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2020 Hindsight from Our ‘People of the Year’

Small-business owners have worked hard to survive the pandemic’s effects. Here, several of them give their perspectives on the industry and its changes.

Jan 10, 2021 9:38 AM   By Rapaport News
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RAPAPORT... What a difference a year makes. The modus operandi of the diamond and jewelry trade was vastly different at the end of 2020 than at the start. That’s a good thing, as the changes had been brewing for some time but had lacked momentum pre-coronavirus. Such developments as the digitization of business, the emphasis on corporate social responsibility, telling the “diamonds do good” story, and investment in generic marketing all gained traction in the past year.

That said, the challenges the industry faced were unprecedented. Never has the pipeline completely frozen as it did during the depths of the pandemic. Just as Covid-19 had an almost indiscriminate impact on people around the world, its economic effects took their toll on every section of the diamond market — miners, manufacturers, dealers, jewelry wholesalers and retailers.

It was therefore a near-impossible task to choose a diamond industry Person of the Year, as is our custom in the January issue of Rapaport Magazine. There were those who had their moments of dominating our news pages, such as the executives fighting out the LVMH-Tiffany & Co. acquisition. And there were some who were influential in steering the industry’s response to the pandemic, such as the management at De Beers and Alrosa when the two companies allowed clients to refuse all supply, or India’s manufacturing leadership when it collectively refused to buy rough. David Kellie might be a candidate for breathing life into the industry’s generic-marketing efforts as CEO of the Natural Diamond Council (NDC).

But none of those personalities represents a complete reflection of the industry’s journey during 2020. Besides, it could be argued that those larger companies had the liquidity and balance sheets to withstand the crisis. In contrast, the livelihoods of many individual small-business owners were on the line this year. It was the struggle and survival of those independent diamantaires, jewelry designers, retailers, and small-scale and artisanal miners that stood out this year, making them worthy to be our industry “People of the Year” for 2020.

To that end, we spoke with a few of our heroes to gain their perspective on the diamond market during the pandemic. We asked them:

1. What was the highlight of your own professional journey in 2020?
2. What story or development do you feel was most significant for the diamond and jewelry industry in 2020?

Kunming Tay
Director of gemstone supplier Far East Gems Group, which also runs a laboratory and a museum
Singapore 

A highlight for me was working together with the Malay Heritage Centre in Singapore, the Rijksmuseum in Holland, and my colleagues in Ramat Gan, Israel, to create a replica of the 36-carat Banjarmasin Diamond for an ongoing exhibition celebrating the heritage of the Banjar people in Singapore. The collaboration showcased the strength of the diamond and jewelry industry, where even amid a pandemic and lockdowns, we can deliver clients’ needs through strong relationships and by harnessing the power of technology. In terms of significant industry developments, I closed a few deals remotely through Zoom, WhatsApp and Facebook. We ran webinars for our gem museum that reached people from all over the world to an extent that we never thought possible. The barriers of technology are coming down. Business has to go on, even if we cannot travel, and the ability to trust — and do business with — one another remotely is strengthening.

David Troostwyk
Director of diamond and jewelry dealer Salotro, and board member at the London Diamond Bourse London
UK

This year’s focus has been on survival. Being able to survive while continuing to support our clients has given us immense pride. The lockdown enabled me to spend more time working with colleagues in the London Diamond Bourse, focusing on our local response to the pandemic and helping our members. I was also able to spend more time with my colleagues from the Young Diamantaires (YD), launching our first YD fundraising project, planning our expansion, introducing our new website, transitioning to our new social media platform on Facebook, and sharing our success stories with the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) on Zoom during the World Diamond Congress.

There have been a number of important industry developments in 2020. The rebranding of the Diamond Producers Association as the Natural Diamond Council, the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the closure of the Argyle mine were all significant. However, the development that will truly shape the industry is that people have realized they can think outside the box, adapt and support each other even in such unprecedented times. These choices will have the most lasting effect.

Mosibudi Jo Mathole and Khomotso Ramodipa
Founding director and director, respectively, of manufacturer Kwame Diamonds
South Africa

The highlight of our professional journey this year was receiving accreditation as a Forevermark manufacturer. We are the only company owned by Black women and the only 100% South African business to achieve this. We have just delivered a consignment of goods for Forevermark that we were forced to manufacture without the Indian expats that had been managing the factory, as they had returned to India due to Covid-19. This has really validated our capability and boosted our confidence.

There has been a lot of noise concerning the impact of synthetics on the natural-diamond industry. The launch of the Natural Diamond Council has been a refreshing and welcome move in restoring the shine of natural diamonds and publicizing the good the sector does. We are especially excited about this move, as we have invested in a small marine-mining project. The aim is to grow natural-diamond consumption in South Africa, to increase the accessibility of natural diamonds, and change the perception and negative narrative that persists. We are a good example that natural diamonds do indeed do good.

Dr. Adriana Lauren Traviati
Managing director of diamond wholesaler Saphira Diamonds
Melbourne, Australia

The highlight of my professional journey in 2020 was the completion of my PhD thesis in exploration geophysics. This field assesses features of the earth’s surface, revealed in images similar to large-scale “ultrasounds” of the Earth’s upper crust, to determine the location of diamond deposits and other precious resources. It also involves analysis of how prospective and commercially viable exploration might be. Completing my PhD studies during the pandemic while growing my company was both challenging and rewarding.

[Covid-19] has increased the focus on online trading and highlighted the importance of social media for marketing. Saphira Diamonds, with a significant social media presence, was able to adapt by offering web consultations, video inspections and remote orders for local and international clients.

Harakh Mehta
Founder of jewelry designer and manufacturer Harakh
New York and Mumbai

Meeting our customers remains an extremely significant part of our business. This year, with the restrictions on travel, we were forced to embrace new technology to create a virtual showroom experience that was as close to an in-person meeting as possible. The biggest highlight for us was adapting to this change, whether by implementing new software for virtual try-on, or experimenting with customization apps and personalized video consultations. It’s allowed us not only to connect with our existing clients, but also to reach a wider audience.

The boom in e-commerce has been a significant change. There has been a shift toward more online purchasing among fine- and high-jewelry consumers, as well as a centralization of inventory in the supply chain. An example is the growth of luxury platforms such as Moda Operandi, as well as online boutiques, some of which belong to brands that had never sold online prior to 2020. Not just in retail, but throughout the industry pipeline, we observed more remote sales.

This article was first published in the January 2021 issue of Rapaport Magazine.
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Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, diamonds, Jewelry, Rapaport News
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