Last year, Vanessa Stofenmacher wanted to expand her three-year-old direct-to-consumer fine jewelry brand, Vrai & Oro, to include engagement rings. But she couldn’t stand the thought of buying traditionally mined diamonds, which are often unearthed in war-torn countries and sold to fund conflicts. Here’s how she found a stone with no skeletons, and modernized the engagement-ring shopping experience along the way.
Romancing The Stone
Stofenmacher’s search for ethical gems led her to Diamond Foundry, a Leonardo DiCaprio–backed startup that uses a plasma reactor to produce diamonds in a lab. “[Diamond Foundry] changes the environment in which diamonds grow without changing the product itself,” Stofenmacher says. She decided to use its stones in her rings; the partnership deepened last year when Diamond Foundry acquired Vrai & Oro to help commercialize its lab-grown stones. (Stofenmacher is now president of Vrai & Oro and creative director of Diamond Foundry.)
Rethinking The Process
Before bringing the conflict-free diamonds to market, Stofenmacher spoke with engaged friends and learned that neither the proposal nor the ring typically came as a surprise to the recipient. Although most jewelers market rings to men and emphasize engagement as a big reveal, Stofenmacher understood that women were taking a more active role in ring selection. “We wanted to offer [couples] a chance for collaboration,” she says.
A Fitting Strategy
Stofenmacher applied a Warby Parker–like approach to diamond shopping. She began offering a “mock box” containing three sample rings of varying sizes and styles, made with cubic zirconia stones. Couples choose the ring they prefer and send the box back.
The diamonds aren’t just conflict-free—they’re also made to be “part of your everyday life,” Stofenmacher says. In keeping with the company’s minimalist aesthetic, the team lowered the stone in the setting, crafted smaller prongs, and created a thinner band, so the final product is less obtrusive than a traditional ring. “The culture around engagement rings is shifting,” says Stofenmacher. “We’re changing the industry’s thought process.”