By Michelle Graff
Named for rebellious French painter Gustave Courbet, lab-grown diamond jewelry brand Courbet opened last spring on Paris’ famed Place Vendôme. It is the only lab-grown diamond jeweler on a square known for being home to some of the world’s most illustrious jewelry houses.
Paris—Place Vendôme is where César Ritz opened his celebrated hotel that housed Coco Chanel and served as a favored watering hole for Ernest Hemingway (so much so that the hotel bar bears his name).

For 200 years, the famed square in Paris’ 1st arrondissement also has been home to boutiques for the world’s most illustrious fashion and jewelry houses, including French heritage brands like Boucheron, Chaumet, Cartier, Mauboussin and Mellerio, which opened in 1815 as the first jeweler on the plaza.

Now, Place Vendôme houses a company with a future bent, a fledgling lab-grown diamond jewelry brand helmed by a former Richemont executive and a Swedish marketing executive turned designer.

Courbet, named after the innovative French painter thought to be behind the destruction of the column in the center’s square in the 1870s, opened a showroom at 7 Place Vendôme in May 2018 and began selling online the following month. The store is located on the fifth floor in the Cour Vendôme.

Manuel Mallen, who spent nearly 20 years as an executive with Piaget and then Baume & Mercier, started the brand in 2017 with Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, a former marketing manager in Europe for Procter & Gamble who started and then sold her own telecom company before getting into jewelry design in 2010.

Like so many other companies that sell man-made diamonds, Courbet’s marketing uses words like “sustainable” and “ethical,” but it also pays homage to the history and heritage of the brands in the square it occupies.

Courbet, the company’s press kit reads, “embodies the reinvention of Place Vendôme, and proposes the next generation of jewelry,” while noting that it is not “aiming to revolutionize the sector or denounce its traditional players. After more than 25 years as part of this industry, Manuel Mallen simply wants to offer an alternative.”

The company told National Jeweler that it has a variety of sources for its diamonds, including San Francisco-based Diamond Foundry, Russian lab-grown diamond company New Diamond Technology (NDT) and “very soon” will be sourcing stones from a diamond grower in France.

Among the brand’s standouts are the “Eclipse” bangle bracelets, which bring to mind another French jeweler, Cartier, and its ubiquitous Love bracelets.

The jewelry is crafted in 18-karat recycled white, yellow or rose gold and is manufactured in Europe—in Paris and Lyon, France as well as Milan—using craftsmen who make jewelry for other brands on Place Vendôme.
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Courbet joins the growing roster of companies dealing in lab-grown diamonds.

Last year, De Beers launched Lightbox, and J.C. Penney and Macy’s both added the Richline-supported line “Grown With Love” just before the holidays.

Another Berkshire Hathaway-owned company, Helzberg, also has expanded its man-made diamond offerings.

The jeweler, which ranked as the eighth largest fine jeweler in terms of sales and the third largest in terms of size in National Jeweler’s 2018 “State of the Majors” report, started selling the “Light Heart” line late last year.

Helzberg Diamonds first experimented with lab-grown offerings in 2015, testing pink, yellow and white stones from Scio and Renaissance Diamonds, though it dropped the line shortly after.

The North Kansas City, Missouri-based chain also carries man-made diamonds from Altr.

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