Antwerp-based diamond innovator Baunat has launched a lab-grown diamond division alongside its existing ethical natural diamond business, becoming the first company of its kind to offer both natural and above-ground diamonds, in a clear play for two distinct customers. The Baunat Group’s new lab-grown arm, Valquère, will also offer technically complex fancy colored blue and pink diamonds, uniting science, art and traditional European craftsmanship in a cleverly designed new offering.
Located in the heart of Antwerp’s historic Diamond District, Baunat was started in 2008 by diamantaires Stefaan Mouradian and Steven Boelens, offering high-quality, certified ethical natural diamonds with as short and transparent a supply chain as possible. Crucially, the Baunat offering is demand-driven, rather than trend-driven, allowed the team to concentrate on the highly lucrative engagement and white diamond markets, with 60% of its customers buying bespoke or semi-bespoke. Blending a digital-first, direct-to-consumer approach, the company has grown to be Europe’s leading online jeweler over the past decade.
Potential customers can browse libraries of styles on the Baunat and Valquère websites and buy ready-made, semi-tailored or bespoke jewels, with a lead time of between two and five weeks for production in the Group’s workshops in Antwerp and Paris. Baunat was perfectly positioned to maximise the online e-commerce surge driven by Covid, and 65% of its custom is still online today. “Buying a jewel should be an experience, therefore we have a carefully selected team which speaks over 20 languages, so we can serve our clients worldwide,” says Mouradian. “Valquère is aiming high, so we offer seven currencies and even crypto currency as a payment option”.
The move comes at a time when the natural diamond market has slumped, due to growing pressure from the lab-grown and global instability, which has led to the withholding of rough diamond supply by certain countries and suppliers. Rapaport reported “market stabilization amid drop in rough supply” this week (Rapaport Market Wire November 9, 2023), as a decline in production eases inventory pressure. Analysts will be watching the natural diamond market carefully over the coming months, as India prepares for a prolonged shutdown for the Diwali holiday and the global political situation remains challenging.
Existing Baunat customers are mainly men buying for women, with an increasing number of female customers self-gifting in categories like tennis bracelets. Under the bold tagline ‘Statement Made’, the new brand offers hand-made artisan jewelry using recycled metals with top-grade lab-grown diamonds. The offering is designed to reach a customer attracted by the aspirational quality of diamonds, and looking for larger, bolder stones at a more accessible price point; most Valquère pieces sit in the consumer sweet spot between €1,500-€4,000, with some exceptional pieces coming in above €10,000.
“Natural diamonds come with a price tag. With the steady rise of lab-grown diamonds, and in particular, their increased quality in recent years, this luxury is now available for those who want a traditional form but with a smart touch,” says Boelens. “With Valquère, it’s possible to obtain a larger carat weight at a very attractive price, or to go for a higher quality and brilliance, without paying the premium of natural diamonds. It’s a new kind of luxury, in demand by those who want to optimize their budget, and utilize it for smaller occasions.”
The inclusion of fancy-colored diamonds, as an alternative to the rare, high-value colored natural diamonds that can cost up to $2 million a carat, is especially innovative, as colored diamonds are notoriously complicated to produce. Valquère suppliers focus on controlling color for a homogenous hue, maintaining growing conditions and producing to significant size, to allow the company to include blue and pink diamonds in its offering. Consumer reaction will determine whether there is sufficient appetite for colored diamonds, which analysts do not believe will gain investment value like their natural counterparts.
The company buys lab-grown diamonds direct from producers, selecting only F and E color grades, with VS1 and VVS2 clarity. “Our heritage in investment diamonds and jewellery ensures our products have undergone extensive research and development and we only offer the cream of the crop, because the forces behind the brand are by no means new to this field,” finishes Boelens.