De Beers: Taking Ownership of Its Legacy
This article first appeared in the special edition of The State of Fashion: Watches and Jewellery, co-published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.
Since ending its joint venture with LVMH in 2017 and returning to full ownership under De Beers Group, De Beers Jewellers has been undergoing a company-wide transformation, investing in a number of digital and sustainability priorities. Going forward, a key focus is building on the company’s omnichannel integration to enhance the “phygital” experience, says chief executive Céline Assimon, who adds that “every touchpoint needs to bring value.”
The messaging around sustainability has also changed, driven by the group’s 2030 framework of 12 commitments relating to ethical business practices, biodiversity impact, and the acceleration of equal opportunities among other pillars. “It’s about taking ownership of legacy,” she says. “You can’t change the past, but you can certainly make a positive impact starting from today.” Whether that refers to the jewellery industry’s diversity problem or its sustainability gap, Assimon seems ready to make meaningful commitments.
BoF: After years of opposition, De Beers Group surprised the industry in 2018 when it announced its Lightbox subsidiary that sells lab-grown diamonds. What are your views on lab-grown diamonds and their place in the industry over the next five years?
Céline Assimon: There’s room for both lab-grown and natural diamonds [but] they serve different purposes in terms of customer needs. I don’t think it’s really possible to compare both product categories against each other, either in terms of value or sustainability. As long as lab-grown diamonds are correctly labelled and properly differentiated — and this is where more education is needed by all brands — then they provide a choice for consumers in the fashion and accessories category, which is really why Lightbox was launched.
Will they ever feature in De Beers branded jewellery?
No. De Beers Jewellers really stands for magnifying natural diamonds and the rarest and most beautiful diamonds. We select them very carefully. That’s what we stand for.
How will you target the growing category of men’s jewellery?
Borders around femininity and masculinity are very fluid right now. We’ve especially noticed this in Asia, where men have a very different relationship to jewellery, and precious jewellery. In March we announced our first male brand ambassador, the Chinese singer and actor Cai Xukun. He chose to wear very delicate pieces, and we noticed a spike in purchases by our male clients emulating his aesthetic.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the jewellery industry’s lack of transparency, its negative impact on the environment and the human cost of its value chain. What are you doing to move your sustainability credentials forward?
We’ve made a commitment to ensure that every diamond we discover creates a lasting, positive impact for the people and places where they’re found — a commitment that we call “Building Forever” where we’ve announced 12 goals to be reached by 2030, covering a wide range of areas including provenance and transparency, responsible sourcing, protecting the natural world, diversity and inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion are top of mind for a growing number of consumers, but the jewellery sector appears to be one of the least diverse industries. Do you think there is a diversity problem in the sector? If so, how will De Beers be part of the solution?
For sure, the jewellery industry is not diverse. And it’s not just racial and ethnic diversity, generational diversity also needs to be addressed. [As part of our] commitment to increase the diversity of creative talent within the diamond sector, we’ve launched a few programmes with De Beers Group, including one started last year with BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of colour) communities to speak to designers in the UK and US to understand the barriers to accessing the diamond jewellery sector [as a first step].
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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