned with our values and we just found a way to get Meghan Markle to wear our product,” said Warch.

“The  industry is still very new, so having royalty wear lab-grown diamonds gave us not only as a brand but also as an industry, a lot of credibility. The fact that the design of the earrings was less traditional also helped us stand out more and having launched two months before, we were given a lot of exposure across the U.S. and also internationally.”

Other powerful figures, including Emma Watson and Jessica Alba followed suit.

The U.S. is one of the strongest markets for the brand and is also among the most educated about the lab-grown industry.

Following their first investment round, Warch and Neuhaus want to further explore the big opportunity that lies in Europe by investing in content creation in a bigger way to educate the market about lab-grown diamonds. This will include newsletters, blogs, videos, shoots, as well as a full re-branding of the brand’s site and visuals.

The plan is to continue focusing on direct-to-consumer and made-to-order sales for the moment, with a small number of wholesale partnerships in the works including the London-based boutique Browns.

“Because of our made-to-order model, we could launch without investment. We don’t need to commit to inventory that way and it allows us to be more reactive to trends and to test what consumers want,” said Warch, adding that they only plan to bring on retail partners if they are “aligned with [their] values,” like Browns or Reformation, which offered its New York store for Kimaï’s first pop-up earlier this year.

“We’re not looking to go into retail just yet. We want to build a community first, so we are doing more pop-ups with consumers.”

A Kimaï campaign image

A Kimaï campaign image.  Courtesy Photo

The use of lab-grown diamonds, which came onto the mainstream two to three years ago as a more modern, sustainable alternative to mined diamonds, has often faced criticism from traditional jewelers who argue that the energy and resulting CO2 emissions required to create a diamond in the lab are significantly higher than those produced by mining, which is a source of job creation for many local communities across Africa.

Diamond manufacturers also criticize the pricing of lab-grown stones as being too high and bound to fall when production levels increase, leaving early adopters with pieces bought at a premium and with no resale value.

“Value is first and foremost emotion and there’s always a story behind a purchase. We will have to see how the market reacts, but this is a luxury product with a certain value attached to it. In terms of resale, mined diamonds do not have a higher resale value either,” said Warch.

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