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Jason Payne, Lindsay Reinsmith

Cofounders, Ada Diamonds

Jason Payne and Lindsay Reinsmiththe married couple behind lab-grown diamond startup Ada, want to explain the history behind America’s favorite gemstone.

“Our economy skyrocketed after World War II,” Reinsmith describes. “We saw unprecedented prosperity… [It was] the first time average Americans could afford a luxury product like diamonds.”

Chasing the rising middle class, De Beers launched their “diamonds are forever” campaign in 1947; it argued no proposal was complete without the sparkling stone. And from that moment forward, diamonds were irrevocably tied with marriage in America.

This lay in contrast to the early-20th Century, when most people couldn’t afford rings and those who could saw them as a form of security. (Since a jilted bride would suffer fewer marriage prospects—especially if she’d engaged in sexual intercourse with her fiancé—diamonds offered financial retribution.)

“Diamond sales grew and grew until they plummeted in the early 2000s,” Payne remembers. “The movie Blood Diamonds came out; Sierra Leone swarmed the media; and there was an overall push toward sustainability and supply chain transparency.”

For decades, an increasing number of Americans have opted for alternative gemstones, antique rings and synthetic diamonds. It’s a complete disruption—one on the cusp of a second wind as lab-grown diamonds, which accounted for 1% of the global market in 2016, are expected to grow to 4% next year.

Can lab-grown gems replace blood diamonds?


“When I met Lindsay, she ran—and still runs—a vegan cosmetics and nutrition company,” Payne remembers. “So, it was clear from the beginning that this woman cared deeply about the origin of her products.”

Reinsmith even told Payne in an early argument that she would say no if proposed to with a mined diamond.

“So, I took the safe route and bought a sapphire with the expectation that we would replace it,” he laughs, remembering his 2011 engagement.

Replace it because, moral issues aside, there’s nothing like a diamond. No other gem is quite the same.

“Some people do opt for colored stones or even synthetics—like cubic zirconia and moissanite,” Reinsmith adds. “But the truth is: Those alternatives aren’t expensive enough. They lack that luxury element most couples look for when symbolizing a lifelong commitment.”

Noting a problem

Some people do opt for colored stones or even synthetics—like cubic zirconia and moissanite.”
The truth is: Those alternatives aren’t expensive enough. They lack that luxury element.”

AFTER WEEKS OF INTERNET RESEARCH, the couple discovered: Scientists have been growing diamonds in laboratories since 1945. So, why didn’t anyone buy them? Because these things were ugly—nothing you’d want to wear for the next 50 years of your life.

“Then the technology saw a breakthrough in 2012,” Reinsmith remembers of the moment they decided to get in the game. “And suddenly lab-grown diamonds were not only on par with mined diamonds, but better than mined diamonds.”

These stones, chemically identical to those found in nature, are formed when heat and pressure recreate the process occurring under the earth.

“We take a piece [carbon] about the size of an egg and pressurize it to over 1M pounds per square inch,” Reinsmith describes the process, shown at left. “Then we heat it to 1500 degrees Celsius, causing it to melt, and finish by cooling [the substance] back down atom by atom until it returns to solid form.”

We know what you’re thinking: Are these sustainable diamonds, which cost 20-30% less on average, really as high quality as traditional mined diamonds? Are they worthy of your proposal? “A jeweler can’t tell the difference,” Payne insists.

Even John King, chief quality officer of the Gemological Institute of America, says they’re pretty much identical: “They’re both diamonds. They have the same chemical [and] physical properties.”

Enter: The Lab-Grown Diamond

ADA, WHICH SECURED A 2016 INVESTMENT from Disruption alums Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, creates more than just engagement rings. They enable customers to design any piece they want, attracting the nearby Silicon Valley set. It would seem the husband-wife duo have it all.

“Anyone familiar with the diamond industry knows it’s a very controlled space,” Payne finishes, a nod to the infamous cartel of jewelry stores that has long controlled the market. “I can’t imagine disrupting it with anyone other than my wife.”

He argues that since entrepreneurs spend more time with their cofounders than their families, starting a company with your spouse is, in a way, killing two birds with one stone.

“Just make sure you do it before you have kids,” Reinsmith laughs. “Because, especially with your spouse as your partner, you can pretty much say goodbye to any separation of life and work.”

They says some of their best ideas come from real life moments, like a late night walk or a dinner. Suffice it to say: We don’t see any ring retribution in this couple’s future.

A Disruption of Spouses

Just make sure you [start your company] before you have kids.”


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