Here’s a lab-grown diamond startup that’s attracted a16z’s attention


man sitting in car, jewelry on arm in open window
Image Credits: Pascal

Throughout hip-hop’s long history, jewelry has served as an important vehicle for artists to convey their ideas and affluence, or simply to dazzle onlookers. Diamonds, in particular, serve as an important motif, famously exemplified by Drake’s $400,000 diamond-encrusted iPhone case.

But not everyone is a millionaire rapper, and most people can’t exactly afford to wear bust down watches flooded with ice. Still, there’s certainly a market for such jewelry at a lower price point, and venture capitalists appear to have noticed it: A direct-to-consumer diamond jewelry startup called Pascal has raised nearly $10 million in VC funding to date, of which $2.5 million came from Andreessen Horowitz in early 2023, TechCrunch has learned.

What’s more, the company expects to generate $20-$30 million in revenue this year, and has a three-month customer repurchase rate of roughly 20%, according to its founder and CEO, Adam Hua.

Pascal’s pitch is that it can make diamond jewelry accessible by using lab-grown diamonds that are chemically and physically akin to natural diamonds but cost one-twentieth of the price. The company’s gem-studded jewelry starts at as little as $70, and it is hoping using cultivated diamonds will help it gain a foothold in the more affordable segment of the wider jewelry market.

“Diamond is unique to hip-hop; it’s a status symbol. But most people cannot afford diamonds,” Hua said. “Cultivated diamonds fundamentally transform the supply side of the industry.”

Synthetic diamonds have been around since the 1950s, and they’ve been often used to make high-carat jewelry. These diamonds are usually “grown” in labs, where extreme forces and heat are applied to graphite, similar to the process that gives rise to naturally occurring diamonds. Manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds often also like to tout their more environmentally friendly process, and some even take their missions a step further by making diamonds from captured carbon.

For Pascal, the focus is “culture,” and it isn’t trying to disrupt the natural diamond sector. “The demand for luxury diamonds [for jewelry like] engagement rings will remain,” Hua said. “We are just creating a new, affordable diamond category.”

Pascal’s diamonds decorate everything from watches to lipsticks and come in a wide range of colors, which is rare in natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds, Hua stressed, are also shinier, “making them good for TikTok videos.”

To find supply, Pascal turned to Henan, a central Chinese province that has become a major production hub for synthetic diamonds in the world, and China’s emerging manufacturing neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand.

“It’s a naturally cross-border business,” Hua said of his company. The U.S. is currently Pascal’s largest market, followed by Europe, he added.

Hua appears to have a knack for running fashion businesses. While studying physics at UC Berkeley, he sourced sneakers from the U.S. and supplied them to resellers in China, which helped him earn his first million dollars. He then founded a peer-to-peer streetwear marketplace in China, which raised over $10 million in equity funding and generated $1 billion worth of gross merchandise value in its third year of operation. His experience running that company eventually inspired the idea for Pascal.

“I realized that most of my customers were Gen Z and their purchasing power was growing over time,” he told TechCrunch. “Around 2022-2023, the average ticket size had shot up to $500, but there wasn’t a good product category for the $500+ price range.”

As he scoured the consumer landscape, Hua picked out hip-hop fashion. He looked at how fans of rock bands often purchase clothing and goods that can range from $30 t-shirts and $200 sneakers to $500 leather jackets and $1,000 jewelry to make a statement about their cultural identity.

“What if there were a $500-$1,000 category of diamond products for hip-hop fans and other diamond lovers?” he said, speaking about his thought process. “People want to get their money’s worth when they buy something for quality and cultural needs.

Aether wants to shift you from blood diamonds to gems pulled from thin air

More TechCrunch

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’