On the ground floor of London institution Liberty, next to plinths displaying Loewe handbags and shelves of floral-printed stationery, the Maria Tash store is buzzing: mothers and daughters are hunched over trays of jewellery, while groups of friends consult each other in front of mirrors, pulling and probing at their ears.

From left: Maria Tash Invisible Set Diamond Threaded stud earring, £225, Eternity hoop earring, £985, Pear Floating Diamond charm, £915, and Invisible Set Diamond Crescendo Bar Threaded stud earring, £4,190
From left: Maria Tash Invisible Set Diamond Threaded stud earring, £225, Eternity hoop earring, £985, Pear Floating Diamond charm, £915, and Invisible Set Diamond Crescendo Bar Threaded stud earring, £4,190

Where the endeavour of getting a piercing might once have involved a trip to a dingy tattoo studio or high-street outlet, Maria Tash has cultivated a more luxurious experience – one involving travertine countertops and brushed gold finishes, private piercing rooms and jewellery heavy on precious stones. The New Yorker opened her first studio in the East Village in 1993 before expanding globally in 2016; she now has 13 stores, including a new location in Harrods, one in Le Bon Marché and a counter in Australian beauty retailer Mecca’s Sydney flagship. “I wanted to create a thoughtful space that was comfortable and elevated, not necessarily one that felt like you’re going into an operating room,” says Tash.

Central to her success is the in-store advice on how to “curate” ears – meaning multiple piercings in all manner of places, including two placements that Tash herself has patented – as well as jewellery designs that accommodate such intense, sparkling adornment.

Jeweller Maria Tash, who now has now has 13 stores worldwide
Jeweller Maria Tash, who now has now has 13 stores worldwide
The new Maria Tash store in Harrods, London
The new Maria Tash store in Harrods, London

Maria Tash is one of a handful of fine jewellery brands disrupting the industry – one steeped in traditional values and answerable to some of the biggest and oldest houses in the world. These new names are competing in the space with designs that harness global trends, offer new services and challenge the industry’s traditional working materials.

Mejuri, the direct-to-consumer jewellery brand based in Toronto, has made an impact with its competitive pricing and “self-purchase” marketing that encourages women to buy jewellery for themselves. “‘Buy yourself a damn diamond’ is what we say,” says founder Noura Sakkijha, who launched Mejuri in 2015. “We always used to think of fine jewellery as this piece that you receive as a gift, usually marketed for men to buy for women.” 

Self-purchase isn’t a sentiment that’s new to the industry (Tiffany & Co’s Diamonds by the Yard, launched in the ’70s by Elsa Peretti, was designed for women to buy for themselves), but is perhaps new to first-time or younger jewellery clients – and it’s a side of the market that Mejuri is capitalising on. “Traditionally, fine jewellery has a lot of distance, and a lot of aspiration, but we wanted to create a brand that’s equal or a friend to the customer.”

The Mejuri Covent Garden store
The Mejuri Covent Garden store © Roger Bool
Mejuri founder Noura Sakkijha
Mejuri founder Noura Sakkijha © Courtesy of Mejuri

Mejuri now has 29 stores globally and attracted 2.4 million customers since its launch. The brand has done this through relatable marketing imagery, simplistic designs that can be stacked, and a range of prices – its popular hoops, of which it sells two every minute, range in price from £38 to £1,200. Mejuri is also positioning itself as a rival to traditional luxury names, with the expansion of its fine and 14-carat gold offering, and designs including a diamond tennis bracelet (from £2,400) and the micro-pavé collection, which is being bought by customers in the top-10-per-cent household income bracket in the UK. 

Sakkijha, who is a third-generation jeweller, has also offered transparency around Mejuri’s supply chain – something that resonates with a younger generation who are considered to be more socially-aware. “We’ve prioritised working with manufacturers who are certified by third-party organisations like the Responsive Jewellery Council to make sure that somebody else is governing the work, whether it’s the working conditions or the payments,” says Sakkijha. Mejuri uses 95 per cent recycled gold and 92 per cent recycled silver, and is aiming for 100 per cent traceability by 2030.

