Founders of ethical diamond brand worn by Duchess of Sussex dazzle Dragons

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Founders of ethical diamond brand worn by Duchess of Sussex dazzle Dragons

Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus secure record-breaking £250,000 from Steven Bartlett - his largest investment to date

Steven Bartlett with Kimaï founders Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus
Steven Bartlett with Kimaï founders Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus

Last week, Belgian-born friends Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den to ask for £250,000 for a three percent stake in their lab-grown diamond jewellery brand Kimaï, which counts Meghan Markle, Emma Watson and Jessica Alba among its fans.

Dragons Deborah Meaden, Sara Davies and Steven Bartlett all made offers following the duo’s polished pitch. But it was marketing guru Steven Bartlett who Jessica and Sidney opted to work with, after he agreed to their ask for a £250,000 investment for three percent of the business, marking his biggest investment since he joined the programme in 2022.

Jessica Warch (in pink) and Sidney Neuhaus founded Kimaï – which means ‘sustainability’ in Hebrew – in 2018

Jessica told Jewish News: “It’s great. We went on the show with the goal of getting an offer from Steven, so we were super happy with the outcome, although at one point there was some suspense.” Bartlett, host of the successful Diary of a CEO podcast, initially offered all of the money for a five per cent stake, which the duo turned down, before agreeing to three per cent. “I just can’t let you walk away,” Bartlett said.

“Although we are used to talking and pitching, we were super nervous as it’s really different when you’re in front of the camera,” added Jessica.

“We are in touch with Steven all the time by Whatsapp and we talk to him. He is going to assist us with community building and networks.”

Jessica and Sidney, who have been best friends since childhood, launched Kimaï – which means ‘sustainability’ in Hebrew – in 2018, frustrated by the lack of transparency and traceability in the industry. They use 18k recycled gold and lab-grown diamonds.

Ethically sourced and more affordable than mined alternatives, the jewels are created via laboratory technology that mimics the growing process of a real diamond, creating gems that are physically, chemically and optically identical.

The Jewish entrepreneurs have pledged to “cut out all the murky middlemen and control the whole jewellery process, from design to delivery.”

Meghan Markle wore a pair of Kimaï lab-grown diamond earrings to a royal engagement in London in 2019

Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wore a pair of their £995  ‘Felicity’ earrings during a royal engagement in London in 2019 – two months after the brand had launched. It was a key moment for the duo, who went on to raise $1.2 million (£945,000) for the business.

“We cold-emailed Meghan Markle,” recalled Jessica. “She loved the product and was really aligned with sustainability so that worked out really well.

“She was supporting a lot of female founders. We told her about our story and our mission. Someone from her team got in touch to buy the pieces.”

Some of Kimaï’s lab-grown gems and jewellery

Actresses Emma Watson and Jessica Alba are also fans of the brand, while Jewish designer Diane von Fürstenberg, also Belgian, was an early investor in the business.

Jessica and Sidney moved to London aged 18 to study. Sidney went on to complete the graduate Gemmologist programme at the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) before working for a selection of luxury brands, while Jessica has a background in business and finance.

Kimaï sales for November/December 2023 were up 100 per cent on the same period the year before, as the growing demand for sustainable stones reverberates across the market.

Lab-grown diamonds are expected to climb to a market value of nearly $52bn by 2030, according to Statista. One in two engagement rings sold in the US last year are thought to have been lab-grown. “It’s a market that is growing very very fast.”

Last year, the London-based duo set up a standalone store in Marleybone’s Chiltern Street, and will use Steven Bartlett’s investment to further improve its look and feel. They are hoping to open more stores, with the next one likely to be in Paris.

Jessica says that coming from Antwerp – the diamond capital of the world – they were always surrounded by diamonds and jewellery. “And although we had a big passion for those pieces that carry a very special sentimental value, we felt they were often linked to a negative social environmental impact.

“The world we are living in is evolving but the diamond industry is probably one of the only ones that hasn’t really evolved in the past 100 years. We came up with Kimaï to bring that transparency and traceability to the outdated space and make it relevant to us as younger customers.  “Even though we knew diamond traders directly, there was no way for us to know exactly where the diamonds we were buying were coming from. It didn’t align with the ethical values we have today.”

Steven Bartlett said Jessica and Sidney were “un-uninvestable” adding: “those founders are real diamonds and that’s why I invested.”

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