Relaxing into a sofa in Shoreditch House, it’s clear that Sidney Neuhaus and Jessica Warch are fans of sparkle. Both women are bedecked in earrings, necklaces and rings. The entrepreneurs come from families in the jewellery and diamond sectors. But this pair are doing things differently: their brand Kimaï, which both are wearing, use lab-grown diamonds.
The co-founders, both aged 28, grew up in Antwerp, which has been at the centre of the diamond trade for centuries. Neuhaus and Warch saw scope to attract new, younger shoppers. They believed this group wanted a more transparent supply chain and ethical options.
“There has been more and more education and people are becoming more conscious and are more open-minded about new innovations and new ways of doing old things,” Warch says.
Historically, diamonds have been mined from the ground where they were created over centuries. But recent advances in technology mean the same effects can now be created in the lab.
“Diamonds are made of carbon in a high pressure and high temperature environment, and today thanks to technology we’re able to reproduce that environment in a lab,” Warch says.
While some well-heeled shoppers may never want lab-grown diamonds, Kimaï’s goods are chemically and physically identical to mined ones. Lab-grown diamonds are also cheaper than the mined equivalent.
Prices for Kimaï’s collections range from £175 for a single stud earring to £2000 for a 0.5 carat white gold ring. Neuhaus says some customers have initially been reluctant to give lab-grown diamonds a try, but most end up coming back for more after seeing the quality of the pieces.
The business was set up in 2018 but the founders’ friendship goes back to the Nineties when they met at a girls scouts club in Belgium. Neuhaus’s grandfather worked at De Beers as a rough diamonds buyer, and Warch’s dad is a diamond dealer in Antwerp. As the latter says: “We had an interest in jewellery from a young age.”
They remained pals as Warch went to study business and finance at Cass Business School, and then did jobs at companies including Appear Here, which finds space for pop-ups. Neuhaus worked in the jewellery division of luxury shopping business Threads Styling and studied gemmology.
Kimaï was set up with around $10,000 (£7,300) of personal savings, and started with just a few pieces to show potential customers and photograph, and to launch a website. Neuhaus would draw up the designs in London, get the diamonds made in labs (today they use sites in Israel and the US), and then get gold or other metals set around them using goldsmiths in Antwerp.
Kimaï is still a young brand, but it is growing quickly. In the run up to last Christmas, sales were up more than five fold from a year earlier. The start-up’s products have been spotted on A-list stars such as actress Emma Watson and the Duchess of Sussex. In its early days, Kimaï contacted online influencers to help spread the word.
As well as online sales, the company does some pop-up events and meets clients in person or by video chat for bespoke orders.
The pandemic didn’t help marketing plans, with events largely off the cards, but growth should be boosted by this year’s reopening of the wedding industry. Engagement rings are selling well.
Warch and Neuhaus remain the majority owners, but along the way Kimaï has secured investment from the likes of Talis Capital and designer Diane von Furstenberg.
The US and UK are big markets, while trading is also good in France. The company wants to open its first physical store in London in the next six to 12 months. The pair are hoping revenues will look as bright as their diamonds in the coming years.
Staff: Six full-time
Turnover: Around £1 million in 2020, and targeting £4 million this year.