Who wouldn’t like to be a top official at one of the diamond industry’s international organizations, a diamantaire asked me this week. Flying first class, nice hotels, fancy dinners, meeting ministers and presidents, giving speeches and receiving or giving awards. All dutifully reported by the diamond industry trade press.Don’t get me wrong, he immediately clarified. I have been on a trip or two myself, all expenses paid, he said. It’s great fun and takes you to places you might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit. But what do diamond firms actually get from these meetings, he asked.
At a time when competition has never been tougher and margins thinner, recent conversations with smaller diamantaires reveal that they are astonishingly close to the edge. Barely making sales through the summer months and painfully slow business during the Fall. Shrinking bank credit, and longer credit terms from customers.
What do these trips do for us, asked a diamond trader with 15 years experience in the diamond business of his partner with whom he shares a small office in the Israel Diamond Exchange. For a moment, I thought of the famous line from the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, where the rebels ask ‘What have the Romans even done for us‘. Grudgingly, the replies come that, actually, they built aqueducts and sanitation and roads and irrigation and instituted public order, as well as bringing in medicine and education and much more.
Except that as far as the diamond industry is concerned, this is no laughing matter. Many companies are struggling as never before. So what do the international meetings do for the diamond industry? Is it really the case that they provide no benefits?
Well, the international meetings create awareness throughout the diamond industry and in the wider global press that members of the trade care about how and with whom they do business. Closing our eyes to the horrors that can surround the diamond industry is impossible, and showing consumers that we care has been critical.
A decade ago, nobody spoke about beneficiation. Today, nobody would seriously suggest that African producer states did not have the right to distribute and manufacture at least a part of their diamonds at home.
Similarly, 10 years ago, few miners were taking steps to rehabilitate the land, rivers and lakes affected by their operations. Today, those efforts feature prominently on their websites because causing upheaval and destruction of the environment is now unthinkable.
That is particularly the case when lab-created diamonds are being promoted an environmentally clean while mined diamonds are claimed to be environmentally destructive.
Discussing the supply chain, the effect of the diamond industry’s operations on the environment, and the need for transparency are all critical to the continued health of the diamond business. It’s true that organizations typically take a long time to react and push through change, but that’s the price to be paid for being inclusive.
So, what of the complaints by many small traders and manufacturers that the meetings staged around the globe are irrelevant, and provide no concrete help for the individual businessman? The fact is: that is not their aim. Diamond companies, as in any other industry, need to find their niche market. They must bring added value otherwise potential clients will see no benefit in trading with them.
Can you source goods cheaper, or manufacture diamonds better and at a lower price than your competitors. Are your business aims too wide and thus not achievable. Are you marketing yourself efficiently or just doing business as you always have and with the same clients. Are you searching for new clients. Are you using technology to reduce your costs and give you a price benefit.
The international meetings provide a wider perspective, enabling the diamond industry to reflect on its actions and to show end consumers that it cares about how it is perceived.
And that, ultimately, is also vital for small and medium-size diamond businesses because the effect on consumers who buy because they see that we care eventually filters down to them as well.