Zale’s Tales: Lab-Grown Diamond History
It’s been a busy last couple of months! First, there was all the prep for the JCK Las Vegas Show, followed by the event itself. Then, back to Lafayette for another great Bridge event immediately after. And in between, I managed to squeeze in my high school reunion in Great Neck, NY (don’t ask how many) and a little vacation in south Florida.
Through all of this, the talk seems to have been all about lab-grown diamonds.
A Rich Family Heritage
While visiting with my parents in Boca Raton last week, my mother gave me a great photograph of my grandfather, MB Zale, louping the movement of a mechanical pocket watch. It’s a cool picture that I’d never seen before.
I learned a lot from my grandfather, and there’s one of his stories that I’ve thought about quite a bit lately. When he was building Zales Jewelers in Wichita Falls, Texas 90 or so years ago, he was an early adopter of selling on credit – a dollar down, a dollar a week. And he told a story of those early years about selling a sterling silver tea service on layaway to a local woman. When the woman made the final payment on the tea service, he packed it up and delivered it to her home. When he got there, he was taken aback upon seeing that she lived in what was essentially a wooden hut with dirt floors. He couldn’t understand why she would want something as elaborate and ornate as a silver tea service in such a home. But, her smile and the joy she radiated upon unpacking and setting up the silver was infectious. His takeaway was that he wouldn’t ever stand in judgment over how people would spend their money.
A Brief Lab-Grown Diamond History Lesson
Fast forward about 30 years later when General Electric announced that they had made diamonds in a laboratory. A shudder ran through the jewelry industry. Zale Corporation, not knowing what would happen to the diamond business, made moves to diversify into other retail categories: shoe stores, sporting goods stores, and drug stores. Interesting moves. But at the end of the day, as my grandfather recounted to me in the 1980s, Zales decided that they were in the jewelry business. It wasn’t their place to decide or pass judgment over what someone might want in a piece of jewelry. If it came to be that lab-grown diamonds would rule the day, then so be it. My grandfather was too good of a merchant to think otherwise.
So here we are in 2016 and we are finally at the point where it is economically viable to produce diamonds in a lab. And I have the opportunity to discuss their place in the world with another titan of our industry, Matt Stuller. Our conclusion, we’re in the jewelry business and it’s not our place to make judgments regarding what someone wants in a piece of jewelry (as long as it’s reasonable, legal, etc.) and how they want to spend their money. There are so many options now: natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, moissanite, and the list goes on. But, it is our role at Stuller to make those options available for our customers.
The Future of Jewelry
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And what does it all mean? I don’t know yet, but we’ll all figure it out together.
And then I saw a picture of something truly fantastic, a news report that a diamond brooch sold for nearly $14 million at auction. But not just any diamond brooch, this brooch has some beautiful blue diamonds and was made by the legendary jeweler Alexandre Reza. This is jewelry at its best!
But $14 million?! One can do a lot with that much money, and who am I to pass judgment on anyone’s decision to spend it on a piece of jewelry!