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Nurturing the Next Generation of Diamantaires

Featuring Interview with Rami Baron on the Rapaport Diamond Podcast

Sep 12, 2019 5:00 AM   By Joshua Freedman
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RAPAPORT... If anyone in the industry wanted to know how to transform a diamond business and safeguard its future, they might do well to speak to the 25 members of the Young Diamantaires group who went on last week’s mission to South Africa.

The delegates from 10 countries included a jeweler who set up a museum to boost interest in gems, another who began offering lab-grown diamonds, and several social-media buffs. This reporter was not the only participant who sat at the back of the bus receiving Instagram lessons from true millennials.

Young Diamantaires came into being in 2016, when Rami Baron, chairman of the promotions committee for the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), saw the need to help the new generation of industry members connect. He set up a WhatsApp group — which now has more than 200 members — and has organized meetings at trade shows. The oversubscribed visit to De Beers’ Venetia mine was the most ambitious plan yet, involving a day at the site, excursions to a local school and a nearby national park, and an opportunity to meet businesses De Beers supports in the surrounding area.

Listen to an interview with Rami Baron here (article continues below):

The strong consensus on the trip was that mining companies need to grant this sort of access to people who are interested, and not just those with a direct commercial connection to the operations. De Beers has often welcomed clients at its mines (and once hosted Kim Kardashian at the Jwaneng deposit in Botswana), but the members of the Young Diamantaires were in a different category. Many of them were looking to learn more about the industry, and bring back knowledge they could use to help sell diamonds in their or their clients’ retail stores.

“People wanted to be secretive about what goes on in a mine. But I have seen huge change in this,” said Prernaa Makharia, an India-based jewelry blogger and influencer, and one of the volunteer social-media tutors. “[Companies] have started believing in the concept of bringing awareness to consumers about what goes on behind the scenes.”

For instance, the group met mining workers who seemed happy in their jobs, experienced the stringent safety rules De Beers enforces at Venetia, and were able to ask mine managers about the operational details. They also learned about the current expansion from open-pit to underground mining, which will ensure rough supply through to 2046 — by which time several generations of diamond dealers and consumers will have come and gone.

De Beers also arranged a visit to one of the 19 local schools the company funds, and invited some nearby businesses — which De Beers also supports — to display their merchandise at the lodge where the group was staying. After all, modern consumers increasingly care about the social good associated with products, and want real assurances about the provenance of diamonds.

“Where they do these things, other mining companies are bound to follow,” said Kealeboga Pule, founder and managing director of Johannesburg-based Nungu Diamonds, who initiated and helped organize the trip. “They’re realizing the need to be more open.”

The three days were also an opportunity to devise ways of helping local people in South Africa, and boosting sales at home. One evening, after the group had visited the De Beers-sponsored Renaissance Secondary School in Musina, in the northernmost part of the country, Baron sat the group around a campfire to discuss how they could raise $140,000 to fund a library and cafeteria for the pupils.

Under a baobab, the region’s protected “upside-down” tree, they debated the details of how to find the money, but one thing kept coming up: The industry has an ethical and commercial imperative to get involved in these local projects and create a story for consumers. (If they want another narrative, they might highlight the work De Beers has done to transplant baobabs when mine work has forced it to uproot them.)

“[The campfire discussion] sparked a desire and determination to make a change and to contribute,” Baron noted. “The highlights have been shared with [De Beers] executives, who could see the rawness of emotion we all experienced and our determination to contribute and make a difference.”

Young Diamantaires is now considering how it can create export opportunities for local diamond cutters in South Africa through an arrangement with Australia, where Baron is based. It also plans to expand the group through a website and, potentially, by launching global chapters, the founder added.

The participants know they have a difficult task reforming the wider industry. Attitudes in the trade are changing slowly, but there still needs to be a shift in the way people approach new ideas and younger trade members, they argued. Many older diamond dealers believe the current downturn is simply another dip that will end with an upturn, but this is incorrect, noted Alain Zlayet, CEO and founder of Antwerp-based Zlayet & Sons Diamonds.

“We are the ones who are thinking and talking and researching in a new way, like the millennials,” Zlayet explained. “They’ve understood we are a source of information for [institutions such as the WFDB]. They tap us.”

The reporter was a guest of De Beers.

Main image: The group at the Venetia mine. Below: The campfire discussion under a baobab tree. (Simphiwe Nkwali/De Beers)
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Tags: Alain Zlayet, Joshua Freedman, Jwaneng, Kealeboga Pule, Kim Kardashian, mining, Musina, Nungu Diamonds, Prernaa Makharia, Rami Baron, Renaissance Secondary School, South Africa, venetia, WFDB, World Federation of Diamond Bourses, Young Diamantaires, Zlayet & Sons Diamonds
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