As sustainability grows more and more prevalent in the clothing industry, the call for more ethical, environmentally-conscious jewelry options is increasing in volume as well. When budgeting for and purchasing items that have the potential to someday be heirlooms, like engagement rings or statement pieces, shoppers are looking to lab-grown diamonds — diamonds which are exactly the same as their mined counterparts in chemical, physical and optical properties, and are just as sparkling and aesthetically pleasing as well — as the solution to the jewelry industry’s once-standardized, troubled mining practices.
Plum Diamonds, the direct-to-consumer lab ground diamond jewelry company, puts quality and sustainability at the forefront of its mission — with an emphasis on the human, personal touch that is born of shopping for a piece of jewelry that will last for a lifetime. The company offers customers a variety of styles — all made in its Responsible Jewellery Council-certified (RJC) — including round, oval, cushion, pear, emerald and radiant cuts and yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, platinum two-tone yellow and two-tone rose bands. Customers can also shop by style, which includes solitaire, pave, halo, hidden halo, three stone and cathedral styles for engagement rings and wedding bands.
The company’s customization service, which is all online, is optimized for simplicity, clarity and innovation as customers decide what works for them — and so they know for sure, Plum Diamonds offers a “Find Your Diamond” kit, so that customers can use the display rings and samples to see the style (and others) on their finger for real. Through this service and more, including the offer of free resizing and a lifetime warranty on pieces, Plum Diamonds prioritizes the unique, individual needs of its customers from their initial inquiry to purchase and beyond.
Kristy Cullinane, the brand’s co-founder, shared her life-long love of jewelry that led her to create Plum Diamonds, and offered her insights on today’s retro-inspired jewelry trends, the ways that lab grown diamonds can offer shoppers more for their money and how the brand allows their customers take a leading role.
Have you always loved jewelry? When did you know that you wanted to be in the jewelry industry as your career path?
I think I have, but it’s been kind of a winding path. When I was really young, I was interested in jewelry as a craft. After college, I had some down time between a corporate job and a relocation. I thought to myself, “If I could do anything and money wasn’t an object — and it didn’t matter because it was just for fun and for a little while — what would it be?” And I actually ended up working as an apprentice for a jeweler. I took some classes and learned the production side. I was also in a relationship with a physicist who was growing diamonds for a scientific use at the Naval Research Lab. So there was all this jewelry stuff bubbling up around me. We moved to London together, and I worked for another jeweler at a larger company in a bigger capacity. After that, my path kind of deviated. I wanted to do more than just make jewelry with my hands and learn the business side of the industry. I became interested in marketing and commerce, and eventually came back to the jewelry industry full circle. Now I’m here again working with lab-grown diamonds at Plum Diamonds.
What sets Plum Diamonds apart from other jewelry brands?
A couple of things. One is the quality and the origin, and the second is the way that we have set up shopping for customers online. We are in a really unique place because we own our manufacturing facilities, so we control where the precious metal settings are made and all that goes into each ring setting. We’re certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), which is [a status] that is very difficult to get and maintain. Working with us, you can be confident that you’re getting goods and services that meet the highest compliances. Because we’ve been making jewelry in our own manufacturing facilities for decades, we’re set up to make heirloom-quality, custom jewelry at scale. Every piece is made to order and it isn’t mass-produced, so our jewelry is much better quality than some of our competitors; it’s made to last.
The second piece is shopping online. The way we’ve set up our ring customization services is really inspired by in-store jewelry businesses and the conversations that we’ve had with people in real life over the years. We find that a lot of couples are interested in the center diamond — unless they want something that’s very customized or specific, a lot of the piece customers are looking for have very simple modifications that bring out the beauty of that center diamond and help it be center stage. We try to set it up to be simple for people, and help them to get into intuitive customization as quickly [and painlessly] as possible.
Who is the Plum Diamonds customer? What are they looking for when it comes to finding their perfect ring?
Our customer is a contemporary, modern customer who is interested in the idea of a timeless symbol of their relationship and story. They’re probably thinking of something they might want to pass down, so they value heirloom quality and longevity and want something that is going to last that they’ll treasure forever. What makes them a little bit different from another customer is they’re kind of grossed out by what’s happening in the mined diamond industry right now. By now, everyone’s seen “Blood Diamond,” and we’re all aware of conflict diamonds — there’s a lot of issues in the mined diamond space that most of us know about. [Our customer] is really, really turned off by that, but what turns them on to a lab diamond is that they learn how much more they can get for a much smaller investment. Generally, they get a bigger, brighter and better real diamond without any of the baggage — it’s still a diamond that is graded individually, so it’s unique. [Lab diamonds] share the same characteristics of mined diamonds, wherein every one that’s grown is grown a little bit differently, so they all have birthmarks. To sum it up, I think our customer has this idea that they want something timeless and special, but they’re not buying lab-grown to save money — they’re buying because they see all of the benefits that they get over mined diamonds.
What engagement ring and wedding band trends are most popular right now? What trends are you excited to see grow in popularity?
Right now, I would say there are a lot of vintage-inspired trends, including emerald cuts from the Art Deco period. They’re very clean and classic looking. They’re perfect for lab diamonds, too, because you can get a generously sized emerald cut lab diamond, so that’s one that’s really great. Some fun ones are 80s and 90s trends — the pear shape is back. Some diamonds persist in terms of being in style and some aren’t quite as evergreen, and the pear is one that kind of went away for a while. Now that it’s back, it’s exciting to see it! I love the updates [to the style] — they’re in very different settings than they were in the 90s and 80s. Now, the settings are more delicate, a lot of them have hidden halos and are made more modernly, but it’s still just a classic, great cut that I love. Three stones are never out of style, and are on trend now as well.
