Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Boost
Posted On Sep 01, 2016
With her new diamonds unleashed campaign, gem and jewel guru Kara Ross turns priceless stones into precious resources.
By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Certain, very particular words immediately come to mind when you think about what a diamond symbolizes: Love, marriage, possession, promise, and reward. Some or all of the above. But what if that time-tested symbol shifted from possession to strength? From asset to highly celebrated act of generosity, laying the groundwork to kick off a bright, stand-on-their-own-two-feet future for generations of young girls? That’s what jewelry maven Kara Ross’s Diamonds Unleashed campaign is set to do.
Launched in December 2015, Ross’s new brand, Diamonds Unleashed (Diamondsunleashed.org), is a line of stunning diamond-centric, wearable but thoroughly wow-factor jewelry where 100 percent of the net profits are donated to a duo of organizations working to empower young girls around the world: She’s the First (Shesthefirst.org), a global scholarship program to get a proper education for girls from low-income families, and Girls Who Code (Girlswhocode. com), a not-for-profit dedicated to equipping young women with the kind of computing skills that will make them assets of the twenty-first century cyber work world.
“Take a look at the adjectives used to describe a diamond—multi-faceted, beautiful, unbreakable, brilliant. We are saying that should represent women,” says Ross. “So yes, this ring might be beautiful, but this ring is also allowing 50 girls in Nigeria to go to school or 500 girls to learn how to write code.”
To make the message of Diamonds Unleashed prolifically powerful, Ross knew she needed great partners to spread the word. Enter HSN and Neiman Marcus, both of whom signed on straight away to be her point-of-purchase portals to connect consumers with Ross’s message of fierce female empowerment.
HSN alone reaches 95 million homes. “Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN, is a huge part of this and loves it,” says Ross. “Pieces start at $99, so you can have everyday diamonds that are beautiful and chic that you will be proud to wear.” The other retail partner is Neiman Marcus, who will carry Ross’s designs priced from $700 and up. For engagement rings with larger stones, Ross will make those available exclusively at her New York store on Madison Avenue by appointment only.
With her storied background as a jewelry designer and manufacturer, Ross is also working with one of the most important and influential diamond dealers in the industry, Diarough, now partners in Diamonds Unleashed. “They are also a De Beers Forevermark manufacturer, which means that all of the diamonds have been mined and obtained in an ethical and legal manner,” says Ross. Translated: no blood diamonds.
IT TAKES A TWINKLY VILLAGE
But another large part of the campaign involves Ross’s ever-growing army of boldfaced ambassadors, who are lending their fame to the campaign, which launched in print, online, and on Facebook and Twitter. The message: changing the old ideas of what a diamond symbolizes by having each highly respected DU dame talk about what the stone means to her.
Was there much twisting of the arms to get them to help out? Not at all, according to Ross: “All these rock-star women are jumping on board because they are girl’s girls. They want to give back, they want to support, and they know that all the money is going to charity,” she says. Indeed, this is a modern-day women’s movement. Since 2006, the world has seen only small improvement in equality for women in the workplace. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014, the gender chasm for economic participation and opportunity now stands at 60 percent. This low percentage is something Ross and her cadre of strong voices intend to change through Diamonds Unleashed.
The list of Ambassadors is impressive. They come with a pedigree of overcoming many challenges while blazing their own paths, intent on encouraging others to follow suit. Norma Kamali once thought of a diamond as a symbol of possession and vowed never to wear one. Now she says, “My diamond was given to me by someone who knew I needed something beautiful: Me.” American film producer Jane Rosenthal offered a different take: “My diamond is for cutting glass ceil ings!” And then there are the powerful words of businesswoman and philanthropist Sheila Johnson, who says her diamond, “doesn’t say I’m spoken for, it says I speak for myself,” and those of Joi Gordon, CEO for Dress for Success, who said her diamond is, “what I aspire to be, strong and beautiful.” And in fitting with her family’s planet-friendly philanthropy, activist and artist Susan Rockefeller reminded us that her diamond, “never lets me forget how amazing the Earth is.”
While the fundraising for She’s the First and Girls Who Code is the first and foremost goal of DU, the message is what Ross hopes lasts forever. To help make that happen, she also developed an easyto-spot symbol for the campaign; one that she believes will become recognizable as an icon of women’s empowerment. The logo is a duo of diamonds, one on top of the other. Each one is recognizable as a diamond on its own, but together form one large diamond with the shape of a heart appearing where they overlap, symbolizing the unifying power of women helping other women.
“Just as you know the peace sign, or the pink ribbon for cancer, people are going to see this logo, whether it’s on fabric, clothing, jewelry, or table tops and they will know that this is women’s empowerment,” Ross says.
It is through her ambassadors’ stories and the projected messages of hope on social media that Ross hopes to give the notion that diamonds are a girls’ best friend a new meaning. “It’s about celebrating where women are in the world,” she says. “If you look at the political landscape, if you look at the control of household income, if you look at so many touch points, women are in a very powerful position right now, but there is still room to grow. I feel this is perfect timing.”
DANGLING THE KARAT
The progress women have made in all sectors and industries has made Ross long wonder why the symbolism of diamonds had not evolved. As DU began to take shape, she spent a lot of time vetting charities before deciding to focus on education, primarily on secondary school education of girls ages 12 to 18. “It’s been proven time and time again: If a girl gets an education, not only is she empowering herself, she’ll make sure any child that she might have will have an education,” says Ross, who is determined to drive that ripple effect forward.
Study after study has shown that when a women’s economic status improves, so does that of her household, her community, and potentially her country. One study published in the U.K. medical journal, The Lancet, using data from 219 countries from 1970 to 2009, found that for every one additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5 percent.
And with Girls Who Code and She’s the First, Ross personally met with the founders of both charities. “We’ve vetted their boards, vetted the efficacy of their programs, how big they think, how far they stretch, and I feel good about it. Our website will profile not only the charities but some of the girls progress as well because we feel it’s very important to share the message and share the result.”
Even at this early stage, the Diamonds Unleashed project seems to be gaining ground, slowly morphing into an organic aggregator of women who are passionate about promoting empowerment groups. There’s Dee Poku, who started the WIE network, Sallie Krawcheck from Ellevate Network, Cora Neumann who cofounded the RAND African First Ladies Initiative—all members of this rapidly expanding group of women intent on shifting that needle. “People are jumping on board because this is not ‘me, me, me,’” says Ross, “It’s ‘we, we, we.’”
To get the conversation flowing, Ross has created a salon series where Ambassadors will share ideas to help drive the project forward. The first one is set for February 10th in Miami, and the next one will take place on March 15th in Dallas. “That one will be about women and sports and it will be hosted at the home of philanthropist Cindy Rachofsky,” says Ross. “Dallas Cowboys’ Charlotte Anderson, Serena Williams’s agent Jill Smoller, and Donna Orender, former president of the WNBA, will all be part of that salon.” Others will follow in San Francisco, Napa Valley, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Boston and each of these salon series will be videotaped and made available on Hsn.com. Ross also has her eyes on London and other spots in Europe by end of 2016, as well as India and China. In London, she is already in talks with Harrods, and architect Zaha Hadid has promised to be part of the kick-off British salon at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel. (Don’t be surprised if you see Kate and William hosting the London salon!)
“To me this is a new way of thinking about business and philanthropy. It’s called profits with a purpose,” she says of this powerful, modern-day women’s movement—but instead of a ring that promises a union of two, this one promises empowerment to millions. “The word engagement has many connotations,” says Ross. “It is not only engaging with your significant other, it’s engaging with your community, engaging with the world around you, and wanting to give back.”