Oppenheimer Says Goodbye, and Other Notes From Italy

 Some notes from the World Jewellery Forum, taking place this week in Vicenza, Italy:

– On May 14, the World Diamond Council paid tribute to De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, giving him the opportunity to deliver what may be his final farewell to the diamond industry. Oppenheimer, accompanied by son Jonathan, said he had no firm ideas about his future plans once the sale of his family’s stake in De Beers goes through; he wasn’t even sure when the deal would be finalized. But he did strike a bittersweet note, noting that while he would be banned from participating in the diamond industry for two years after the sale is completed, he would continue to follow it from afar. “We are leaving the diamond industry,” he said. “But it is not leaving us.” 

– Also that day, the World Diamond Council, after a bit of internal arm-twisting, passed a resolution urging the Kimberley Process expand its definition of conflict diamonds. Now, the WDC’s resolution technically expresses only “support for discussions.” But organization sources told me that while they didn’t want to go on record endorsing any specific language, they do plan to lobby for expanding the definition, which in turn would lead to a significant expansion of the KP’s scope and mandate. 

No sooner had the resolution passed than an article appeared in the Indian press attacking the whole idea. (It’s telling that all the article’s sources are anonymous. No one wants to go on record opposing human rights—especially with mining companies so sensitive about these issues.) Apparently, some Indian manufacturers feel any act of violence could fall under the new definition. But just about everyone involved in the KP believes that the organization will look only at sustained periods of violence—events that could truly fall under the umbrella of human rights abuses.

The World Diamond Council’s endorsement of new language doesn’t guarantee that the KP will follow suit; in the past, similar proposals have run into opposition from the governments of India, China, and Russia. But it gives the campaign to change the definition a serious boost. This is a major move.  

– At different forums over the years, I’ve heard U.S. jewelers express nervousness that selling fair trade or other ethically branded products will make the rest of their inventory appear inferior. So it’s worth listening to the experience of Willie Hamilton, CEO of the Company of Master Jewellers, a British buying group, who spoke at a CIBJO forum this week.

Hamilton previously worked in the food business, and his supermarket chain was committed to transparency. It was so committed, in fact, that not only did the company sell free-range eggs labeled as such, but the company decided it would tag their ordinary eggs as “produced by caged hens.”

This seems insane; the company was denigrating its own product. But the move worked. Sales of the regular eggs didn’t fall appreciably; some customers couldn’t afford the free range product, or just didn’t care. And sales of the non-caged eggs went through the roof. Moreover, consumer perception of the chain improved considerably. Said Hamilton: “They appreciated our honesty.”

JCK News Director