Soha Diamond Co. roots itself in tradition: One of its co-founders, the gemologist Soha Javaherian, is a 10th-generation jeweler. The Iranian-American’s surname is Farsi for “family of jewelers.”
But the jewelry company on Madison’s east side also belongs to a movement bucking centuries of tradition: Soha Diamonds sells diamonds that have not been mined from the earth, but crafted in industrial presses and chemical growth chambers.
It’s among the dozens of startups around the U.S. to have embraced so-called “lab-grown” diamonds fashioned in industrial manufacturing facilities, along with other lab-made gems. Javaherian and his co-founder, the designer Aubree Javaherian, claim that theirs is the only startup in the country that retails 100% lab-grown jewels, “through and through.”
“We have the potential to be that leader in the industry about lab-grown diamonds,” said Soha.
The Javaherians are life partners, as well as business partners: They’re former high school sweethearts from Eau Claire, who say they’ve long wanted to run their own business. With Soha Diamond Co., the husband and wife operate what they call a "click and mortar" operation: They have a small design studio in the startup center StartingBlock, while retailing online as an e-commerce company.
Madisonians who schedule one-on-one appointments with Soha Diamond Co. will be greeted by the young couple in their plush and simple office, along with a flaxen-furred and gregarious lapdog, Honey. No jewels are available for sale at the studio, although there is a small display of sample gems. Instead of walking through an inventory, the Javaherians sit down with their client to talk through what they’re looking for, while Aubree mocks up 3D models using computer-assisted design software.
“We’re not your average jewelery store, in terms of pressure, or awkwardness when you walk into a store, and you’ve got people looking at you, and they’re all wearing suits, and they’re all behind a counter,” said Soha.
“A regular jewelry store, there’s so much traffic in and out. We’re so curated, that we build relationships with clients. It’s kind of bittersweet when you don’t know how a proposal goes,” he added.
An appointment also typically involves some education about laboratory-grown diamonds, said Soha.
“A lot of lab grown diamonds are misunderstood,” said Soha. “People think they’re fake, or not real, or similar to diamonds. They’re none of the above. They are diamonds.”
Industrialists have been able to make diamonds in laboratories since the 1950s, using high pressure and temperatures to turn carbon-based materials into stone. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that scientists were able to produce diamonds with the color, clarity and weight to be considered “gem-quality.”
The advent of gem-quality laboratory diamonds caused swift upset in the industry, due to their lower price points and questions they raised of what made a diamond a diamond. For years, diamond corporations like De Beers refused to sell lab-grown diamonds, and disavowed their status as true diamonds.
In recent years, acceptance of manufactured diamonds has grown. The Federal Trade Commission recognized the authenticity of lab-grown diamonds in their Jewelry Guide for consumers in 2017. Last year, De Beers announced that it would retail lab-grown diamonds for the first time – although Aubree said they still paint the stones as inferior products.
“They’re making sure that people believe that you should only gift a mine diamond for the most important occasions,” she said. “We find the clients we interact with, they just want a diamond.”
Soha said that he thinks the industry as a whole remains fearful of lab-grown diamonds.
“A lot of jewelers are hesitant to carry both. Because it might discredit the former – the mine diamond, the one they’ve been telling the whole world to fall in love with and adore, and to pay so much money for,” he said.
Aubree said that Madison has been a good home for the company, in part because she thinks it has a high number of socially conscious consumers who appreciate an alternative to mined diamonds – products that have a blighted history due related to labor abuse, financial connections to war, and ecological harm.
“We bring in diamonds to look at before they purchase. And they’re like, yeah, it’s the same (as a mined diamond),” said Aubree. “It’s just as beautiful, just as sparkly. But it’s 30 to 40 percent less expensive for the same thing. Why would I not go for that?”
The Javaherians also say that Soha Diamond Co. is a “millennial-oriented” business, in an industry that has struggled to engage the under-40 demographic. They say that they’ve found that younger people are more inclined to buy lab-grown diamonds, or even alternatives like moissanite – a crystal gem even more brilliant than a diamond.
The two said that they also have identified some gaps in knowledge about picking out jewelry among their customers. To help address that, they’ve launched a monthly “Engagement 101” series at StartingBlock to help education people on how to shop for engagement rings.