Jewelry Industry in “Crosshairs,” Ex-Govt. Official Warns

The jewelry industry is currently in the “crosshairs” of governments, civil society, and consumers, warned Jose W. Fernandez at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee’s annual luncheon, held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on Jan. 10. 

But the former U.S. assistant secretary of state, currently a partner with Gibson Dunn in New York City, said the industry should not see that as a risk, but as an opportunity to lead various reform efforts.

“The diamond and jewelry trade as a whole must do more,” Fernandez said. “In the future, consumers will demand confidence that the gems in their necklace, the clothes that they wore, or the diamonds that newlyweds seal their love with were not the fruit of the suffering and death of those unfortunate enough to toil in crumbling mines or in a locked-down garment factory.”

He did hail some of the efforts that emerged, including the Diamond Source Warranty Protocol and the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group.

He also praised the Kimberley Process as “a positive story.” 

“In the 10 years since it was implemented, I think it is fair to say that the KP has changed the global diamond trade,” he said. “Trade in conflict diamonds has declined from an estimated 15 percent to less than 1 percent today. In 2014, you will not find many conflicts in Africa financed by blood diamonds.” 

But he also said that the KP was a “work in progress” that needs to update its definition of “conflict diamonds.” 

Fernandez thanked members of the diamond industry for supporting U.S. officials during the controversy over Marange exports.

“It would have been easy for the people to just let the U.S. take a beating,” he said. “So I feel like I’m back with my buddies from the barroom brawl.”

The Stanley Schechter Award went to Brad Brooks-Rubin, the former special advisor on conflict diamonds for the U.S. State Department.

JVC president and CEO Cecilia Gardner hailed Brooks-Rubin, who used to work for Fernandez and currently practices law at Holland & Hart in Washington, D.C., for his “tireless, thorough academic, intellectual approach” that brought “fresh thinking” to the certification scheme. 

“He embraced the task and made real friends in the industry,” Gardner said. “I thank you for your dedication from all of us in the industry.”

Preceding the award, industry accountant Steven Merdinger shared his memories of its namesake Schechter, the founder of Honora, saluting his unflinching integrity. 

The group also installed Helzberg Diamonds CEO Beryl Raff as its newest chair. She is the first woman to chair the organization. 

JCK News Director