“We’re Back” in the U.S., De Beers Executives Crow

De Beers is officially back in the United States after a 70-year absence, three of the company’s top executives noted happily at a packed meeting held by the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers and Association in New York City on Jan. 8.

“De Beers has been banned from dong business in the United States for the last 70 years,” said CEO Philippe Mellier. “Tonight, we are back.”

While various De Beers executives have appeared in public over the past few years, generally in support of charitable causes, this is believed to be the first time three of the company’s top executives—executive vice president, global sightholder sales Varda Shine, Forevermark CEO and vice president of marketing Stephen Lussier, and Mellier—have appeared in public in the United States to discuss business matters.

Mellier said that while De Beers considers its cartel days behind it, he does think the company needs to be a leader in the industry.

He noted the company had developed an automatic screening machine to detect synthetic melee, which it hopes to distribute later this year.

But he also said the business has to become more of a “normal luxury industry,” and embrace transparency and working closer with its banks.

He said De Beers now wants to be a “consumer-driven mining company.”

“We want to be much more aware of what is happening downstream,” he added.

In a question and answer session, Lussier sounded unenthusiastic about reinstating generic marketing for diamonds.

“One has to be careful to never say never,” he said. “At the same time you have to look forward, instead of backward. We are certainly not going to do it on our own. It just doesn’t economically make sense. And one of the big concerns for retailers is to create differentiators. Category-wide advertising doesn’t do that.”

Asked whether he would support an industry-wide generic marketing initiative, as has been proposed, Lussier said, ‘We are always open to any ideas that seem like they would work or are sustainable,” but he noted parent company Anglo had a negative experience with the World Gold Council.

“You only have to watch TV in December and say: How much of this advertising is actually driving traffic into stores?” he added.

Shine noted that the U.S. now has a 37 percent share of the diamond market, down from its one-time height of 50 percent.

Diamonds “are a great business to be in,” she added, noting that demand was likely to out-strip supply in the years to come. But she said the challenge was “how do we make sure consumers stay with us?”