Vrai has opened today at 8472-A Melrose Place in Los Angeles.
“Melrose really felt right for our brand,” said Vrai’s chief executive officer Mona Akhavi. “Of course, Melrose Place is an iconic street, but also it has that timeless luxury and West Coast feel.”
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This marks the first U.S. location for the fine jewelry brand — which produces man-made diamonds created in-house in Washington and California with zero emission, according to the company.
Vrai, launched online in 2014, unveiled its first brick-and-mortar location last year in Shanghai. It now looks to expand to San Francisco, home of producer Diamond Foundry, as well as internationally. (The company now sells online in Germany, France, Spain and the U.K., though the U.S. makes up 90 percent of total sales.)
The new space, with porcelain tile floors, is inspired by the look of an art gallery, said Akhavi. It’s meant to feel accessible, however, she noted. The pieces are placed on handy metallic, geometric hooks, displayed in custom-built wooden frames that are inspired by artist Donald Judd’s 1970s sculptures.
“It’s for customers to take it all in, understand the meaning, origins, how it’s made,” Akhavi said of the physical space. “I want this to be a place where people can learn about the brand, learn about our diamonds, our certification. We’re the first producer to be certified neutral, and how and why that matters.”
It leaves less of an environmental footprint than mined diamonds, she said, and Vrai — by growing their own diamonds and controlling the entire supply chain with an in-house team — offers transparency and ensures that materials are responsibly sourced. The company uses recycled gold and packaging is compostable, she added.
“Within tradition jewelry, the diamond can exchange 15 hands, from the miner to the distributor, to the buyer, to the wholesaler until it gets to the designer,” Akhavi went on. “And unfortunately, every time it’s marked up. And that markup is not going to go back to the community or environment it came from. It’s actually passed on to the consumer.”
For the direct-to-consumer company, the store allows consumers to view the pieces in person — an especially key element for those who have yet to embrace lab-created diamonds.
Designed by architect Cass Calder Smith, the space (featuring iPads and two private back rooms) currently showcases the brand’s collaboration with Amanda Hearst (which has a charitable component), as well as partnership with stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn — a unisex line worn by the likes of Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum and Angelina Jolie.
There are also Vrai’s signature designs and offerings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets — and engagement rings, sales of which did particularly well for the company, “up 3X” during the pandemic.
“I think it was because of a couple of reasons,” said Akhavi. “Retail was down, but also consumers started to make more conscious choices.”
Couples bought bigger stones than in years past, 1.5 to 2 carats on average, she said, with emerald, marquise and oval cuts being most popular. Prices start at $2,500 for the rings, while necklaces start at $500.
“The pandemic didn’t affect our sales, because our main point of sales is the website,” said Akhavi. “We’re an online brand to start with. And we were on a growth path.”
The company has focused on engaging with consumers on social and online with their virtual appointments, which grew five times since the start of COVID-19. They also began offering personalization two months into the health crisis, allowing consumers to pick the diamond shapes (they have 17 total) and sizes of their choice for necklaces and earrings.
“People really love being able to pick and choose the stone themselves,” said Akhavi, adding that they have a customer return rate of 40 percent.
“Although we didn’t have a storefront [then], our customer service and sales team, social media team are so in touch with our customers,” she said. “We’re a technology company first…We can move fast.”
The Vrai shop is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.