In terms of what trends I’d like to see, radiant cuts are a relatively new cut, and it’s fun to see more and more of those set in very timeless, classic settings, again made with a hidden halo. There are a lot of different ways that those are really beautiful, so it’s fun to see a newer cut become popular. In terms of wedding band trends, we do see a lot of the very classic, dainty diamond bands. We offer a cool one that’s a little bit wider with some flush sets in different sizes. There are some variations on the classic wedding band, but anything that’s going to sit right up next to your engagement ring and have a little bit of nice contrast is something that’s going to look great and is really popular.
Can you walk me through the process of use for the “Find Your Diamond” kit? What kinds of responses do you receive from customers that use this service?
Going back to our design philosophy, a lot of people are looking for that classic diamond ring that’s all about the center diamond, and lab-makes are perfect because you can go bigger and really make a statement with the center stone. A lot of the time, you want to get that perfect center diamond for you, but it can be really hard [to decide] on the shape and karat weight. When someone comes in the store, we’ll take loose diamonds and put them on their hand so they can see it on their own individual hands. You might have a very slim hand or broader fingers, and different karat weights are going to feel different on you.
The idea [behind the kit] was really about helping people figure out those two tricky pieces, which is karat weight and shape. There’s a big difference between a three karat round diamond and a one karat round diamond, so we’ll send you a one karat, two karat and three karat sample so you can see where you’d like your diamond to fall in that range. We send several samples of our styles, and what really makes us different is [we don’t send] all round one karat samples — that way, you see what the style looks like, but you don’t really know what the diamond will look like on your hand. And isn’t [how the ring looks] the most important piece if you’re shopping for a ring that’s going to have a real wow factor?
How does Plum Diamonds prioritize ethics and sustainability? Why was it important to work with lab-grown diamonds?
We’re really here for the couple, and we want to cater to what they want. Ethics and sustainability are baked into [our brand], but at the end of the day, we really don’t think that’s the number one reason people are making purchase decisions. But, it’s something that customers want. I mentioned that we’ve got our RJC-certified facility, so that on its own is very special. Our facility has a big impact and ensures that everything we’re doing meets those really, really high compliance standards. We wanted to highlight that because we knew it was important to people. Lab-grown diamonds are something that I felt really passionately about, and we all feel really passionately about at Plum Diamonds, because it’s the thing that customers are so excited about. In a nutshell, it all goes back to the clients and what they want. There was never a question of going into mined diamonds, because we don’t see that that’s what our customers are demanding. We’re looking to do more to make sure that not just our manufacturing side [is ethical and sustainable], but also everything that goes into the e-commerce brand. I’m already speaking with others and expect to find out what other principles and action items we can bring into what we’re doing.
Can you tell me about the brand’s Shopping Gives initiatives?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to give back. A lot of jewelry brands give back to a lot of organizations that are overseas and directly impacted by diamond mining, which is wonderful. Going back to really getting behind what our customers want, we’ve always really wanted to be in a position where they’re driving and we’re in the passenger seat. We really value our customers’ unique, individual values and the things that they care about, and that includes local causes. We thought it was important to have the opportunity to support locally, knowing that, by contrast, a lot of our competitors are supporting global initiatives. So that’s when we found Shopping Gives. They’re perfect for us because we’ve got a few default organizations that we give to if shoppers forget to or don’t notice that they can choose whatever charity they want. We know for sure that we’re giving back even if the customers aren’t making their own choice, but we would love for customers to choose what’s important to them, and the [donation] comes from us.
What’s your favorite style of ring right now?
Rounds are my favorites, and seeing rounds set in new ways as well as very classic ways is always very fun for me. Most people would say rounds are the sparkliest, which is because of the way they’re cut. A well-cut round is really fiery and blinding when it catches the light, and it is really magical. It can also hide some imperfections because it’s so dazzling. You can get a round with some personality — it doesn’t have to be a completely flawless, colorless diamond. They also tend to look bigger, so that’s a plus as well. I love rounds set in a lot of different ways, and what we’re seeing now is rounds being set kind of high off of the finger so that you can set a wedding band right next to it.
What advice would you give women who are interested in entering into or starting a business in the jewelry industry?
I would say go for it! It took me a really long time and I did a lot to be here with Plum, but one of the things I did in the beginning that I think is so important is really getting [my] hands dirty. Learn how some of this stuff is made, take some basic metal smithing courses and understand the basics of fabrication and production so that you can have that foundation, which is really helpful. For me, I didn’t want to be a maker, but I was interested in starting and growing a business, which is when you need to bring in other businesses and spread your wings. If you’re thinking about a larger scale than being a maker, I think it’s great, because that’s an opportunity to create new jobs and more jobs, especially for women, so it’s a win-win. [The jewelry industry] is definitely an old boys’ club, especially on the diamond side, so don’t be afraid of it. Be confident that you’re bringing something new and special to the industry, something a more traditional player wouldn’t be able to; you have a perspective that the old boys’ club does not. Don’t be afraid, but do expect some bumps in the road. Just keep going!