Antwerp's Conference of Confidence


November 18, 2004

Antwerp's Conference of Confidence

South African President Thabo Mbeki and De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer urged participants and the media to remember the benefits diamonds bring to Africa while speaking at a gala dinner at the Flanders Congress and Concert Center in Antwerp, Belgium, in honor of the third Antwerp Diamond Conference, organized by the Diamond High Council, held in Belgium Nov. 15-16, 2004.

"It may be that I have listened too often to the song 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," Mbeki told the nearly 2,000 guests. "I would love to hear a song whose popular lyrics would include a phrase 'diamonds are Africa's best friend.' I am certain you who are gathered here and millions in Africa whose countries happen to have [diamonds] share a common interest to eradicate any negative image that might attach to diamonds."

Mbeki said his government sought consequential changes to the diamond business in Africa, citing the country's ongoing reforms in mining and minerals legislation. Mbeki said changes underway, particularly in areas of economic empowerment, include:
• A greater inclusion of the majority South African population in management and ownership of diamond mines.
• Greater participation of women as stakeholders in the industry.
• Broad-based empowerment that would include communities and workers in the industry.
• Skills development in value-added industries such as jewelrymaking to lessen the dependence on raw diamond resources.
Mbeki highlighted the fact that South Africa manufactures and consumes less than 1% of the world's jewelry.

Mbeki's plea to eradicate a negative image attached to diamonds was clearly heard by attendees who had gathered in Antwerp to focus on the conference's main theme: consumer confidence.

In conferences past, issues related to conflict diamonds and the potential loss of consumer confidence arising from them were the main subjects of discussion. This time, with issues of conflict diamonds considered to be largely under control, organizers pointed to the specter of diamond synthesis and treatments as the major issues of the times.

D-Screen Machine & More
The Diamond High Council (or HRD), which hosted the gathering of diamantaires from around the world, marked the occasion by making several announcements with direct bearing on the issue of diamond synthesis and treatment. Principal among them is the development of the D-Screen machine.

The D-Screen is a battery-operated, easy-to-use and compact device (about the size and shape of a shoe). It's able to instantly indicate if a loose, colorless (D-J) polished diamond is natural, and if its color has not been enhanced through HPHT treatment. It is able to distinguish all kinds of synthetic diamonds, including HPHT manufactured and CVD manufactured diamonds, HRD lab officials indicated. It also tells whether a diamond requires further testing at a qualified lab.

D-Screen will be available from HRD starting in April 2005, for $3,220. The machine is works quickly and is aimed at those who transact in large quantities of loose polished diamonds, including diamond dealers, laboratories, jewelry manufacturers and retail jewelers.

New Degree in Diamonds
HRD, in conjunction with Antwerp University, has also devised a new management degree for students interesting in entering the diamond jewelry business. The course, which comprises 350 credit hours, is organized in three intense modules lasting five weeks each. Students are guided in areas of management, finance, accounting, corporate governance, ethics as well as threats and opportunities to and in the diamond and jewelry industry.

Making Confidence the Issue
The speakers at the conference came from across the industry, including mining, gemology, marketing and advertising. The principal focus was on instilling product confidence throughout the diamond pipeline, from the mine to the consumer. De Beers Group and BHP Billiton executives stressed need for leadership and development of best-practices principles. Gareth Penny, managing director of the Diamond Trading Co., stressed that confidence in diamonds works best when the diamond business excels at elements of leadership, unity, trust and passion.

Gaetano Cavalieri, head of CIBJO, stressed the diamond and jewelry business depends on the confidence of consumers. "If any component of their trust is broken our entire product gets affected," he said. He and other speakers enumerated ways to strengthen consumer confidence by maintaining ethical business practices and maintaining social responsibilities.

Cavalieri also said that a recent German court order banning Gemesis Corp. of Florida from using the word "diamond" preceded by the word "cultured" in its marketing messages would go a long way toward affirming consumer confidence in natural diamonds in Germany.

Peter Gross, global head of ABN-AMRO Bank, a banker to the diamond industry, underscored the need for businesses to establish clear, repeatable business ethics, noting that the reputation of diamantaires, manufacturers and retailers was based on absolute ethical transparency.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

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