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14 january 2019

alex_popov_xx.jpgAlex Popov, President of the Moscow Diamond Bourse and former Chairman of the World Diamond Mark Foundation (WDMF) launched a new jewelry brand under the name of Âme focused on design and using lab grown diamonds to produce jewelry meant to meet the needs of independent women. Âme will sell their goods through boutiques opened in New York and Los Angeles, as well as online. In his interview given to Rough&Polished, Alex Popov tells about this new venture and shares his views on the cleavage between natural and lab-grown diamonds.

How did your new company, Âme Jewelry, come to life and what kind of meaning is put in its name – Âme?

Âme is the French word for "soul". The idea behind the Âme brand is to create “a new soul” for independent women who are looking for ready-to-wear, high-end diamond jewellery to be worn daily, not to be put in the safe! We therefore decided to create a brand that would be recognized first of all for its design signature, for its soul if you wish, and not for its value proposition.

Since the core or soul of Âme's is its design, the decision to include lab grown diamonds was a logical one. By taking full control of these diamonds' production, in all aspects, we have a full control of all variables. The diamonds we use do not define the product, they complement it. And each of those diamonds has no soul before a woman touches it, giving her own soul to the piece of fine jewellery. Therefore, all Âme pieces are produced in limited numbers and imprinted with a unique serial number. 

excl_21012019_1.png Image credit: Âme  


The Moscow Diamond Bourse, of which you are the head, seems to be related to natural stones. How do you explain your shift to lab-grown diamonds?

First of all, I am the proud president of the MDB, and I will continue to lead this small but special bourse in its endeavors and those of our members to source, cut, polish and trade diamonds and make beautiful jewellery with them.

You may also recall that until recently I stood at the helm of the World Diamond Mark Foundation (WDM), the mid-stream driven organization that aimed to help retailers to sell diamonds more successfully. At the WDM, we always have argued for clear separation between mined and lab-grown diamonds, in an effort to enhance consumer confidence.

There has been no shift or switch. Both products are legitimate and serve their purpose, which, as the industry often forgets, is to adorn the human body.

The decision to use lab-grown diamonds in Âme jewelry was a logical step to provide the right answer to large segment of female consumers in the US who are looking to make independent purchases. It serves this purpose economically and ideologically.

What are the goals pursued by Âme on this new playing field?

Our goal is to fulfil the needs of the independent woman to adorn herself with high quality, fashionable high-end jewellery. During the past year, we have devised and followed a long-term strategy in building a brand that eventually will find and earn its rightful position between high fashion and high jewellery in the luxury space. Therefore, we opted for a fully integrated vertical solution, controlling the entire process, from the design, through to the stone and jewellery manufacturing, to the opening and operation of our own retail sales points and the Web Store.

excl_21012019_2.pngImage credit: Âme 


In your opinion, how high is the consumer interest in lab-grown diamonds?

As part of our strategic planning we engaged the services of a renowned luxury market research firm to conduct focus groups in the US among women aged 25 to 60. Based on their research and other market data, I can unequivocally say that the majority of women don’t care whether their diamonds are mined or lab grown. What they care about is beautiful jewellery and pleasure of being seen wearing it.

Interest in lab-grown diamonds remains still limited since there is a lot of confusion and disinformation, but I foresee that in several years from now, ten to 15 percent of all diamond jewellery will be set with lab-grown stones. Âme intends to grab a significant part of this market share.

Does Âme really intend to offer goods worth $ 1,000 to $ 20,000 to the market? How competitive will these goods be given the price bar for artificial diamonds set by the Lightbox brand launched by De Beers?

It's a good question but it misses the point completely with regard to Âme. I don’t believe that De Beers launched Lightbox in order to protect the diamond market. Lightbox is a serious money-making machine and will eventually bring profits to their shareholders. De Beers has said its emphasis with Lightbox is on "shallow occasions." We, on the other hand, don't say anything of the kind. Our messaging is focused on the beauty and esthetics of the human body and the soul in it that craves for beauty.

For us at Âme, the diamonds are the means, not a goal. It is therefore we are not at all talking about the cost of jewellery components. The stones are part and parcel of the design and it is therefore that we grow and manufacture our own in-house. The consumers pay a price for the finished, signed and wrapped piece of jewellery, in the same way as they pay for a luxury car or the handbag. 

excl_21012019_3.pngImage credit: Âme 


Many believe that the new edition of the FTC's Jewelry Guides changed the attitude to laboratory diamonds. What do you think about it?

I really wish the industry would stop being so preoccupied with lab-grown diamonds. The FTC rules have barely changed and provided clear guidelines for consumers, that are only commendable. If traders will follow the rules, everyone will profit.

The diamond industry's reaction on the FTC rules has been an emotional one, not one of reason. Indeed, the diamond industry has been whining too long, wasting precious resources, time and opportunities, fighting windmills instead. All while they should be working on marketing the diamonds more effectively and get marketing programs in place that resonate with consumers. Instead of the industry helping retailers with their marketing, and instead of getting en masse behind the various "Diamonds Do Good" initiatives we have seen couple of videos and two slides, and little more.

Will the diamond market continue to grow?

Most definitely. I have great hopes for 2019 as a good year for diamonds and in my own business, I will continue to invest in mined diamond manufacturing and branding. Hopefully, the diamond miners will review what they have achieved until now and take serious action to become more effective and focused. The mid-stream will experience more pain but will have to follow suit and become more responsive to market demands. Larger diamonds will continue to demand higher prices.

I also believe the issue of the illegal mixing of melees will come to an end. The melee manufacturers and traders have had a taste during the past year of what can happen to their market segment if they don’t clean it up. If retailers worldwide would sideline the natural melee diamond categories because of trust issues, we'd be looking at a very concerning prospect for the diamond trade. I hope that the common sense will prevail.

Vladimir Malakhov, Rough&Polished