Soha Diamond Co. flips script on retail jewelry

New Madison startup takes shopping for diamond and gemstone jewelry in another direction by going completely online and lab-grown.

Just because they say diamonds are forever, doesn’t mean the old way of selling jewelry can’t change with the times.

If we can shop for clothes, cars, and even houses from our smartphones, reasons Soha Javaherian, why not diamonds, as well?

That’s the thinking behind Soha Diamond Co., a Madison-based startup launched in September 2017 and co-founded by Javaherian and his wife, Aubree.

Selling jewelry isn’t a stretch for Javaherian, a 10th generation jeweler, but the method by which he’s doing it might make his ancestors’ heads spin. In an industry built on showrooms lined with glass cases, and hell-bent on selling primarily “natural” diamonds, Javaherian is taking an entirely different approach. Soha Diamond Co. operates almost entirely online without a storefront. And it’s jewelry? All lab-grown diamonds and gems and 100% recycled precious metals.

Javaherian acknowledges the risk in veering in the opposite direction from traditional jewelers, but says it makes perfect sense given the huge customer base of millennials and the younger generations that are completely at home with shopping online, not to mention the increased awareness and concern about purchasing conflict-free diamonds and gemstones.

It’s in the blood

Jewelry runs deep in Javaherian’s family. His last name literally translates from Farsi to “Family of Jewelers.”

Growing up seeing family members in the jewelry business, Javaherian always wanted to be a diamond dealer. After graduating from UW–Madison in 2010, Javaherian received a scholarship to attend the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, Calif., where he pursued courses to become a graduate gemologist and accredited jewelry professional.

After graduation, he started a position at Tiffany & Co. in southern California and learned about the jewelry retail environment. Then, wanting to pursue a more technical role within gemology, he took a position at the GIA laboratories as a diamond grader.

“The experience in these roles helped form a thorough gem and jewelry industry experience,” explains Javaherian. “Soha Diamond Co. takes bits and pieces of everything I’ve been exposed to and sheds light on a unique perspective of an age-old industry.”

While Aubree — who also owns and operates Frills & Finery Photobooth Co. — heads up marketing, social media, and web development for Soha Diamond Co., Javaherian is the guy behind the gemstones.

His parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s from Iran. Javaherian was the first member of his family born in the U.S., which also meant that his jewelry lineage immediately became far removed from his grandfather and other family members — eighth and ninth generation jewelers — who remained in Iran.

“However, throughout my life I was able to visit my grandfather’s store, where I would spend time behind the scenes and absorb an age-old trade in one of the largest cities in the world,” notes Javaherian. “This inspired me to consider jewelry as a career path”

Lab work

Javaherian says the gemstone and jewelry industry is slow moving, and one that hasn’t experienced much change for centuries. One of the biggest changes has been in the past 15 years, as consumers have become increasingly aware of a mined diamond’s origin — specifically the human and environmental toll that it brings.

This has led consumers to seek out “conflict-free” gemstones.

“We take ‘conflict-free’ one step further,” explains Javaherian, “because the only way you can have a truly conflict-free diamond is to have one that is grown by man in a safe and controlled environment, where no human or environmental conflict was created.”

One thing people may not realize, notes Javaherian, is that lab-grown diamonds have been produced since the 1950s, when GE first pioneered the method and technology to produce industrial-quality diamonds used for manufacturing purposes. Only more recently have they attained gem quality, available to consumers to be used in fine jewelry.

There is certainly a growing interest in lab-grown diamonds, says Javaherian, but it is still something that has misconceptions, mainly due to the lack of education around them.

“The traditional brick and mortar stores sell mostly mined diamonds, and some are very clear about never selling lab-grown,” Javaherian states. “The largest fear in the jewelry industry is non-disclosure, in terms of selling lab-grown diamonds. Since they are nearly impossible to separate, there is a fear with jewelers that lab-grown might get mixed with mined diamond inventory. This is where some jewelers make a key decision to either never carry, or carry a limited selection of lab-grown diamonds.

“However, the lab-grown industry and community is very up front and clear about disclosure and makes it a priority to inform the consumer and empower them to make a decision based on facts,” Javaherian continues.

