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Diving Deep Into Diamonds: With Shivana From “Four Words”


We sit down with co-founder Shivana from “Four Words” to unpack the paradigm shift toward ethically sourced lab grown diamonds, and debunk any common myths.

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1 FEB - 2023

The diamond mining industry has been shadowed with a more harrowing history than you can imagine.

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The History of Diamonds

“Diamonds are forever” as aptly summed up by James Bond. As a coveted gem, the demand for diamonds has remained consistent over decades.

In the late 19th century, South Africa's Kimberley region bore the glittering age of mined diamonds. The Kimberley Diamond Mine, discovered in 1866, was the biggest open hole pit for diamonds owned by DeBeers. The anxiety and fear experienced by the workers were so high that there was a well known poem sung by the miners outlining that the hole was associated with death and danger. Furthermore, as De Beers controlled a significant portion of the world's diamond production and distribution, they had the ability to influence prices and trade. The control and exploitation of these mines were contentious, with conflicts arising over ownership, labour practices, and the economic benefits derived from diamond mining.

The diamond mining industry emerged and unfortunately with it so did the destruction of our environment. From the initial inception of mining (and the subsequent hoarding of the diamonds) it was unregulated; meaning that there was no control over its impact on the environment. It was never intended to be, and nor in this day and age, is it sustainable. Mining is attributable to the destruction of a large number of landscapes in Africa being destroyed. The extensive amounts of carbon emissions into the air from diamond exploration and mining is also pushing pollution into rivers. It may be hard for you to envisage, but there are places which are now quite literally barren.

The term "blood diamond" gained prominence in the late 20th century referring to diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance-armed conflict against governments. The profits from these diamonds were often used to fund movements, contributing to violence, human rights abuses, and civil wars in countries like Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This really brought to light the ethical shadows cast by the diamond industry. The majority of diamonds worn today are still unfortunately “blood diamonds,” meaning that they are sourced from slavery, abuse and even child labour.

To address the ethical dilemma, the international community attempted a heroic act – the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme of 2003. However, the story took a twist as critiques surfaced, pointing to loopholes and enforcement challenges within the process. Essentially, the grading system was classed as inconsistent and ultimately driven by the supply of diamonds. There was even a premium charged for “conflict free” diamonds despite the lack of proof that the diamonds weren’t mined in the same way. The industry, tarnished by ethical concerns, was rife for disruption.

Although overshadowed by a dark history, diamonds have still been central to many of our lives. The engagement ring industry has had unfaltering demand, with many of us hoping to own diamonds in various forms ourselves.

They are undeniably beautiful, and tell a story of a glamorous and luxurious life. They are a symbol of status and of course, we instinctively just love shiny things.

As time has passed, consumers have had the benefit and opportunity to arm themselves with more information. This, complimented by the fact that each generation only appears to become more liberal and woke, means that we now seek diamonds that are sourced ethically. Lab-grown diamonds, marketed as the epitome of sustainability and ethical sourcing, have become the darlings of conscientious generations.

Lab grown diamonds are one of those rare things which are higher in quality, better priced and more sustainable than their mined alternatives.

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We sit down with Four Words co-founder Shivana Pemberton to unpack this journey, and the pain points that Four Words are aiming to cater to.

Can you give us a little intro into what "Four Words" is and the story behind why you decided to enter the lab-grown diamond industry? What motivated you to start a business in this field?

Shivana: We make custom engagement rings and other fine jewellery, using ethically sourced lab-grown diamonds and other gemstones. We started Four Words to help people create their dream engagement ring, earrings, necklace, or statement piece that they can feel good about, and without the pretentiousness of traditional luxury brands. Our goal is to offer an easy, relaxed experience akin to consulting a cool design-savvy friend, rather than battling with a salesperson.
When Vinny (my husband) was looking to propose, he knew he wanted to create a custom engagement ring and he knew he wanted to use lab grown diamonds. I’ll be honest, at the time I didn’t really know what they were. Once he explained, immediately I was like ‘Oh, hell yes, this is a no brainer’.
But it wasn’t easy, since we wanted something a bit more unique and not off the shelf, it was incredibly difficult to find someone locally in NZ who could do that for us without paying a massive premium for it! After several months, we found a designer overseas to make up a model which we then got a small local jeweller in NZ to make for us.
After this, we helped a few of our friends, who had the same experience do this, until eventually we thought, hey this could be a real business.
Our background isn’t rooted in fine jewellery (like, I used to be a Lawyer), and our families don’t have a history in diamonds and gemstones. I suppose you could call us outsiders to the industry! We saw this as an opportunity to approach things differently.

