Forever Companies focuses on building a solid foundation to handle further growth
as awareness of man-made stones increases.
By Janice Hoppe
“A diamond is forever” is the most touted yet inaccurate phrase in the jewelry business. Because of this, Forever Companies founder and CEO Gary LaCourt set out more than a decade ago to change the industry using breakthrough technology to develop man-made diamonds that are exactly the same as those that come out of the ground.
“We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘If you were starting out in the engagement ring business, what would be the best company? What would it look like?’” LaCourt says. “And that’s what we did. It is demonstrably, provably better for the consumer and better for the world in general.”
Diamond Nexus launched in 2005 when the technology for creating larger carat diamonds in a lab setting was just starting. At that time, there were a couple companies on the brink of isolating the factor that allowed them to create a larger stone. “Based on that, we really started the company with a mind towards being revolutionary in the created diamond space,” LaCourt says.
At the same time, Diamond Nexus moved forward with patented stones that look and act exactly like a diamond, called Contemporary Nexus Diamonds. “A diamond is pure carbon and made out of that one element,” LaCourt explains. “Diamond Nexus is a different crystal, but a jeweler can’t tell the difference, it lasts forever, is very hard and can cut glass. From a consumer standpoint, it’s a good replica.”
In 2014, Forever Companies broke the one-carat barrier for its real diamond, pure carbon product, which it calls True Grown Diamonds, and has been scaling up ever since. The company has been able to consistently achieve up to three carats and expects the size to keep growing.
In fall 2014, Forever Companies launched 1215 Engagement, selling exclusively True Grown Diamonds made of pure carbon. “It’s a real diamond made out of the exact same thing Mother Nature makes them out of at 30 percent less cost than a diamond grown in the ground,” LaCourt explains. “The 1215 brand sells nothing but True Grown Diamonds.”
Because the company is able to design and manufacture custom engagement rings and jewelry, as well as the Miss Universe and Miss USA crowns, it launched Forever Artisans last fall. “We have this design capability and we are always selling custom rings and jewelry to clients, so we split that off into another brand, Forever Artisans,” LaCourt says. “We have three distinct but interrelated brands that we brought together under Forever Companies.”
Consumer and Social Advantages
Forever Companies sets itself apart in the industry because it does not sell any stone that comes out of the ground. Everything sold by the three brands is grown in “gem greenhouses” above ground, including its true grown diamonds.
“Whenever you introduce mining there is some amount of evil that comes with it,” LaCourt explains. “We know about blood diamonds and the mining of emeralds in South America that is causing an environmental disaster. Virtually all precious gemstones are mined in third-world countries where there is no oversight for environmental concerns or human rights.”
The consumer advantage to lab-created stones is that they are less expensive. “The cost of diamonds are heavily altered by the diamond cartels who manipulate the price and create artificial scarcity, which creates artificial concerns,” LaCourt says. “We offer a superior stone at a better price because there is no mining involved and it’s ethically and environmentally beneficial.”
LaCourt says that 62 percent of people are not satisfied with the engagement ring they end up with because they had to settle for a smaller carat. “They make compromises from what they wanted, but the magic of Diamond Nexus is that they can have their dream ring at a price that is thousands of dollars less,” LaCourt says. “They get a better product for less money and a demonstrably better guarantee. No one is doing what we are doing. The Nexus Diamond costs about 80 percent less than a mined diamond.”
Because diamonds are not truly forever as people often have problems with the stone falling out of the setting, Forever Companies offers an “Everything’s Covered Plan” warranty. “That means you can literally throw it down a garbage disposal, fish out all the pieces, send it back to us and we will give you a new one for free for life,” LaCourt says. “No one has that guarantee.”
In addition to getting the same product at a more affordable price, Forever Companies jewelry is bespoke to the customer. “We don’t stamp out 20 of the same ring and the ring does not exist until you order it,” LaCourt explains. “It is made specifically for you and we do that very quickly.”
Forever Companies made its jewelry in China up until three years ago when it brought manufacturing back to its headquarters in Franklin, Wis., building one of the first new jewelry manufacturing plants in the Midwest in many years, according to LaCourt. The company’s focus is on bespoke, direct-to-consumer jewelry and it had to get closer to the consumer for faster delivery.
“We were successful manufacturing in China and had great partners over there, but it took time working on the other side of the planet,” LaCourt says. “Jewelry manufacturing is just like anything else, sometimes it doesn’t cast right or there is porosity, tiny bubbles in the metal, and working in China we had to wait for it to get here to find out it doesn’t meet our quality parameters. There was a lack of real-time communication.”
Bringing manufacturing home allowed Forever Companies to determine right away if the item is not up to its quality standards and recast immediately. Customer service representatives can also walk into the plant and talk to the person who is melting the gold that will become the customer’s ring to immediately get answers to any question. “We can make changes on the fly and to get the speed that we need we had to make it ourselves,” LaCourt adds.
Forever Companies manufactures gemstones exclusively in the United States. The stones are made in quantity and the settings are made to order or unique to each customer.
Forever Companies is committed to being 100 percent e-commerce and closed all of its brick-and-mortar stores. LaCourt says moving forward, retail will have two kinds of companies: automators and humanizers. Automators are companies that drive out the inefficiencies in the journey of a product like Amazon. Humanizer companies are the ones that try to build a bond and relationship of trust between themselves and the consumer.
“Humanizer companies look at retail stores as a huge cost center,” LaCourt says. “We have turned away from that model and are completely online to be more controllable, cost-efficient and capital efficient. E-commerce is getting so good. There are so many revolutionary things that are happening. For us, being a humanizer company means pure e-commerce.”
As an online only company, Forever Companies knew it needed to make it easier for the consumer to shop. The company offers free shipping both ways and risk-free purchases as the customer can exchange their purchases to find the perfect item.
Forever Companies also prides itself on having one of the best call centers in the jewelry business. Its representatives are not paid on commission and are incentivized by their customer service rating. “They talk to people to get them into the right ring – not to oversell them,” LaCourt explains. “I’ve been in business for 30 years and when I walked into this industry I was shocked by how customer-unfriendly it is. I believe we offer the consumer the very best experience in buying an engagement ring.”
Growth by Education
LaCourt compares man-made and natural pure carbon diamonds to icicles outside during the winter and the ice in the freezer. “Outside is nature-made ice and in your freezer is man-made ice, but it’s the same thing,” he explains. “No one but you knows it’s not a mined diamond and you know it didn’t come out of the ground and no one suffered for this. The problem that we have more than anything is unawareness.”
Forever Companies is targeting millennials by trying to capture their hearts and minds. By emphasizing its product at a lower cost and eco-friendliness, the company is seeing increased growth every year. “We are seeing significant growth,” LaCourt says. “We are up 20 percent from last year and will be up 25 percent this year.”
Moving forward, the company is focused on establishing a solid foundation to meet increased demand while maintaining its levels of speed, service and reliability. “That’s our big goal this year; our foundation,” LaCourt says. “We want to have the foundation in place to scale the company and next year we are hoping to open up new marketing channels with large-scale advertising.”