Friday, 1 June 2007

The Branding Iron

With the amount of money spent on diamonds per annum, it is truly surprising that so few successful diamond brands exist. I would venture to say that no diamond brand commands enough market recognition to allow it to be considered a household name. This is not for lack of will. It is no secret that the DTC has been urging its sightholders to consider the branding route as a way of cementing market share, and thereby SOC status, since beginning with that scheme.

To be fair, it is far more difficult to brand a diamond than to brand a new face cream or sport shoe. Consumers do not usually buy diamonds, they buy jewellery. Most could hardly care less which company supplied the sparkle. Computer chip powerhouse Intel faced a similar problem when their chips were put into branded computers. Their novel approach was to have a distinctive ‘Intel inside’ sticker on new computers. This exposed many consumers to their brand and established their dominance, even for many who had never come across the name before.

De Beers, with their Eternity, Journeys, Trilogy and similar projects, have cleverly managed to franchise lines of jewellery with precisely defined groups of stones into the De Beers brand. Incorporating the stone into jewellery and branding the combination can also work.

The qualities, however, that make a successful diamond trader, are not necessarily those that make a good jewellery brand. Over the last five years, too many have attempted to widen their scope in that direction, only to hastily withdraw with much licking of wounds. I sympathise with the sightholders who resist the urge to tread into an area they know little about and concentrate, instead, on seeking a solution that involves branding the stone itself.

Vodka is often held up as an example of what branding should be. Vodka is colourless, flavourless and devoid of any aroma. In a blind taste, most of the people who insist on Absolut or Smirnoff would be unable to identify their own preference from a rival brand. Yet the Absolut drinker will not trade in his young, artistic and slightly avant-garde tipple for the imperial snobbery of tsarist Smirnoff nor the raunchy chutzpah of Eristoff’s identical beverage

The fact that a supermarket brand tastes, looks and smells the same too, at half the price, does not affect these buyers, because it is not just vodka they are buying. What they are buying into is the brand’s image. Having the distinctively shaped bottle on your table, identifies you to your fellow connoisseur, or exposes you to pitying glances from proponents of a rival brand.

Unlike vodka, however, diamonds are an industrial ingredient, only coming into their own for the consumer, when set into an attractive piece of jewellery. Whether you bought it in a lavish box, reading Hearts on Fire, The Love Diamond or just a much scribbled on diamond envelope, it can look identical once it is calling for attention from on your loved one’s finger or throat. This is a commonly aired argument against branded stones. The independently owned websites I visited advised consumers to ask to be shown a non-branded stone of similar specs and compare look and price.

The most obvious method route for creating distinction is by marketing a unique cut. The Buddha Cut (, developed and marketed by Albert Haberkorn, is one good example of a diamond brand that is distinctive enough by virtue of its shape to make it appealing to a certain segment of the market. By registering the patenting rights to cutting diamonds in Buddha form, Haberkorn have shrewdly given their stone total dominance in that market and they can thus define their own pricing strategy, regardless of the cost of the raw material.

The Web Cut from Dali Diamond Co (, and The Escada cut from the house Pluczenik ( are two more examples of brands relying on a distinctive cutting shape in combination with established names for the visibility of their brands within the jewellery. However, it takes a lot a passion to develop a special cut and I do not think one should set out to do that, just for the purpose of having something to brand. It can be too painfully obvious when a diamond cut has simply been slightly manipulated, its difference noticeable only to a connoisseur, then marketed as better. The consumer has proved, moreover, by voting with its wallet, that it does not prefer diamonds looking like upturned pineapples, to the classic diamond cuts.

The real challenge out there is to create a brand name for a classic cut diamond, whose value supersedes the price of the goods producing it. With a name able to dominate its field in any given market, to the extent, that consumers within it will recognise that name as a synonym for diamond. And I am confident that what was done for vodka, for blue cotton trousers, and for the carbonated extract of cola nut juice, will be done for polished carbon too.

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