Breaking away from traditional practices and industry norms, we built Four Words to focus on:

1) Lab-grown diamonds (our speciality), moissanite, and other lab-grown gemstones

2) Custom-made, individually crafted rings, each piece designed exclusively for you. We don't resell other people's jewellery or push 'off-the-shelf' products – always custom, never customary.

3) Collaborate directly with designers, not salespeople: Our designers provide practical advice and guidance throughout the process, ensuring you receive personalised solutions rather than being pushed towards the priciest options within your budget.

4) Stone sourcing straight from diamond and gem cutters on your behalf, eliminating extra mark-ups from middlemen.
Modern technology, including digital sketches, 3D prints, and photorealistic renders, ensures our customers achieve their vision without uncertainty or stress.

5) Working only with materials we feel confident with that has minimal impact on both the planet and people.

We want our customers to be able to enjoy the journey of crafting a beautifully designed, well-made piece of fine jewellery that they can feel good about – all at a fair price.

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How has the market evolved since you've entered it and how do you see the lab-grown diamond market evolving in the next few years?

Shivana: It’s crazy thinking about how much the market has shifted since we launched the business. When we first started, part of our whole marketing strategy was centred around education - educating prospective customers about what lab grown diamonds are, and the related ethical and sustainable benefits.

We almost had to convince people that they were a high quality and legitimate alternative to natural diamonds. Now, people reach out to us because they want to buy lab grown - they already know everything there is to know about them, and they know they want to work with us to craft their bespoke dream engagement ring.

Currently in the US, around 1 in 5 engagement rings sold feature lab grown diamonds (NZ will likely be less since we’re usually a cycle behind the US). If you map out the trend, we believe that this number will increase to 1 in 2 by the end of 2024.

We believe the increase in cost of living has accelerated this shift as people are still getting engaged, but are drawn to more affordable alternatives.
Beyond that, it’s most likely that lab grown diamonds will end up having 60-80% of the market share overall. Natural diamonds will still have a place, but will become a smaller part of the market.

One interesting thing we’re seeing is an increase in average diamond size. Since lab grown diamonds are priced a lot lower than natural diamonds, people are opting for much higher quality and bigger diamonds. As a jewellery design company, this is really exciting for us as it opens up opportunities to create interesting design concepts through shapes, form and finger coverage. Aesthetically, bigger diamonds do look better!

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What are the key advantages of lab-grown diamonds compared to mined diamonds?

Shivana: Sustainability and price.

When buying most things, it is often the case that you have to choose between quality, price and sustainability. What is high quality and sustainable is often more expensive and what is sustainable and cheaper is often lower quality. Lab grown diamonds are one of those rare things which are higher in quality, better priced and more sustainable than their mined alternatives.

All our lab-grown diamonds and other gemstones are ethically and sustainably sourced, and this means our jewellery has a 7x less negative environmental impact than if using mined stones. Going one step further, we actually offset our carbon omission. Any impact we can’t minimise, we offset by over 500% with our partners at CarbonClick.

Price is the other big one. Lab-grown diamonds cost around 40% or less than their natural equivalents. Which is massive! What I love about this is that it really unlocks more options for couples. It means you’re in a much better position to get what you want and can either put the money you’ve saved toward something else, or you can upgrade. You can get a bigger, higher quality stone, no matter your budget.

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Some consumers still have reservations about lab-grown diamonds and prefer mined diamonds. What are the key myths about lab-grown diamonds that you'd like to debunk?

Shivana: There is definitely a lot of misinformation out there around lab-grown diamonds! One key misconception is that lab-grown diamonds are “fake diamonds” and therefore lower quality. Lab grown diamonds are physically, optically and atomically exactly the same as a natural diamond. They are a real diamond. Not even trained gemologists can tell the difference.

The biggest argument jewellery stores will make is that lab-grown diamonds have no resale value and natural diamonds appreciate in value and are an ‘investment.’

I’m telling you upfront, diamonds (any diamond, natural or lab) are not an investment (unless you’re spending millions on investment grade diamonds). If you’ve ever tried to sell a diamond, you’re probably only getting 50% of what you paid for it. In fact, over the past 80 years, natural diamonds at the wholesale level have only kept up inflation and more recently due to the popularity of lab grown diamonds, natural diamond prices have dropped almost 40% at the 1.0ct range.

Even if lab grown diamonds go to zero (which they won’t), you still would have been better off purchasing lab grown, and putting your savings towards proper investments.

