The branded diamond. From the first, it was a cut: the Lazare Kaplan round brilliant, the first diamond scrupulously to follow the parameters advanced by Kaplan’s cousin, Marcel Tolkowsky. Advanced without significant marketing of the cut’s differentiation, it was copied by other manufacturers, commoditized, and eventually known to the industry and consumers alike not as a Lazare but as an “ideal.” The cut still markets at premiums for Lazare, but with only 4 percent brand recognition among the 2,517 consumers polled by the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council last year.
In the 1970s, it was again a new cut: the radiant, a princess variant crossed with an emerald. Henry Grossbard, seeing how the industry embraced the princess, had the wisdom to patent his cut, but not the marketing strategy we now know as “branding.” The radiant is a beautiful, proprietary, unique stone, recognized as a brand by fully 10 percent of those polled by the JCOC. But it markets as a dyed-in-the-wool commodity, at 25 to 30 percent back of the Rap Sheet’s prices for pear shapes.
True decommoditization, which comes only with both brand recognition and the ability to achieve mark-up, required a cut that appeared in the mid 1980s: the ideal variant, the hearts and arrows, and a strategy led by branding pioneers like Glenn Rothman of Hearts On Fire. By fits and starts, they grew the branded diamond’s market through the 1990s, finding a significant but perilous niche. The hearts and arrows achieved prices above the ideal, but at great cost. Even at a business-to-business level, branding is expensive, and the industry was wary of spending so much on a product that was, in and of itself, not proprietary. The hearts and arrows cut takes skill, time, and a willingness to sacrifice yield, but it’s achievable by many.
The year 2000, however, brought Supplier of Choice, a radical revisioning of the supply chain that called on all its players to differentiate, market, and promote. Seen by branders as their validation, SOC and branding were linked by Charterhouse Street only two years later, in a Modern Jeweler “Branding Roundtable,” when DTC marketing director Stephen Lussier cited branding as a “cornerstone of Supplier of Choice.” “Currently,” he added, “the trade is pursuing cut as a brand element, but I am sure we will see other types of brand ideas coming to the fore. And that includes jewelry manufacturers and retailer brands.”
The ensuing five years have borne Lussier out. The “B” word has its detractors, as it has from the start, but most of the chain now sees the branded diamond—whether a cut, a marketing strategy, as a unique jewelry ingredient, or, recently, a public face—as a means to profit from the visibility, accountability, and coordination from mine to finger brought on by Supplier of Choice. Downstream, retail-centric moves by sightholders and other large players to diamond jewelry and private label diamonds have become essential strategies for many. As Supplier of Choice enters its second phase, with a huge emphasis on accountability, branders are among the first to embrace best business practices, not only as an ethical mandate but as a branding tool.
The Branded Diamond: Patented Cuts
By a very unofficial count, 69 branded diamond cuts have been patented or registered as patent pending since SOC’s introduction. The number excludes 100-plus branded versions of the 57 facet round brilliant, which cannot be patented. But it grows to over 500 cuts when one adds the copyrighted and trademarked stones: provenance brands (Canadian, South African, Russian, Belgian, etc.); chain store brands (the Zale’s Diamond, the Gordon’s Diamond, the Star 129, proprietary to Helzbergs, etc.); cut modifications and variants needed for branded jewelry and watch manufacturers; the composite brands (seen more and more in branded jewelry lines); and the various signature diamonds that have either become private labels for retailers or remain in the private libraries of more than a dozen sightholder cutters.
Their names are legion, bywords now for success (Leo, Crisscut, Cento, Dream), as the crux of lawsuits and arguments (Regent, Flanders, Cushette), or simply as ideas whose time has yet to come: “Some brands will be successful,” Lussier told Modern Jeweler back in 2002, “and we must face the fact that others will not—as in any other business.”