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Synthetic Diamonds Go Ultra Chic, With New Place Vendôme Boutique

A lab-grown diamond at Courbet, Paris on April 29
A lab-grown diamond at Courbet, Paris on April 29
Dominique Chapuis

PARIS — The address is not by chance. Courbet, a jewelry designer that sells synthetic diamonds, has decided to open at the world's most prestigious location for any jeweler: the Place Vendôme in Paris. Setting up shop at No. 7, becoming neighbor to establishments like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, is a daring move, especially for a brand that does not sell "real" diamonds, but stones grown in four weeks inside a Silicon Valley laboratory. Their product shares the composition of natural diamonds, but is 30 to 40% cheaper.

This is a growing market in the United States, and in France Courbet, which touts itself as an ethical and green brand, is the second firm after Innocent Stone to explore this niche. "If you want to shake the market and make the world of jewelry evolve, you have to be at its heart," says Courbet's French founder Manuel Mallen who has partnered with the Swedish designer Marie-Ann Wachtmeister.

Mallen knows what he's talking about: for 25 years he was head of the watchmakers Piaget, then Baume and Mercier in France. Along with partners, he then bought the firm Poiray, before he sold his stake.

"Lab diamonds are the diamonds of the future," he said. Beyond the issue of mining's environmental impact, Mallen sees in synthetic diamonds "an alternative when the natural ones are dwindling." According to consultants Bain and Company, the volume of rough diamonds will peak in 2019, before declining between 1.5 and 2% a year.

A trend that is disrupting the sector.

Courbet (named for the "disruptive" 19th century painter who had an affinity for Place Vendôme) wants to present its collections in similar conditions as the great jewelry houses of the chic Parisian square. In fact, more traditional jewelers are closely monitoring the rise of a trend that is disrupting the sector.

Courbet's diamonds include 0.3 carats, and are thus certified as natural. The start-up firm has four suppliers, two of them wholesalers, in the United States and Antwerp. The lab stones are then cut by artisans in Lyon, Paris and other locations in Italy. Courbet goes further, also using recycled gold. While the engagement ring is at the heart of its collections, Wachtmeister has come with other, clever ideas like earrings that double as finger rings. Items range in price from 300 to 30,000 euros. Wachtmeister says all the manufacturers behind these grown diamonds "are children of diamond dealers. For this new generation this is an innovative concept, and they treat them like they would" natural diamonds.

For distribution, the young brand has settled into an elegant showroom and appointments for visits can be made online. Its website will begin sales in June, targeting millennials "nurtured on ecology," and "concerned" women (yoga, organic foods, etc...) for whom buying from Courbet "makes sense."

The start-up's primary challenge for now is to become known. Its capital is shared between the founders and angel and institutional investors, and will devote a major chunk of an initial five million euro investment on communication. "Our aim is a turnover of 50 million euros within 5 to 6 years, and to balance the books by 2020," says Mallen. Like a pioneer, Courbet is hoping to strike gold.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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