In ‘Post-Conflict-Diamond Era,’ Industry Turns Inward

The topic of choice at the recent Antwerp Diamond Conference was “ABC”—”Anything But Conflict Diamonds.”

With the Kimberley Process nearing completion, industry leaders were eager to move on to what HRD director Peter Meuss called “the post-conflict-diamond era” and discuss other serious issues facing the trade.

That meant much talk about De Beers’ “Supplier of Choice” strategy and the new twin hot spots, Canada (for supply) and China (for demand).

A state of flux. All over the conference there were signs of an industry in flux. For the first time at a diamond event, De Beers was not the only large company in the room: It shared the stage with representatives from equally huge mining concerns RTZ and BHP, which detailed their own, sometimes unconventional, diamond marketing plans.

Expressing a sentiment with which few disagreed, Paul C. Goris, executive chairman of Antwerp Diamond Bank, noted, “The industry has to brace for even more change. In three to five years, the diamond industry may well be unrecognizable.”

Among the conference highlights:

De Beers director Garreth Penny said the diamond industry is turning from a supply-controlled industry to a demand-driven one. The company’s new “Supplier of Choice” strategy is aimed at increasing consumer demand for diamond jewelry. “De Beers wants to put diamonds in the hands of people who are connected with their customer—and ultimately the end consumer,” he said. He added that there was a lot of confusion about brands, and that the industry has to remember what makes diamonds special. “We sell dreams, not products,” he added. “It isn’t about saying, ‘Buy this.’ It’s about a way to express something to somebody. This we do better than any handbag, any perfume.”

Jim Antoine, Minister of Resources for the Northwest Territories, made news when he called upon De Beers to allocate part of the production from its upcoming Canadian mine to local cutters, as other miners have done. That would be a break from the long-established “sight” system.

The market for diamond jewelry in China is growing at a staggering 33% per year, said Guo Tao, assistant director of that country’s National Gemstone Testing Center. “The huge door of the Chinese diamond market has been opened, and a large number of consumers has been cultivated,” he said. One study showed that one out of five Chinese women preferred diamonds to other types of jewelry.