Clean Origin is what happens when three deeply-embedded jewelry industry executives put their heads together to create a business aimed at the future of the jewelry market—Millennials and GenZ customers.
Clean Origin sells the jewelry Millennials and GenZs want–lab-grown diamonds—the way they want to buy them—online—and at lower prices—more bling for the buck.
Clean Origin is the brainchild of Alexander Weindling, third-generation diamond merchant and former global managing director for Georg Jensen; Ryan Bonifacino, former chief marketing officer and digital vice president of Alex and Ani, one of the fastest-growing jewelry brands in the U.S.; and Terry Burman, who served as CEO for Signet Jewelers, Sterling Jewelers and chairman Zale Corporation, and is now chairman of the board for Abercrombie and Fitch and Tuesday Morning,
Starting first with bridal jewelry, Weindling tells me it is only the beginning for Clean Origin. “With Terry as chairman of our board of advisors, we are only in our infancy. You can read a lot into that.”
Weindling affectionately refers to Burman as his company’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The origin of Clean Origin
All three company principals took a hiatus from the jewelry industry, giving them a unique outsiders’-insiders’ perspective of the industry. “We were done with the trade,” Weindling shared with me.
I went on to be a private equity hack, but people keep calling me with the lab-grown diamond transition. Once I saw that you can make real gemstone-quality diamonds with no visible difference–Understand, I was trained in diamonds since I was in diapers and I couldn’t see the difference–I got to thinking about the customer and the problems they had and how to make it better.
A business plan was hatched which Weindling took to the best person he knew to shoot holes in it.
“I called Terry and said I have this mad idea to run by you,” Weindling says. “I talked for an hour and he didn’t say anything. I had been there before with Terry and he ripped me apart. I expected the same. But when I stopped talking about this new idea, all he said was ‘Flawless.’”
Not only did Burman give his stamp of approval, but he became a seed investor in the company that was to become Clean Origin. He wanted in because, “We are at the infancy of a market share shift,” Burman explains.
“It is partly the result of technology that allows gem-quality diamonds to be produced. But consumers now accept that these lab-produced diamonds are chemically and visually the same as mined diamonds and serve the same purpose,” he continues, but with the added benefit that lab-grown diamonds are more affordable.
“These young couples are just starting out and their budgets are pressed. They can make a choice for a bigger diamond or a better color or better quality without overrunning their budgets,” Burman says. “It is a great opportunity for them to get the diamond ring they really want.”
The Clean Origin difference
The seed idea for Clean Origin started with a focus on the consumer, specifically the next-generation Millennials and GenZ customers who are either in or getting ready to enter the bridal jewelry market. “The younger generation have a very principled approach to the environment,” Weindling observes.
Therefore the company sells only lab-grown stones. “We don’t touch a mined diamond. We are very pure about that,” he says.
“We set out to do something very simple: win on price, win on product selection and have the best possible customer experience with a team of experts that don’t win unless the customer wins,” Bonifacino adds.
Plenty of venture capital dollars are backing other direct-to-consumer “disrupter” jewelry brands because of the market share shift that Burman refers to. So far Clean Origin has resisted that temptation, relying instead on the team’s years of experience in the jewelry business.
“What we are building is the ultimate fusion of modern DTC expertise and generations of supply-chain mastery led by actual jewelry-industry veterans , unlike others that only bring one side of the equation,” Bonifacino says. “Digitally-native brands without jewelry expertise lack value creation, while legacy brands are tone deaf to the evolving needs and expectations of the new consumer.”
“We are jewelers and that is a huge difference,” Weindling adds. “We are looking to win through truth and transparency.”
As Burman sees it, the company’s expertise in all that goes into creating a beautiful piece of diamond jewelry is a huge advantage for Clean Origin.
“Alex [Weindling] spent a lifetime not just in diamonds but in the jewelry business. He knows how to source the best-quality rings with the best materials and mountings. Our offering is well rounded, high quality and we offer great service along with the purchase of a diamond,” he says.
In addition to selling set lab-grown diamond rings which are custom-crafted and delivered in nine days, Clean Origin also offers larger CVD (carbon vapor deposition) stones with overnight delivery. But like mined diamonds, these higher-quality CVD gemstones are in short supply.
“This is complex materials science. There aren’t that many people who have the secret sauce,” Weindling shares.
Lab-grown diamond market feels growing pains
As we closed our discussion, I asked about the push back against lab-grown diamonds from the traditional mined-diamond industry. “Any new technology is going to face resistance,” Burman says and predicts, “As the market shifts, eventually most if not all companies are going to want to get into this product. ”
Weindling gets more philosophical. “This is existential for them. If they can kill lab-growns, then they will. But I am not here to say anything bad about anyone else, so why are they?”
Clean Origin’s answer, according to Weindling, is to give people a choice with truth and transparency.
At the same time, some lab-grown companies are testing the limits of last year’s Federal Trade Commission’s new guidelines. Under those guidelines, the FTC allowed companies that sell lab-growns to call their products “diamonds” as long as that word “is immediately preceded with equal conspicuousness by the word ‘laboratory-grown,’ ‘ laboratory-created,’ ‘[ manufacturer name ]-created,’ or some other word or phrase of like meaning, so as to disclose clearly the nature of the product and the fact it is not a mined gemstone.”
Late last month the FTC sent letters to eight lab-grown diamond companies, including Diamond Foundry and seven others not identified, claiming some of their website, Instagram and Twitter ads may not comply with its ruling or that their claims of environmental responsibility may not be backed up by reliable data.
Weindling reports that Clean Origin did not receive one of those letters and “will not receive one as we have, from inception, been ahead of the FTC and in full compliance.” He further said that after hearing about the FTC letters, they had the company attorney, who was formerly the lead counsel for the FTC, confirm their status.
“The FTC’s job is to protect consumers,” responds Weindling. “The FTC is trying to be the arbiter for the truth to the consumer and I applaud it. Truth is our friend.”
On the other hand, he takes issue with the “mining interests that are seriously trying to denigrate the value and perception of lab-grown diamonds.”
That effort will undoubtedly continue as the consumer market continues to shift as they learn more about this less expensive man-made alternative to mined diamonds with the same composition and visually identical without special equipment.
As for the environmental claims, Weindling says, “I am not a scientist, but when open-pit mines are visible from space, I am confident other non-scientists will prefer lab-grown diamonds.”
“Our ambition in bringing lab-grown diamonds to a new generation of consumers is centered around the fundamental belief that a new standard has to be set which starts with sharing generations of expertise through the digital conversation,” Bonifacino says.
Burman gets back to the fundamentals. “In any retail business, you always must think of putting the customer in the center of it. In this case, it is a product they want and that they can buy at a better price.”
See also: What Do Millennial HENRYs Want?