Learning and Feeling Mark AGS Conclave

The 2002 American Gem Society Conclave, held April 24-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia, was marked by two key differences from previous Conclaves: the presence of De Beers and Diamond Trading Company executives, and a heightened emotional level.

De Beers chairman Nicholas F. Oppenheimer and key members of the Diamond Trading Company, who are not permitted to enter the United States for business purposes, seized the opportunity of a Canadian-hosted Conclave to meet American retailers. In turn, the chance to meet the De Beers team made this one of AGS’s best-attended Conclaves, said former executive director Robert W. Bridel.

“By every measure, this was an incredibly successful Conclave,” he said. “Even with the challenges of having it in Vancouver—which is a far trip, and an international trip—in the current ‘no travel’ atmosphere, we had more than 800 attendees, and more first-time attendees than last year.”

This year’s Conclave also had many emotional moments, particularly the tributes paid to Bob Speisman, the late marketing director for Lazare Kaplan, who was aboard the Sept. 11 flight that crashed into the Pentagon. Speisman, an active supporter of and participant in AGS, was en route to a Conclave planning meeting in Vancouver when the hijackings occurred. The convention opened with a tribute to Speisman, who also was posthumously awarded the group’s most prestigious honor, the Robert M. Shipley Award. Maurice Tempelsman, Speisman’s father-in-law, and Leon Tempelsman, his brother-in-law, tearfully accepted the award on his behalf amid thunderous applause.

Two other speakers also delivered moving talks. Roy Henry Vickers of First Nations tribe, who was accompanied by a group of dancers, addressed the audience at the Welcome Reception, and Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest, described his feat.

“Get out of your own way,” Weihenmayer counseled. He explained how his blindness makes his other senses extra keen. He can hear subtle differences in rock when a grappling hook hits it: The sound tells him whether it will hold or crumble under his weight. Weihenmayer joked about how it was a real advantage not to be able to see the infamous, deadly crevasses near the top of Mt. Everest—one of the reasons the mountain is such a dangerous one to climb.

Peter Levine, executive creative director for the international brand image firm Desgrippes Gobe Group, gave a presentation outlining various trends in advertising and marketing. “Relevance is key,” he stressed. For a Baby Boom audience (born 1945-1964), appeal to their material senses and the emphasis they place on their children. For a Generation X audience (born 1965-1976), understand that this is a demographic group that feels slighted and has a cynical view of the world, and for a Generation Y audience (born 1977-1994), be ready for a brand-conscious, shopping-oriented generation. He outlined some common themes in consumer attitudes that are reflected in advertising: survivalism, escapism, and the need for well-being, resulting in images of strong women, wild animals and exotic pets, retro design, and images of beds, sleep, and yoga.

Dr. Robert Kriegel, a popular business speaker, reminded the audience that they “can’t keep doing the same old thing and playing by the same old rules”—they must constantly reinvent themselves to survive in tough times. The most common reaction to tough times is to work harder, he said, but that can be counterproductive, as rushing around inhibits progress.

“People can only work at maximum output for eight or eight-and-a-half hours a day. After that, productivity goes down and mistakes go up,” he said. You can’t win by outworking the competition, you have to out-think them—and Kriegel says the best way to do that is to take some time to be silent and just think, every day.

“Go on an internal sacred cow hunt!” he exhorted. He explained how one tire manufacturer had always individually wrapped tires in paper before delivery. The firm was perpetually seeking more efficient, cost-effective ways to wrap them—but since whitewall tires had gone out of fashion, there was no need to wrap them at all. By killing that internal “sacred cow,” the company saved time and money.

He also discussed the need to listen to employees and not belittle anyone’s ideas. Always listen down, he said: The people doing the work know best how it should be done. How internal customers are treated affects the external customers, he stressed.

At the annual Titleholders Luncheon, the keynote speaker was Orley Solomon, senior vice president and longtime director of training at Ben Bridge Jeweler. Solomon’s entertaining presentation underscored the importance of ongoing education in the jewelry industry.

The Diamond Promotion Service hosted three major events. At the elegant “Dinner of Diamonds,” at which Oppenheimer was the keynote speaker, the crowd filled the room beyond capacity.

The goal of the new De Beers is to boost demand for diamonds, he said. “We need to switch the emphasis from a supply-driven to a demand-driven industry,” Oppenheimer told the crowd. “We are working closely with our customers to increase advertising spending and stimulate demand further.”

Oppenheimer also made note of the numerous challenges to the image of diamonds in the market, including treatments, and he hailed the industry’s efforts to solve the problem of conflict diamonds. (See “Focus on Demand, Says Oppenheimer,” JCK, June 2002, page 26.)

Diamonds were in the hot seat for the Town Hall meeting, where the topic was “The Importance of Cut.” A heated discussion ensued after members of the speaker panel presented their views. Incoming AGS president Bill Farmer of Farmer’s Jewelry moderated a panel of retailers, suppliers, and scientists, including Dr. Ilene Reinetz of GIA, Carter Hofmeister of Hofmeister Jewelers, Martin Rapaport of Rapaport Diamond Corp., Glenn Rothman of Hearts On Fire, Judd Rotenberg of Long’s Jewelers, and Peter Yantzer of AGS Laboratories.

The event closed with the President’s Gala, where outgoing president Ellen Lacy reminded members to attend the Triple Zero dinner at the Rainbow Room in New York during the JA Show, where former Jewelers of America chairman Michael Roman will be honored for his lifetime achievements. Lacy then handed over the gavel to Farmer.

The Society’s Canadian host members were well represented. The CGA’s John Nash, a longtime AGS member, served as MC for the four days, the Canadian diamond industry played a key role in sponsoring various events, and the Canadian members made their south-of-the-border guests feel especially welcome.