Back in July, diamond mining behemoth ALROSA launched a new responsible jewelry brand with Brilliant Earth that donates 10 percent of every purchase to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund.
That same month, Diamonds That Care raised $338,781 by auctioning off pieces designed by Anna Hu at Christie’s. The money raised went to the Brave of Heart Fund, an organization that provides financial and emotional support to the families of health care workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
Anna Hu necklace for Christie’s auction
As the world leader in diamond mining, ALROSA is serious about doing good through its work and by its workers.
“We have a long history of dedicated social responsibility,” says Rebecca Foerster, ALROSA’s U.S. president. “We have about 500 community-oriented charity projects every year, more than any other mining company.”
Worth spoke with Foerster about ALROSA’s new responsible jewelry brand, Diamonds That Care, the company’s approach to sustainability and how COVID has challenged sustainable practices.
Q: Jumping right in, I’d love to know more about Diamonds That Care, how that came about and what the inspiration behind ALROSA starting that brand was?
A: Basically, Diamonds That Care really started as a social responsibility initiative of ALROSA, really aimed at giving back to society. A big part of our DNA is actually social responsibility. We have a long history of dedicated social responsibility. We have about 500 community-oriented charity projects every year, more than any other mining company. And that provides about $150 million in funding we give towards these projects. So, it’s a deep part of our revenue, and it’s really part of our DNA, and it’s actually one of the things that really resonated with me, that kind of solidified why I wanted to join the company. It’s really in everything that we do.
So, this initiative started with many projects, many of them actually taking place in Yakutia, which is a part of Siberia where most of our mines are. And our goal is always to provide support to all of the community in the diamond-producing regions. And for us, [our diamond-producing region] happens to be in Russia. [Our support there] includes anything from orphanages to hospital to education to sports and cultural centers because so many of these villages are overloaded. Without the support of the diamond mining industry that provides all of these people with jobs and livelihood, and then on top of that all of the programs, their lives would be very different because there are just so many small towns that are far away from other parts of the country.
So, we’ve been doing that for a while. And today, the initiative has become a lot more global. We support organizations like Diamonds Do Good, an industry fund that tells all the good things being done around the world in all of these mining communities, whether it be in Russia, Botswana, the Northwest territories of Canada. So, that’s how Diamonds That Care started. And then this past July, last month actually, we organized doing an auction, a jewelry auction with Christie’s, and we worked with a famous haute couture jewelry designer called Anna Hu, who created an ensemble of jewelry pieces to kind of initiate the Diamonds That Care brand.
The auction was really our first experience of doing something like this with high-end jewelry for charity. And it worked so well that it’s something I think that we’re going to look to pursue in doing perhaps other unique jewelry with other designers as well for charity under the Diamonds That Care umbrella.
What inspired the Diamonds That Care collection being launched with Brilliant Earth, and when did you all begin working on that collection?
We started working on design probably…with COVID, it’s so hard to remember timelines. It’s such a blur, right? But I think we started working on the designs probably at the very end of last year, and we worked with a designer who was really inspired by what we were doing to kind of take our brown diamonds, which is a part of our production.
So we get this rock that comes out of the ground that actually, when polished, produces these beautiful brown diamonds that has different hues of brown. And they look very much like earth tones and earth colors, almost like earth diamonds. And we started designing kind of with that as the centerpiece, which really represents the message of caring because the warmth of the brown diamond, it’s very much in line with the idea of caring and security. And so, we created this collection around a message called “I Care.” So, every piece of jewelry has an inscription in it that says, “I Care,” and also the inspiration of nature and its wonder. So using the brown diamonds, creating these beautiful designs, that, unlike the design from the auction, are very affordable and attainable because we wanted everybody to have the opportunity to own a piece of this jewelry that’s not only beautiful jewelry that makes you feel good, but it’s also giving you the ability to give back and to be part of the charitable initiative.
So, the jewelry sold at the Christie’s auction looked different than the jewelry that’s on Brilliant Earth’s site?
Yes. It was one-of-a-kind bespoke jewelry, very, very expensive, very high-end. We use the very, very large round diamond in the main piece, which was the necklace. So, the actual Diamonds That Care brand that launched with Brilliant Earth about two weeks ago, online on their platform, is different. Still using the brown diamonds, still around the messaging of “I Care,” but much more affordable and attainable.
So how did you come to partner with Brilliant Earth, and why sell this collection exclusively on their site?
We’ve been working with Brilliant Earth for a while, and we feel that the brand itself very much aligns with what we’re trying to do with Diamonds That Care because of the name itself, Brilliant Earth, [and] the fact that they have been promoting Russian diamonds on their website for quite some time. And we were looking to establish a relationship with a retailer that was known for sustainability, and that is something that Brilliant Earth certainly is. If you go on their site, it would be all about the importance of knowing the provenance and where their diamonds came from, their use of sustainable metal. So, we very much related to their vision and values, and we just felt that they would really be the perfect partner for this because of their name, their brand values and their messaging, the content on their site.
