In my first year with JCK I had the assignment of showing the flag at industry functions. The magazine had just gone through a wrenching period with the departure of many of the staff to form Professional Jeweler. The GIA Symposium was one of those events at which I represented JCK. The Symposium that year was truly awesome. In fact, my column on the event was titled “You Should Have Been There.”
The Symposium just concluded was equally interesting. The featured speakers included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, and author Deepak Chopra.
Albright gave a good accounting of herself, except perhaps for one statement—a faux pas, in my view—of equating radical Muslims with extreme conservatives in every other religion. It was fundamentally the same view espoused by Rosie O’Donnell recently.
With GIA having gone through all the troubles of the past year, and the recent departure of Bill Boyajian July 31, I think everyone there wondered how that would play out. The opening ceremonies were ably handled by Ralph Destino. When industry notables were introduced, it was gratifying to see the vast majority of the audience give Bill Boyajian a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute, a clear indication of his contributions to GIA and the warm regard so many have for him.
What surprised me was the absence of many retail leaders. Another surprise was Donna Baker’s role in the event. I had expected that, as Boyajian’s temporary replacement, she would have a larger role in the activities. Baker and Secretary Albright shared the stage while questions from the audience were directed to the secretary.
Paco Underhill has a real knack for drilling down to key issues affecting shopping. Aisle space, counter heights, and the different shopping proclivities of men and women were key points of his talk.
Deepak Chopra gave an amusing talk about his first experiences in America as a medical resident in New Jersey. He went on to become deep and spiritual and had most of the audience close to a séance at the end. He finished with a successful book signing. I’m told he earns $20 million a year talking, writing, and signing books.
Symposium concluded as it did last time, with Maurice Tempelsman speaking from his unique vantage point. His sobering view of the diamond business gave many in the audience plenty of cause for concern. He then wandered off into a series of unrelated and unnecessary comments on a lawsuit between GIA and Lazare Kaplan and congratulating the GIA board on its decision making over the past year. It left many in the audience wondering why he chose to end his address on those two points.
Symposium was well worth it. You should have been there.