Meet Kimaï founders Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus, whose lab-grown diamonds are revolutionising the industry
Interview Philippa Thomas
What is the founding story behind Kimaï?
Jess: Sidney and I are childhood friends and grew up together in Antwerp, Belgium, where we were both surrounded by families who were embedded in the diamond and jewellery industry. We became more and more curious about supply chains and it became important to us to know where things we were buying originated from. So that’s why in 2018, we joined our creative and business heads to co-found Kimaï. The diamond jewellery industry really lacked transparency, so our main goal was to build a brand which set out to deliver progressive – but still luxurious – fine jewellery, catered to an ethically and environmentally conscious generation of consumers.
How did your backgrounds influence your approach to your brand?
Sidney: We were always fascinated and drawn to diamonds while growing up, being granted uncommon insight into the industry from a young age. With Jess being born into a family of diamond traders and both my father and grandfather being well established Belgian jewellers, the diamond industry is a world we understand well. However, it is one famously shrouded in mystery and controversy. We wanted to address this lack of transparency and set out to re-align the world of fine jewellery by creating a modern brand with clarity, traceability and ethics at its core.
Kimaï diamonds differ from regular diamonds in that they are lab-grown. Can you tell us about the differences between the two?
Jess: Physically and aesthetically, they are identical. The only difference is how the diamond has formed. In 2018, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) re-categorised the definition of a diamond, removing the word ‘natural’. So, there is now no classified, scientific or molecular difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds, with industry experts unable to tell the difference visually. By replicating the conditions in which traditional diamonds grow below the earth’s surface, our lab-grown diamonds – identical in colour, cut, carat and clarity – retain the sought-after magic of traditional diamonds. But, without the ethical and environmental impact the industry has long been associated with.
What was the decision behind making your collections made-to-order?
Sidney: The main reason is because we’ve grown our business starting from a small budget and without huge investments. By selling directly to our customers, this also allows us to eliminate waste, so we don’t have excess inventory stock. Ultimately it benefits us as a growing brand, but also provides women with more purchasing power.
Why is sustainability and transparency so important to your business?
Jess: It’s something that has become increasingly important to us, especially as we’ve grown to understand more about diamond trading. We want to offer an alternative to the traditional industry; a place where you can still enjoy its beauty but without the negative connotations. Social media has also played a big part in it, now there’s so much information readily available to our generation and we’ve realised the impact we have. Because of this, we owe it to our customers to be as clear as possible about where our diamonds are made and our recycled gold is from.
As designers, where do you draw inspiration for your collections from?
Sidney: We draw inspiration directly from our surroundings – whether it’s an emotional memory, or an innovative piece of art that we like, I design a piece of jewellery that’s elevated from my response to these experiences. For example, in September we launched our Unity necklace, which is a chain of gold links, inspired by the bond of communities during the lockdown. We are also constantly inspired by the women that surround us. When designing our jewellery we tend to envision a woman wearing the piece, as a female led business, we want to empower and celebrate women.
You have received a lot of support from female investors such as Diane von Furstenberg and pride yourselves on being female entrepreneurs in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Is there a particular type of woman that you have in mind when you design your pieces?
Jess: The woman we have in mind is a modern woman who is taking a dominant role in purchasing jewellery, as well as pledging their commitment to an ethically and environmentally conscious future.
What is your favourite item of jewellery from your collection?
Jess: Mine would have to be the Semi hoops, I never take them off, even when I sleep. And the Swing earring, I love wearing it on the other ear.
Sidney: It’s tough for me as I form a strong bond with all the pieces we design, but if I had to pick a favourite it would be the Bold earring or Signet ring.
How would you recommend clients style their pieces?
Jess: All of our pieces are designed to be worn every day. They work as stand-alone pieces, but we encourage people to mix and match styles. There are pieces that look great when they are layered – particularly the bracelets and necklaces – which can be played around with, depending on if your style is more minimal, or if you prefer to go for the overstated look. Sidney and I have quite different styles, so we’re proof that the same pieces can suit any style, it’s just about what you put with it.
Where do you see the future of Kimaï going?
Sidney: Our mission is to re-educate, re-align and re-imagine the diamond industry by being a driving force for the use of lab-grown diamonds. We’re advocating the beginning of a new movement, a shift in the traditional narrative where lab-grown diamonds become a proud symbol for morally and ethically conscious consumers. We believe that luxury doesn’t have to compromise the planet and the modern way is defined by transparency.
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