By Michelle Graff
A set of stacking rings from the Forevermark “Tribute” collection. The De Beers-owned diamond brand will open its first standalone store in the United States this fall; it will be located in the San Francisco Bay area and operated by Padis Jewelers.
San Francisco—Forevermark is slated to open a standalone store in the United States this fall.

While the De Beers-owned diamond brand has a retail concept store in China and standalone stores in India, this will be its first such store in the Western Hemisphere, and it will be wholly owned and operated by a Forevermark-carrying retailer—Padis Jewelers.

The jeweler currently has four locations, three in San Francisco and one in St. Helena, California, but this will mark the retailer’s foray into franchise territory. And Steve Padis is grateful for the opportunity.

“I’ve been in the diamond business my whole life—more than 40 years—and I see our future in the diamond business as with Forevermark,” he told National Jeweler during a recent telephone interview.

“With GIA lab-graded diamonds, it’s literally at the point that it’s a true commodity. There are customers who only will look at GIA-graded diamonds, and it’s very difficult to convince them that a G SI1 is not the same throughout. Even if you’re showing them, they still don’t believe it.”

The way Padis sees it, Forevermark gives him the opportunity to add value and highlight responsible sourcing, which he said will be a huge point of emphasis in the store. He said the plan is for videos to play in the store showing how the diamond brand helps the communities where it’s mined, contributing to schools, doctors, education and animal conservation.

While the commercial terms underpinning this first U.S. Forevermark franchise are confidential, Padis was able to share details with National Jeweler on the look and feel of the store, the opening timeline and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

National Jeweler: When did you start carrying Forevermark, and what made you want to pick up the line?

Steve Padis: We’ve been carrying Forevermark for about seven years.

There are two reasons you always carry things: One is offense and one is defense, and in this case it was a combination.

I certainly didn’t want someone else in our areas carrying the Forevermark brand.

Plus, I’ve been doing business with De Beers through their [now-closed] polished division for many years. I’ve had direct connections with De Beers for years and feel very fortunate. It’s always been a very good thing.

When Forevermark came out, I saw that as another opportunity to work with De Beers and kind of jumped in.

NJ: What did you like about Forevermark specifically?

SP: It’s a branded diamond, and the pricing is very similar to [non-branded] GIA-graded diamonds, whereas [some other diamonds brands] are substantially more. So I thought this would be an opportunity to sell a branded diamond at a fair market price, feeling good that I’m giving my customer value.

NJ: You’ve carried Forevermark for seven years. I assume it performs well, as you carry it in all four stores and are now opening this Forevermark-only store.

SP: Yes, it’s performed very well for us.

We often get customers who ask for it. Obviously, the De Beers budget for (marketing) Forevermark is extreme; you see it on national TV, you see it in print ads and you see it advertised digitally.

It’s a very good story. The tagline—“Beautiful. Rare. Responsibly Sourced.”—is a really good starting point with customers and, particularly here in San Francisco, the sourcing is very important.

And they (De Beers/Forevermark) were really the first to have kind of blockchain technology to trace the diamond from mine to finger. You knew these diamonds were responsibly sourced and not only responsibly sourced, but they added value to the community.

NJ: Tell us a little bit about the new Forevermark franchise store you are opening. We know it will be small, less than 500 square feet, but tell us a little bit about the design, the setup and the product.

SP: I was talking with our Forevermark rep and came up with this idea for this proof-of-concept store, that being a small store carrying Forevermark only and hoping that the concept will work.

We’ve certainly had good thoughts and good reviews from customers who live in the East Bay, and also in general because of the marketing of the brand and all the good that the brand does.

If you’re buying a Forevermark diamond, for instance, you know it’s natural, you know it’s responsibly sourced, you know it’s not treated, and you know it can be tracked to exactly where it came from.

The idea of the small store is, it’s scalable. If the concept works, we would like to open two or three more stores.

NJ: Where?

