The innovators creating a beauty future with sustainable, ethical diamonds
These lab-grown gems are physically and chemically the same as diamonds mined from the earth. A collaboration with Dover Street Market hopes to change the industry.
What happens when you give six renowned contemporary jewellery designers and one artist an unlimited supply of lab-grown diamonds to play with? That’s what the Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market Fine Jewellery project set out to find discover.
The result: A year of conversation, the use of more than 100 diamonds, six mini capsule collections, 18 pieces of jewellery and an interactive installation created by artist, photographer and film-maker Katerina Jebb. The final project is now due to travel to five cities around the world with the aim to promote sustainable and ethical practices within the industry.
The collaboration is a first for Dover Street Market and Diamond Foundry – the US’s leading producer of lab-grown diamonds which are created in its San Francisco foundry using solar power.
Lab-grown diamonds have grown dramatically in popularity over the past 10 years. Physically, chemically and aesthetically they are the same as diamonds mined from the earth. But whereas natural diamonds are produced over millennia, these are “grown” from diamond seeds in a lab which replicate the natural growing process.
"These diamonds are fresh, they do not carry the weight of Mother Earth."
The benefits are significant: The environmental impact of industrial mining is avoided, renewable energy can be used to grow the diamonds (Diamond Foundry is the world’s first diamond producer certified to be carbon neutral), and the process is transparent – you can track each diamond from origin to eventual sale point, a feat which is near impossible with diamonds mined from many of the major mining sites across the globe.
We talk to each of the designers on this “above ground” diamond journey.
Raphaele Canot doesn’t like to take her jewellery design too seriously. “My style is one of light, spirited, effortless classics with a hint of French wit,” said the self-described diamond obsessive of her work. But at first she wasn’t sure about using lab-grown stones. “I was curious to discover if they would move me in the same way that mined diamonds do. I approached them with curiosity and a hint of scepticism, like I would read a novel written by an AI machine.”
The project presented an opportunity for Canot to try body jewellery, something she had never done before. “These diamonds are fresh, they do not carry the weight of Mother Earth or the heavy symbols. They led me to more versatile and playful designs… Two of the three necklaces I created can be worn as body cross or waistline chains. Each piece features a single star stone [a cut designed to increase light reflection]. I love that with fresh diamonds you can dictate how it is cut.”
Michele Lamy, who is also a wife and business partner to designer Rick Owens, co-founded Hunrod with jeweller and long-term friend Loree Rodkin in 2014. The duo share an instantly recognisable and unique aesthetic. Chunky rings of dripping molten metal, black rhodium and silver are set with natural stones, and earrings that could be mistaken for ancient Viking artefacts are battered and twisted to boast a raw unfinished quality.
For their capsule, the duo created a glittering slithering snake with a diamond which wraps itself around an oversized gold and bronze base stretching from knuckle to finger joint. “We only used one diamond, the biggest they could give us!” said Lamy. Even after the project Lamy is still in awe of the process. “The Diamond Foundry is a mystery to me! Maybe a way to recreate the world… Who knows! They are disruptors at the forefront of technology…”
SOPHIE BILLE BRAHE
Sophie Bille Brahe’s now iconic Croissant de Lune earring – a row of diamonds on 19k gold which follows the curve of the ear like a miniature cuff – which debuted in her inaugural collection in 2011, was an instant hit and continues to sell today.
For her DSM x Diamond Foundry collaboration, she has gone in a different direction: Simple linear earrings, with diamonds whizzing like stars across their white gold base. Bille Brahe often looks to the cosmos for inspiration, her fascination with the night sky stemming from her ancestor, the radical astronomer Tycho Brahe.
Known for her use of natural iconography often depicting eyes, bees and ruby red lips, Delettrez describes her pieces as being “hyper modern”. The designer wanted her collection of two earrings, a ring and a gold bracelet – all handmade in her Roman atelier – to feel a little more punk than her usual designs but still be wearable. “I took inspiration from the classicism of the stone, with a punk touch given by the piercing that is drilled through the diamond, that is part of my universe. A dialogue between past and future”.
Delettrez likes to be forward thinking when designing, and found the DSM x Diamond Foundry project a natural fit: “I’m fascinated by the future and by experimentation,” she said. “I’m interested in giving customers an alternative as the two types of diamond can perfectly coexist. It’s an added value, the ethical value. Especially for new generations who are more socially aware.”
Ana Khouri was not always interested in jewellery. Her background lies in sculpture, and it was her passion for art that shaped her career path. “I studied fine arts and had a show where I had sculptures hanging on women. Someone there asked me to adapt the pieces into jewellery. That was the start…” Today Khouri’s designs have a fluidity to them: Earrings hang in circular tiers from the lobe, or appear to “wrap” around. “Louise Bourgeois is an eternal inspiration to me as an artist and as a woman,” said the jeweller.
Khouri already employs a sustainable and transparent agenda for her brand and believes each piece of jewellery should connect to its wearer and send a positive message. “Being aware of all the materials we work with and choosing the best is a basic foundation for our brand, and it’s important to our clients who are learning a lot from us.”
Since launching in 2004, Hum’s founders Yuka Inanuma and Tomohiro Sadakiyo have sought more sustainable methods to produce their work. When approached by DSM x Diamond Foundry, they felt the synergy. “Even in the art and fashion world, I believe the technology evolution will be an important factor,” said Inanuma. “We hope the fusion of tech and handmade will create new values.”
For their project, Hum kept it minimal, using only three diamonds, one for each ring created. “The platinum and gold used have been refined from our atelier’s scraps – metal powder from previous production processes – and the entire process was done by hand by a single craftsman using Japanese metallising technology,” said Inanuma.
By Flora Macdonald Johnston © The Financial Times