March 17, 2020 by VICTORIA GOMELSKY
Since debuting at JCK Las Vegas in 2018, Lightbox Jewelry, De Beers’ lab-grown diamond brand, has made steady progress on its mission to introduce lab-grown diamond fashion jewelry to the masses. In November of that year, Lightbox staged its first pop-up event at the Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center in New York City. The brand ranked fifth in product-listing ads in a 2019 survey of paid search advertising for lab-grown-related keywords. And as of this year, Lightbox has benefited from increasing consumer awareness of man-made diamonds—and retailers’ growing support for the category.
“We’re encouraged by the level of customer interest in our product,” says Lightbox Jewelry CEO Steve Coe. “It’s a vindication of our belief there’s a strong lab-grown opportunity in the fashion jewelry space, around $1,000.”
Lightbox Jewelry CEO Steve Coe
Below, Coe talks to JCK about the status of Lightbox’s new factory near Portland, Ore.; what the brand has learned about consumers’ take on colored diamonds; and why the company recently introduced grading reports for its products.
What are your biggest initiatives for 2020?
The opening of the new manufacturing facility in Oregon. It’s already well advanced. The building is complete and services are complete. They are literally installing reactors as we speak. It will come online the second half of this year and will give us significantly more volume of product—something like 200,000 polished carats per year. That will enable us to get into much wider distribution than today. Today, our production is significantly lower because we’re doing it out of Element Six in the U.K. This factory is a game changer. It’s going to ramp up over a period of time; the idea is that by the end of the year, it will be fully running.
How are sales?
They’re going well. Very positive. We’re doing a trial with Reeds—we’re in 45 of their doors and in two doors with Bloomingdale’s. The trial runs through the end of the quarter. We’re already looking for opportunities to expand distribution. We’re aiming to get in nationwide distribution by the end of this year.
Do independent jewelers fit into your distribution plans?
We’re very happy to do both chains and independents. We’ve already had some preliminary discussions with independents.
What do you look for in a wholesale partner?
Somebody who obviously has a strong retail presence and a good relationship with their customers—also someone who shares our vision in the existing opportunity lab-grown offers in the fashion jewelry space and the opportunity to get colored stones out there in the market.
Besides pink and blue, are you working with any new colors?
Probably not for 2020. It’s worth noting that colors continue to do very well for us. Fifty percent of what we sell are in pinks and blues. We had the view it might take time for consumers to get used to colored product, but it’s been strong from the start. More colors are likely to come online from 2020 onward. Our focus this year will be around new designs of jewelry and pushing distribution out more widely.
And what sizes are you now producing?
We have been starting to push up the sizes. We do have a lot more products at 1 carat size. And last year we launched some ear studs at 1.5 carats, and they have performed well.
Solitaire pendant in 10k yellow gold with 1 ct. lab-grown diamond, $1,000
The news that you recently started providing grading—was that in response to customer feedback?
It’s something consumers have been asking all along. We made it clear we don’t feel it makes sense to issue individual grading certifications because stones from a particular batch are the same. It’s more important that we have rigorous quality control in place and only sell stones that meet those quality requirements. We’ve confirmed that quality standard in those tech specs. All our white stones are near colorless, VS clarity, VG from a cut perspective, and anyone buying our white stones will get a copy of that tech spec confirming the quality of their product.
How are Lightbox’s e-commerce sales going?
They’ve gone very well from the very start. Last year we saw 16% of sales online came from repeat customers who came in to buy a second product—an early sign that consumers liked the product enough to come back and buy more within a very short period of time. No doubt, it will be a large part of our distribution in the future—but no doubt wholesale distribution will be bigger.
Top: Two-stone open shank ring in 10k yellow gold with 0.75 ct. t.w. blue and white lab-grown diamonds, $900; Lightbox Jewelry