It would not be an understatement to describe Pandora as a phenomenon in the retail space. Developed by Danish goldsmith Per Enevoldsen and his wife Winnie from a small jewelry store in Copenhagen, over a period of less than 40 years the business would grow into a vertically integrated juggernaut with 7,000 points of sale, including about 2,700 concept stores, in 100 countries. It today employs more than 26,000 people.
Almost singlehandedly, Pandora reconceptualized the concept of fashion jewelry. Eschewing pricey gemstones and precious metals, it concentrated almost exclusively on extremely affordable silver jewelry, which it manufactures in Thailand. The company revived the charm bracelet, turning it in high-demand product which, because charms could always be added and collected, became a cash cow that kept on giving. In 2020, an off year because of the COVID crisis, it sold more than 85 million pieces of jewelry, bringing in about $3.1 billion.
On April 4, in a well-coordinated mass media campaign, the company announced the launch of Pandora Brilliance, its first lab-created diamond collection. “They are as much a symbol of innovation and progress as they are of enduring beauty and stand as a testament to our ongoing and ambitious sustainability agenda. Diamonds are not only forever, but for everyone,” said Alexander Lacik, the company’s CEO.
But it was the short sentence what was inserted at the end of the Pandora announcement that attracted the most attention. “Going forward, mined diamonds will no longer be used in Pandora’s products,” the company said.
‘PRINCIPLED’ STAND RAISES EYEBROWS
Pandora’s “principled” stand raised a good number of eyebrows, for of all the jewelry it sold last year fewer than 50,000 pieces, or only 0.06 percent of the total, were actually set with diamonds. Furthermore, given the type of products the company usually sells, almost all of those diamond-set pieces involved extremely low-cost goods and primarily melee. Cubic zirconia is an extensively used component.
Indeed, the entire exercise seemed to be primarily a public relations exercise, with the Danish company aiming to score easy points at the expense of the natural diamond sector, which by implication was being branded as non-sustainable.
A BBC report that highlighted Pandora’s decision to not to sell mined diamonds, quoted a report from 2020 by Human Rights Watch, which found that while some major jewelry companies were doing better at sourcing mined diamonds, “most could not assure consumers that their jewelry is untainted by human rights abuses. “
The Human Rights Watch report added that Pandora was one of the jewelry sector’s best performers, having taken significant steps towards responsible sourcing.
Five leading diamond and jewelry industry organizations called on Pandora to publicly dissociate itself from any position that natural diamonds are ethically tainted.
UNINTENDED BUT SUBSTANTIAL CONSEQUENCES
Commenting in the BBC report, the World Diamond Council (WDC), which represents the diamond industry in the Kimberley Process, said that any suggestion that laboratory-grown diamonds may have a role in preventing trade in conflict diamonds is not based on fact.
On the contrary, the WDC stated, for people living in artisanal and small-scale diamond mining communities, stopping the mining of diamonds “would remove a primary source of income” and “would have devastating impacts on their livelihoods, causing poverty and further unrest.”
On May 7, the WDC joined with the leadership of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation, the Natural Diamond Council (NDC) and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA), calling on Pandora’ to publicly dissociate itself from any position that natural diamonds are ethically tainted.
“The industry employs tens of millions of people around the world and their families and communities depend on the income and welfare that the natural diamond industry provides, they wrote. “These communities need the support of the industry now more than ever given the hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The misleading narrative created by the Pandora announcement implying the natural diamond industry is both less ethical and the impetus behind Pandora’s move to lab-grown diamonds, particularly given the inconsequential amount of diamonds Pandora features in its collections, can have unintended but substantial consequences on communities in developing nations. The industry organizations have called upon Pandora to support communities by correcting the record,” they continued.
The group of diamond industry organization’s described Pandora’s decision to sell laboratory grown diamonds as a positive expansion of the jewelry industry, but warned that potentially false and misleading assertions can diminish consumer confidence across all categories and create confusion which is detrimental to the industry as a whole.