By Michelle Graff
Lightbox, the lab-grown diamond line from De Beers that began selling online in September, opened its pop-up shop Monday at the Oculus, the transit hub at the rebuilt World Trade Center site in New York. The pop-up will be in place through Sunday.
New York—De Beers used to spread the message that “A Diamond Is Forever” around Grand Central Station at holiday time, appealing to the 750,000+ commuters crisscrossing the classic transit hub every day.

This year, the diamond miner and marketer is at it again, but now its promoting lab-grown diamonds at the Oculus, the two-year-old, ultra-modern transit hub at the site of the rebuilt World Trade Center.

Call it a sign of the times.

Back in September De Beers launched Lightbox, a line of moderately priced (the most expensive pieces on the site, 1-carat diamonds set in 10-karat gold, are $1,000) fashion jewelry set with man-made diamonds grown by its Element Six arm in the United Kingdom.

The line is fairly limited at this point—just blue, pink and white lab-grown diamonds set in either pendants or earrings, with blue and pink studs the runaway successes so far, said Lightbox Head of Marketing Sally Morrison.

It is sold online only, which means consumers haven’t had a chance to see, touch and feel it—until this week.

On Monday, Lightbox opened a pop-up shop at the Oculus, and this editor popped by Tuesday afternoon around 3:30, shortly before evening rush hour was in full effect, and lingered until a little after 5.

What became apparent in that time is this: Consumers are drawn in when they see something sparkly.

There was a constant stream of people in and out of the 20’ x 20’ structure the entire time.

But they don’t know as much about lab-grown diamonds as many in the trade might think, and there is confusion about how man-made diamonds differ from simulants.

“I’m intrigued. I’ve never heard of this before,” one woman wearing natural diamond stud earrings said as she entered the Lightbox space.

After the product and pricing was explained to her—it starts at $200 for a quarter carat and goes up to $800 for 1 carat, plus the cost of the setting—she seemed to like the idea, noting that lab-grown diamonds are “an accessible way to be able to give people a diamond.”

Multiple customers asked about the difference between lab-grown diamonds and CZ, and between the stones and another diamond simulant, moissanite, echoing the comments consumers made when National Jeweler conducted an informal poll on lab-grown diamonds four years ago.

There were also a lot of questions about how the quality of lab-grown diamonds compare to mined diamonds. (De Beers is not grading its lab-grown diamonds because the stones are “created to uniform specifications” and so reports “have no bearing on either the product’s rarity or value,” it has said.)

“There’s a lot of education to do, not just about our product but the category in general,” Morrison said Tuesday afternoon in an interview at the Lightbox booth. “There’s a lot of confusion.”

20181128 Lightbox necklaceDe Beers’ Lightbox line is being introduced with blue, pink and white man-made diamond pendants and earrings in silver or 10-karat white or rose gold. Prices range from $200 for a quarter carat to $800 for 1 carat, plus the cost of the setting.
Morrison and her team—many of whom were clad in on-brand blue and pink sweaters—are learning that first-hand while manning the pop-up, which is set to remain open through Sunday.

Like the Blue Nile “webrooms,” the Lightbox pop-up is not selling the product it’s showing; customers cannot walk out with a little box of jewelry in their hands.

They can, however, order jewelry from an iPad set up in the left-front corner of the pop-up, or shop on the brand’s website after they leave.

20181128 Lightbox modelsA camera is mounted on the back of the Lightbox pop-up so passers-by can see themselves on the big screen. It also is lined with benches where commuters can take a rest and even charge their phones.
De Beers announced just before the Las Vegas jewelry trade shows it would begin selling lab-grown diamonds, sparking a flurry of commentary in the industry.

Some applauded the move, claiming that the current crop of companies selling man-made diamonds are overcharging and De Beers’ pricing model would serve as a regulator.

Some existing sellers of lab-grown diamonds accused De Beers of predatory pricing, while retailers worried how Lightbox would impact sales of lower-end diamond fashion jewelry in their stores and bemoaned the addition of another supplier selling direct to the public.
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The company has said it will make Lightbox available to brick-and-mortar jewelers in the future.

Morrison said Tuesday a brick-and-mortar test run is planned for 2019, though De Beers has not yet decided which retailers will carry the line.

In the meantime, the man-made diamonds continue to move online and Morrison is not ruling out the possibility of another pop-up.

She said that selling online and having this physical space is teaching them a lot about what consumers do, and don’t, like about the product.

“I think it’ll be better to go into brick-and-mortar (stores) when we know more about the customer and the response to the product,” she said.

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