To that end, Soha Diamond Co. is a member of the International Grown Diamond Association (IGDA), which mandates strict adherence to proper disclosure.

“I was attracted to lab-grown diamonds because they had a lot of common misconceptions, and after doing research it seemed like there were few viable options when it came to purchasing them,” says Javaherian. “I was first intrigued in the classroom by what I was learning about lab-grown diamonds. When I went to my peers to share my enthusiasm, I was surprised that they didn’t feel the same way, and this is where I found I was in the minority when it came to lab-grown diamonds. The decision to exclusively offer lab-grown diamonds wasn’t easy, but to me it was clear what I needed to do.”

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Javaherian says for all intents and purposes there is no discernable difference between lab-grown and mined diamonds. What differences there are simply amount to where the diamond comes from and how long it took to grow.

“There is an analogy that helps clear up the difference in an easy to understand way,” notes Javaherian. “Think of ice; there is ice that forms outside of your front door in the winter, versus the ice that is created in your freezer. They are both the same chemically, physically, and optically, but they came from different places, and took different amounts of time to create. Just like this analogy, lab-grown diamonds are chemically, physically, and optically the same as mined diamonds, one is just grown underground (mined) over millions of years, and one is grown above ground (lab-grown) in a matter of a few months. It’s an amazing feat of humans, to replicate the growth process of mined diamonds.”

As a result, only advanced gemological equipment and testing, which are only found in diamond grading laboratories or similar facilities, can reveal growth marks and indication of where and how long growth took.

“Without getting overly technical,” explains Javaherian, “under advanced magnification and certain tools/equipment, there may be signs that can be detected but cannot be positively identified as lab-grown.

“Don’t trust anyone, regardless of experience as a jeweler, diamond grader, or industry expert [who says they can tell the difference]. Under no circumstances can one diagnostically conclude the separation between mined and lab-grown diamonds. The only way such a conclusive diagnosis can be made is by a third party, non-biased diamond grading laboratory or institute.”

Javaherian is so confident in the integrity of the lab-grown diamond industry, that Soha Diamond Co. offers its shoppers a Lifetime Diamond Upgrade program. This means that in the future, when customers are ready to upgrade to a larger or higher-quality diamond, Soha Diamond will give them a dollar-for-dollar credit toward another lab-grown diamond, something Javaherian says is virtually unheard of in the jewelry industry for lab-grown gems.

Web gems

At first blush, buying an engagement ring online might seem like a dangerous decision.

There will always be people who would rather shop in person, which is understandable, says Javaherian. However, the millennial generation has grown accustomed to shopping online, and trusting their prior experiences in person and online to drive new shopping behaviors and trends.

“Our parents didn’t shop for homes on their phones, or stay in a stranger’s home on vacation,” Javaherian notes. “The way we now consume the goods and services around us are changing, and we are firm believers that the next industry ripe for disruption is the jewelry industry on two fronts. One is the actual product that the end user experiences and wears for a lifetime — in this case, the lab-grown diamond. Secondly, how they shop for this big purchase.”

That being said, Soha Diamond has taken steps to mitigate the risk and barriers of shopping for jewelry online by offering its customers features like 360-degree photography, Virtual Try-On, a Home Try-On Program, and the option for Javaherian to come to the client to meet in private with Soha’s products. “We’ve also added videos and social integration to make it easy for people to envision wearing our jewelry,” Javaherian says.

Customers are able to shop engagement rings, wedding bands, and other fine jewelry all from the comfort of their home. “They can search [by keyword] on our website, or browse through the categories we have laid out on our home page,” says Javaherian. “We also have a page dedicated to custom design, and we invite shoppers to share their inspirations with us so we can help create something completely custom online or in person.”

By operating almost entirely online, Soha Diamond is also able to keep its operational costs down. The average brick-and-mortar jeweler has to mark up their prices to cover the costs of having a storefront with sales staff, notes Javaherian. Also, lab-grown diamonds are typically less expensive than a comparable mined diamond.

“Being that we’re a nationwide [online] company, we plan on positioning ourselves in the marketplace as the most trusted resource for purchasing lab-grown diamonds online and in person,” says Javaherian. “We don’t have children yet, but we’d love to continue this family tradition onto the next generation of jewelers.”

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