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In terms of quality and aesthetics, how do lab-grown diamonds compare to mined diamonds? Are there any notable differences that consumers should be aware of?

Shivana: A year ago I would have said all lab grown diamonds look exactly the same as natural diamonds because they have the same atomic structure.
I can’t say that anymore for all lab grown diamonds. Let me explain.
If you’re working with a trusted jeweller, who knows the difference between a lab grown diamond that has been grown well and one that hasn’t, then no, there is no difference in terms of quality and aesthetics.

However, because lab grown diamonds have become so popular, a lot of new diamond growers have entered the space. Growing diamonds isn’t easy and these newbies use sub-par growing methods that result in the diamonds consisting of grey and brown undertones (these imperfections aren’t stated in grading reports by the way).

These diamonds look very unnatural and sell at a discounted rate. Unfortunately, some consumers are getting caught out by this - they see the unbelievably low price and think they’re getting a bargain. Our diamantaire and gemologist partners here at Four Words personally inspect every diamond and are trained to filter out diamonds that have been grown poorly and have these undesirable traits. Unfortunately not many jewellers spend the time doing this.

In this industry, you generally get what you pay for. Make sure you work with someone you trust and is an expert in lab grown diamonds, to ensure you’re getting a beautifully brilliant diamond that will indeed look exactly the same as a natural diamond.

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In my view, you're a bad ass founder of multiple businesses and I think you really cater to pain points that you've experienced. What has been your biggest obstacle in starting four words and how did you overcome it?


Haha aw thank you!

Buying an engagement ring is often one of the most expensive and important purchases someone will make up to that point in their lives. When choosing who to work with, there needs to be a high level of trust.

At the beginning, establishing trust as a new brand in a new category was one of our biggest obstacles. A lot of jewellery companies and our competitors in the market have been around for generations and have a built-in level of trust. We on the other hand started as an online-only brand working out of a garage. Establishing and building trust was a priority right from the outset.

We took it step by step. First was making sure our online presence was on point - a polished, trustworthy looking website with lots of content was crucial. Third party endorsements and online references to our brand from other institutions were also important here.

Next was our content strategy. We committed to consistently posting well-researched, authoritative and educational content across our blog and social channels. We did this so that prospective customers could recognise and trust that they were working with experts.

From there, we opened up a physical studio where we could meet people in person for consults and where customers can view and try on sample rings. This has really helped us not only build trust, but also better connect with our customers and forge long-term relationships.

We’re currently in the process of further scaling our content production and refreshing our brand identity. The goal here is to ensure our brand and content reinforces that we’re not only experts in the technical aspects of jewellery and gemstones, but also experts in design who they can trust to craft a ring that embodies their (or their partner’s) tastes and vibes.

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What is one key message you want those who are hesitant to choose lab-grown diamonds to take away from this interview?


From a purely logical perspective, lab grown diamonds are factually better than natural diamonds in all ways - ethically, environmentally and affordability.
But, buying an engagement ring isn’t a purely logical decision.

There is a lot of emotion and sentiment that goes into a ‘forever’ piece of jewellery. Especially when that piece marks the beginning of the rest of your life with the person you love. There’s a certain allure to having diamond that was grown naturally in the earth over billions of years - I totally get it.
The question you have to ask yourself is, is the allure of a natural diamond worth spending two or three times as much for the same thing? If so, then a natural diamond is worth it for you - there is nothing wrong with that, and you deserve to have what you want! If sustainability is a concern for you, a good option would be to use recycled diamonds (heirloom diamonds that have been pulled out of old jewellery). They’re an environmentally friendly and ethical way to choose a natural diamond - we actually have started offering these just recently.

If not, then lab diamonds are the most suitable option for you. Just make sure you work with a trusted jeweller (like us!) to ensure you’re getting the best, most beautiful diamond and thoughtfully crafted piece for your budget.

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The Chatty Take:

The paradigm is shifting in relation to the way people perceive diamonds. As Shivana has aptly put it, lab grown diamonds are real diamonds that are better than mined diamonds ethically, environmentally and affordability wise. The argument that they aren’t worth as much as a real diamond falters because they are at their core fundamentally the same atoms.

Looking into the history of diamonds, which I already knew was shrewd and tainted, I had a very similar reaction to Shivana in that getting a lab grown diamond seemed like a true no brainer.

Four Words are a relatable, ethically minded business that intends to make diamonds accessible and sustainable so that everyone is that much closer to their dream ring. Hopefully, this piece has been an educational insight (in true Chatty fashion) that helps you with your own diamond journey; whatever the path may be.

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