As lab-grown has become a buzzword in the jewelry field, the leader of the pack is indisputably Great Heights. The brand has the largest collection of lab grown diamonds in the world and an ethical way to find the perfect ring. The brand was co-founded by Alexander Weindling, a third generation diamond merchant, and Ryan Bonifacino, the former CMO and digital VP of Alex and Ani. We recently spoke with Bonifacino to learn more about this game-changing business.
Can you explain to me what a lab grown diamond is and how it’s different from mined diamonds?
That’s my favorite question! The difference is simply the source. One’s created below ground and one’s created above ground. Lab grown diamonds are chemically, optically, geologically, exactly the same thing as mined diamonds, or natural diamonds. It was only about four or five years ago when the technology got to a point where you could create two to three karat size, which was the big limitation for the last 50/60 years.
The technology has been around since the ’50s. It was invented by G.E, which I know isn’t sexy but the miners acquired that technology from G.E. They largely invested it into a ton of non-consumer, non-gemstones, lab grown diamonds used in industrial production-think drill bits, think diamond dust for cooling properties on mattresses, things like that. It was only a couple years ago after a bunch of patents expired, a handful of three or four new players entered the business from a technology standpoint. They figured it out and cracked the code so it’s relatively new in the market.
What is your background? How did you get into this world?
I was an early employee of Alex and Ani, where I created the digital business there so I got exposure to the jewelry world, specifically the e-commerce side. Being in the business I met all sorts of manufactures and component providers, people that were sourcing stones, sourcing gemstones and I met my current business partner, Alex Weindling. This story is really about our two forces combining. It’s old world diamonds coming together with modern direct to consumer brand marketing and e-commerce. It’s been a really fun journey together.
You’re only selling digitally?
Right now were only available on greatheights.com. We believe in offline being the being the big unlock for the industry. We want to be where the customer can experience the product, but wanted to have the company, at least have digitally native roots and build and e commerce business around the customer and then go offline from there. What that means for the now is the best policy for the Internet. Basically, you want to see a diamond in your home or multiple diamonds tour home? Order them, if you order by 2pm EST, you’ll have it the next day, and you can experience one or several diamonds with a 100 day, no questions asked return policy and free shipping both ways. I don’t think anybody has matched that in the lab grown diamond business.
To the point of retail, when I was CMO at Alex and Ani I opened up 100 stores, and I had another 3,000 wholesale partners. Many of those were independent jewelry stores, fine fashion, and gift shops. I believe in retail. 70% of this business — maybe more of the diamond engagement ring business — is still offline and were going to be there no matter what. In the beginning, that may come in the form of a second floor showroom, appointment-only, and in maybe seven of the top 10 cities before we add non-bridal products, which will allow us to justify street level retail. It is in the roadmap and were very aggressive with the retail expansion plans.
I love the name Great Heights. Why did you come up with it and what does it mean?
There’s a lot of different meanings when it comes to brand strategy but the short answer is we were looking at something that was not a physical attribute of a diamond. When we came up with Great Heights, we talked about the journey as an industry that we would take going from deep into the earth all the way up to the surface of the earth. It’s a long, very long process. This isn’t an anti-mining brand. We’re gonna stay positive the entire time — we need everybody in the business to do well for the lab grown diamond business to do well. We’re taking the industry to great heights.
What engagement ring trends do you see coming in the new year?
Trends in bridal don’t change that much when you look at the big numbers. When you average out the entire country, we see yellow gold goes up and down in waves. We’re seeing this sort of emergence of oval and a renewed interest in emerald cut. In terms of setting styles were seeing a shift towards ultra thin bands that are very simple. We’re seeing halos drop significantly with trends and that’s not just based on the sales, we’re observing it with our customers. We do have we have merchants in the diamond jewelry business for 20+ years working in what we call-back of house. We thought it was important to include experts behind the scenes interacting directly with customers, or potential customers.