SP: All in the San Francisco Bay area at the moment, but we would like to look at Northern California as a whole if the concept works and we are allowed to go forward with Forevermark. (Editor’s note: When asked about plans for more Forevermark franchise stores in the U.S., the company said it only has plans to pilot this with Padis for now, though it does want to take what it learns from this first location and open more standalone stores “with select retail partners in key markets.”)

NJ: When will the store open?

SP: That’s been the question, as we need multiple approvals. All the plans now are approved by all parties and are with the planning department with the City of Walnut Creek. We’re told that we should have approved plans, or plans that require some changes, by the first of October.

We’ve already engaged with a contractor for the build-out; we definitely want to be open before Christmas.

There is a possibility we are going to be open Nov. 1. However, everything has to work out.

If we do get the plans back from the city by Oct. 1, our contractor assures us he can do this build-out, provided we get all the fixtures and cases that need to be built to Forevermark standards by their manufacturers in a timely manner.

NJ: You mentioned a build-out. So you are constructing this store in an existing space; this is not a new store that’s being built from the ground up?

SP: Correct. This is in an outdoor mall called Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek. The space before was an Art of Shaving store, and it’s located right across from the brand-new Apple store. There’s a Tesla store, Sephora, Peloton (the company that sells indoor exercise bikes that stream live spinning classes) ... it’s in a mall with a lot of very progressive, high-tech, online-type businesses that are opening brick-and-mortar locations. Warby Parker is right down the way from us.

We’re really, really happy with the location.

NJ: Can you talk a little bit about the fixtures, cases and overall look of the store? Signet Jewelers, you might have read, is opening a James Allen concept store in Washington, D.C. that’s going to be tech- and millennial-focused. What’s going to be the focus of this Forevermark store?

SP: The same. It’s going to be very upscale, very millennial-focused with Forevermark brand fixtures. It will be essentially like a large Forevermark shop-in-shop.

It’s all white with black and the black is, of course, Forevermark. On the outside, unfortunately, we weren’t able to use “A Diamond is Forever”—they won’t allow a tagline on the front of the store—but in the store it will be “Forevermark, A Diamond is Forever” prominent on most of the fixtures.

It’ll be a combination of sit-down cases and pedestal cases and, again, all in white. The only product that we will be carrying there is Forevermark product.

NJ: And the split is 70 percent bridal/30 percent fashion jewelry?

SP: That’s how we’re going to open, but obviously we’re going to dial it in.

Sometimes, you’ll find that you’re selling more fashion. Ultimately, we think it will be more bridal but, obviously, in this small of a space and being that we operate other stores in the area, we are able to be very dynamic and change the product mix if we need to.

NJ: Do you think having a retail partner own and operate a store is a little bit of admission from De Beers that retail operations are not its strong suit? Obviously, the company’s experiment in opening its own stores, now called simply De Beers Jewellers, has not been an overwhelming success.

SP: I think they’ve recognized that their expertise is mining and brand promotion, and they’re looking for retail partners. And again, I’m happy to be associated with De Beers. I sought his opportunity and was happy they agreed to it.

NJ: What do you think of those who say that, in the long run, this is a way to compete with independents?

SP: We’re true partners. There are multiple sightholders we can buy from; there’s no restrictions, provided that they are Forevermark diamantaires.

We can put Forevermark diamonds in virtually any mounting we choose to. Any stone that’s 14 points or larger must be Forevermark, but—and this does change from time to time—if all the stones are less than 14 points but you have a major stone in the piece that’s Forevermark, you can call that Forevermark.

You can manufacturer jewelry yourself. I buy stones from 10 points to thirds (.33 carats or 30-39 points) all the time and manufacture our own jewelry; we make all of our own stud earrings, etc.

I look at them as true retail partners, not overly dominant.

I’m a little guy and they’re working with me to help our retail business. They are true partners.

They are not selling anything direct. They are going to start an online-type program, but it will go through retailers.

This will be a Forevermark store, but it will be owned and operated by a Forevermark retail partner.

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