As the world leader in diamond mining, what is ALROSA’s approach to sustainability in that space?
So, first of all, it’s important to understand that ALROSA really has complete transparency. What does that mean? That means that we can really trace the history of our diamonds from the minute we take them out of the ground and give complete data on its origin. So we know the mine that it came from, we know where it came from and we also have the ability through our own polishing factories to really provide that kind of tracking and traceability from mine to market.
So, in essence, we can sell diamonds that are completely mined, cut and polished in Russia. We are a social investment leader among gold and diamond mining companies, according to a PWC study that was done. We talked about before how Diamonds That Care started as an initiative and all the things that we do in Yakutia. So, to quantify that, we allocate about 3 percent of our revenue to these social programs every year.
And that’s probably the highest revenue of any diamond mining company. That also relates to a funding pool of about $160 million that allows our company to implement these 500 charitable and social initiatives every year. And then on top of that, we spend about another $80 million every year on environmental projects in the same area of Yakutia, Siberia, which includes things like the protection of endangered species, like reindeer, and also making sure that we populate the rivers with fish.
We do the initiatives around the tundra to make sure that the land is protected. So, as I said in the beginning, it’s really a big part of our DNA. It’s something we all kind of live and breathe, and I’m very proud to talk about it. So, I mentioned this PWC study. It’s fact also that we employ the highest percentage of women, 34 percent of the total number of employees in the industry.
Wow! That’s pretty amazing. I’m curious, what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced being both a sustainability advocate and a female executive in an otherwise male-dominated industry?
I have to say I’ve been very fortunate in my career so far in the industry. I mean there’s always challenges being a woman in whatever we do, right? But I think because I personally love diamonds and wear them and know how they make me feel, I think that gives me a little bit of a different perspective about how I speak about them and talk about them, as opposed to maybe some of my other colleagues who present it as a commodity, it’s a trading item.
For me, the jewelry and the diamonds are really just a manifestation of the story behind them. And so maybe because of that sensibility and because I’m such a big believer in the importance of natural diamonds around the world and all the good they do for these communities too, without them we would really be in a much different situation.
Maybe my ability to speak to it in that way has been helpful to me. Sometimes people look at me like they don’t really understand what I’m talking about, because I give much more emotional value to the diamonds. But I think I would say probably because of that, but maybe being a woman in this industry has actually been helpful, and being able to bring brands like this to light, and being able to tell the story the way that I can and express the importance to me of really what this industry is about, which is so much more than just selling a piece of jewelry or a diamond.
It’s really about the sustainability around the globe and helping the remote communities, and these Inuit and local people, have a much better life that they would never have without natural diamonds being in demand and being mined and provided to the different markets around the world.
Has COVID presented any obstacles to maintaining sustainability practices, do you think?
I don’t think so. I mean we haven’t suspended any of our projects. And as a matter of fact, as part of the fight against the coronavirus, we spent about $7 million to actually purchase medicine and equipment and protective gear for our local community hospitals, as well as for our employees in Russia.
So again, it’s still part of the DNA. It’s still very important. And one thing we’ve learned also from looking at research and from a lot of the social media and a lot of the promotion and advertising, consumers during these current times, they tend to align themselves with brands that actually continue to tell their social responsibility story. And I think the timing for Diamonds That Care makes it even more relevant, considering what’s going on.
We actually sold more pieces in the first week that the brand was online than we ever expected. So, I think it’s this whole thing of verity and new meaningful values that now all of a sudden are important as brand attributes and to be recognized as a socially responsible brand. So, we’ve continued to develop our marketing of all of our brands during this time.
Luckily, we also see now the market’s starting to open up and there is demand for polished diamonds. And people are being cautiously optimistic in the market and the supply chain. But I think we’ve managed to pull through and hopefully things will continue to improve. And I think, again, having Diamonds That Care is really timely for us because these are the kind of initiatives and brands that consumers are aligning themselves with.
How do you think sustainability in diamond mining might be challenged moving forward? And kind of secondarily, what are you excited about when it comes to ALROSA and Diamonds That Care and the diamond industry moving forward?
That always seems to be a bit of a challenge. And I just think we have to get over it. We have to be more assertive and talk more about all the good that diamonds do around the world and be very proud of that. And the more we talk about it, the more consumers will know that, and the more they’ll understand how really most of the players in the industry now are very, very much aligned with sustainability and doing a great thing for the environment and for the people involved.
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