Mejuri bezel lab-grown diamond small hoops, £498
Mejuri bezel lab-grown diamond small hoops, £498

In December, Mejuri released its first collection made with lab-grown diamonds, using SCS Global Services-certified stones, consisting of 12 designs that reimagine some of its existing natural diamond styles. “We provide value to the customer. And for me, value is at the intersection of great design, great quality, contextualisation and price,” adds Sakkijha. “And so we are finding that a lot of our customers still want a tennis bracelet, but they will buy it in lab-grown diamonds, and there’s an upside to that from an environmental standpoint.”

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The lab-grown diamond space is one of the more disruptive – and contentious – parts of the modern luxury jewellery industry, from both a consumer and manufacturing perspective. Traditionalists argue that the stones – which have the same chemical properties as natural diamonds, but are made using a small diamond “seed” that can be grown through high-pressure and heat – are “fake” or do not hold their value, and that the intensive amount of energy required to produce them is often not as environmentally-friendly as the brands claim them to be. 

Regardless, sales of lab-grown diamonds increased from under $1bn in 2016 to just shy of $12bn in 2022, according to industry analyst Paul Zimnisky. And some of the oldest, most traditional jewellers are now joining the lab-grown world: De Beers Group, one of the world’s largest natural diamond producers and distributors, launched lab-grown diamond brand Lightbox in 2018. LVMH, which owns Tiffany & Co, Bulgari and Chaumet, has invested in lab-grown diamond producer Lusix, while Paris brand Fred, also within the French conglomerate’s stable, showed its first collection of lab-grown diamonds last year.

From top: Kimai Pebble earcuff, £595, Riva earring, £255, and Silo earring, £775
From top: Kimai Pebble earcuff, £595, Riva earring, £255, and Silo earring, £775 © Maona Micoud

But the lab-grown push into the luxury space is mainly owing to emerging brands such as London-based Kimaï, stocked on Net-a-Porter, and producer Diamond Foundry, which was founded in California in 2012 by engineers from MIT, Stanford and Princeton, who sought to create diamonds using solar power. The company has backing from Leonardo DiCaprio, who invested after working on Blood Diamond, the 2006 film that brought to light the exploitative conditions of the mining industry. “We create diamonds with “real zero” carbon emissions, meaning we do not even need carbon offsets because we use zero-emission energy to crystallise greenhouse gases into diamonds,” says CEO Martin Roscheisen. “And the consumer dollars go to fair-wage jobs in developed countries with strong health and safety standards.”

From top: Vrai gold V Tennis choker, £13,917, gold V Cuff ring, £878, gold V Duo Round Brilliant and Trillion Lariat necklace, £981, and gold V Linked earring, £826
From top: Vrai gold V Tennis choker, £13,917, gold V Cuff ring, £878, gold V Duo Round Brilliant and Trillion Lariat necklace, £981, and gold V Linked earring, £826

Diamond Foundry plans to cement lab-grown diamonds as a fully-fledged luxury product, through its own-brand Vrai as well as collaborations: it has so far worked on collections with Balmain, Givenchy and Dover Street Market, which included fine-jewellery designs from Ana Khouri, Sophie Bille Brahe and Delfina Delettrez. Prada’s lab-grown diamond collection, which was released in October and featured a triangle-shaped cut mimicking the brand’s logo, was made with Diamond Foundry stones. “We have doubled diamonds sold each year for the past five years and have now reached the same level as one of the three largest mines in the world – with much higher quality and size of diamond,” says Roscheisen. “Around half of all diamonds sold in the US are now lab-grown. As we expected, this whole category has gone from complete novelty to complete acceptance within just a few years. Other continents are following with the usual delay.”

Yet there is still resistance – including from Tash, who doesn’t plan to use lab-grown stones in her brand. “To me, lab-grown diamonds are fake. Yes, maybe they are compositionally the same, but they are just not from nature, and I just have not embraced them. And I think discerning between the two is going to be a slippery slope.” 

Even within the disruptors, there is debate as to what the future of the luxury jewellery industry will, or should, look like. What is certain, though, is that the traditional hallmarks look vastly different now than they once did.

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