In Conversation Vandana Jagwani from Vandals on The Future of Lab Grown Diamonds in India
We all seem to be at the edge of our seats trying to make conscious decisions about our clothing, food, makeup and straws. And we really are making a difference, brands and consumers alike are making a very conscious effort to do the right thing and pick the right materials for the things we buy. But somehow, this rarely translates into precious stones. Specifically diamonds. Diamond mining wreaks environmental havoc throughout Africa and various other parts of the world. But the damage to the environment is not the only negative result of diamond mining. Apart from the obvious environmental harm, there is a lot of labour abuse that takes place in the process of acquiring diamonds as well. However, a ray of hope, Vandana Jagwani, has established Vandals, a Jewellery store that crafts its jewellery with laboratory-made diamonds, and in doing so, is mitigating the effects of traditional diamond mining. The concept is so fascinating, and we had the pleasure of being able to pick her brain, and truly understand what Vandals do.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your educational background and what was the inspiration behind Vandals?
I’m 28 years old with a background in finance and marketing which I studied from Boston and London. Owing to my education in finance, I returned to India with a passion to start a business but was not sure which field was my calling. Jewellery is a business I grew up around. It being my family business, I had a strong inclination towards it. As I started with some initial research, I realised my fondness towards jewellery as a business and decided to pursue further studies in it. I have been pursuing jewellery courses at GIA, Central Saint Martins and Christie’s along the years. I stumbled across the concept of lab-grown diamonds while studying and what truly fascinated me was that I couldn’t tell the difference with the naked eye or microscope. As I dove deeper with my research, I found that it was not just a stimulant but a real diamond that is created within a more controlled environment. The fact that it was exactly the same quality as a naturally mined diamond but more sustainable and at a fraction of the cost was what drew me in further. Coming from a jewellery heritage, I felt almost responsible to introduce a new product to the market. I wanted to change the outlook of the consumers and bring to them a more competitively priced alternative that is also easier on the environment. Vandals is a brand I founded to bring forward the endless bounds that lab-grown diamond jewellery can travel to. I saw it as an opportunity to break traditional boundaries and hence, Vandals came into being.
2. What exactly is Vandals and how is it different from Mahesh Notandass Fine Jewellery?
As the jewellery world goes through a revolution, Vandals is pioneering the precious and challenging how progressive our ideals of design, art and jewellery really are. Here the dexterity of the craft takes precedence with design and engineering leading the process. Mahesh Notandass Fine Jewellery is a heritage jewellery brand that is deeply rooted in tradition. The difference between them is that Vandals sources lab-grown diamonds while Mahesh Notandass Fine Jewellery sources mined ones. I creatively direct both the brands and working on both sides of the spectrum can be challenging but I quite enjoy it.
3. Tell us more about lab-grown diamonds and how is it different from natural diamonds?
The composition of lab-grown diamonds is the same as with naturally mined diamonds. The only difference between them is the origin where they are formed. Mined diamonds are more difficult to acquire as they form deep in the earth’s crust in extreme conditions and are available for mining only when volcanoes erupt and bring the diamonds within 100 feet of the surface. Lab-grown ones form under cutting-edge technology which replicates the exact same conditions of the earth from which a diamond naturally grows. They are physically, chemically and optically the same as mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are just relatively more sustainable, environment-friendly and competitively priced.
4. Millennials and Gen-Z are falling out of love with mined diamonds because of their high environmental and humanitarian costs. How do their alternative, lab-made diamonds, measure up?
The younger generations now are indulging in more environment-friendly, conscious, and practical consumer patterns. Lab-grown diamonds are the perfect alternative for them for natural diamonds. The biggest plus point is that they are competitively priced. They are also more sustainable as compared to the naturally occurring ones.
5. How are lab-grown diamonds priced? Are they as expensive as natural diamonds or not?
Diamonds are the epitome of luxury. But they come with a hefty price tag too. Just like naturally mined diamonds, lab-engineered ones are also priced according to the 4Cs but they come at one-third of the price. While variety and market availability plays a significant role in pricing, buying diamonds will no longer burn a hole in your pocket.
6. Tell us about your latest collection ’Sisters Act’. What was the idea behind the campaign?
‘Sisters Act’ is a collection that harnesses a child’s bond with nature and interprets it through the art of design. Pieces are created using engineered diamonds which are offset by emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Every individual piece can make you recall a different memory and can be interpreted uniquely. It is called ‘Sister Act’ to emphasise the strong connection of kin and the pivotal role it plays as our inspiration. Sister duos like Malvika Raaj and Sonakshi Raaj Merani, Tanisha Rahimtoola Agarwal and Tasheen Rahimtoola, Agrima Batra and Ridhiema Batra Goenka, Snehal Babani and Jyoti Babani are my muses for this collection. They are all successful entrepreneurs who are breaking grounds within their respective fields and are in alignment with the values that Vandals stand for.
7. What is the future of lab-grown diamonds in a market like India?
Within the next 2 years, the lab-grown diamond market in India should be booming. India is a country that loves jewellery and so far the response within the tiers that are familiar with it has been very good. Gold is an investment, but diamonds are a purchase. So as the awareness for lab-grown diamonds will spread across the country, people will gradually start favouring them over mined ones because of the cost factor.
8. Being the first of its kind, how are you marketing your products to make sure more and more people are aware of your brand and what you’re offering?
Jewellery is a business that heavily relies on trust and so it is best marketed through word-of-mouth. We obviously also do digital marketing on various social media platforms to showcase our designs and spread awareness about the brand. Our network of international clientele is based in Hong Kong, the Middle East and Europe. As restrictions are being lifted, we are planning some safe and exciting events at these locations as well.
9. Even though for many jewellers, lab-grown diamonds remain an uncharted territory, what challenges did you face setting up the business?
The reimagined jewellery culture that Vandals have introduced to the industry is the first of it’s kind. While it has been described as ground-breaking, the challenge of it definitely lies in being the trailblazer itself. Firstly, the responsibility of correctly educating the consumer is now on our shoulders. Secondly, this uncharted territory is difficult to establish as a mainstream practice, especially in a country where jewellery is viewed in a more traditional sense. The challenge also lies in convincing our consumers that this new and more affordable avenue of fine jewellery is definitely not a compromise on luxury but just a new perspective of looking at it.
10. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to start a business in this field?
To young entrepreneurs out there, this is the perfect time to start your ventures in the realm of the lab-grown diamond. It is a growing industry that is not going to go obsolete. Currently, there are not many people who have chosen this path so establishing your name right now will definitely give you an upper hand in the future.