CIBJO speakers: Trade must market, be ethical

The trade must step up its efforts on marketing and ethics to ensure consumer confidence, speakers said at the recent meeting of the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) in Bangkok, Thailand.

Diamond jewelry sales grew 7% over the last year, an “extraordinary result” that stemmed from De Beers’ Supplier of Choice policy, said De Beers Diamond Trading Company marketing director Stephen Lussier.

“We are no longer an industry in decline,” he said. “We have outpaced our luxury-goods competitors. We are a growth industry in a year with a particularly challenging set of news, with a war impacting the U.S. and SARS in the Far East. This is a very important lesson: We as an industry can actually control our own destiny.”

He said the industry must become “dream makers—not deal makers.”

“Marketing is not just about advertising, not just about brands,” he said. “It’s a general philosophy that means understanding your customer.”

He noted that, if the industry continued to sell just on price, “we should all go home, because Wal-Mart will sell 100% of the world’s diamond jewelry.”

Lussier’s embrace of marketing was echoed by two later speakers.

Carlo Alberto Carnevale-Maffe, an Italian marketing professor who gave an “outsider’s perspective” on the industry, said the trade “has to learn to tune into the new consumers … Your competitors have already learned this lesson.”

He said the industry needs to consolidate because “small firms can’t compete globally or internationally.” He also warned: “I don’t see managers being attracted to your industry … You are not attracting talent, and without talented managers, you will not be able to change your processes.”

Tawhid Abdullah, chairman of the Gem and Jewelry Corp. in Dubai, called on CIBJO to “create an international jewelry movement to compete with the multi-million dollar marketing budgets of our rivals … Together we can overcome years of marketing neglect. We need to fight like lions to preserve our industry.”

GIA president William E. Boyajian said that the trade has dealt with more gemological challenges “in the last five years than it has in the previous 50.”

“Our research will always continue, because there will always be new recipes that people will cook up to fool labs like ours,” he said.

The DTC’s Tim Dabson suggested CIBJO adopt a set of “Best Practice Principles.”

“Anything that impacts part of the pipeline is put down as a jewelry industry problem,” he said. “All parts of the industry are linked. There are no silos.”

He expects more attention from NGOs and other groups: “Our industry is high-profile and very likely to be targeted.”

He noted that “a jeweler used to be able to say to his customer: ‘Trust me.’ Now the consumer says, ‘You need to show me.’ ”

The group’s Commissions looked at a variety of issues, including grading harmonization and gemstone treatments.

Acting on a suggestion from Cecilia Gardner, Jewelers Vigilance Committee executive director and legal counsel, the Congress asked delegates to educate their home associations about the diamond industry’s “system of warranties.” Gardner said industry awareness of the warranties has new importance amid reports of NGOs going into jewelry stores and giving “conflict diamond” pop quizzes to sales associates.

CIBJO also spent a lot of time discussing itself. Long notorious for protracted and often fruitless deliberation, the group, prodded by energetic president Gaetano Calvalieri, changed its famously unwieldy by-laws to streamline the voting process and decrease response times. True to form, the discussion over the changes went on for hours and got bogged down in minutiae, but most saw it as hopeful sign for the future.

The group also discussed setting up a communications department to raise its public profile.

The meeting’s highlight was an uncharacteristically lively discussion on HPHT and treatments … but that’s all we can say on that topic: After considerable negotiations, JCK was let into the group’s commission hearings, but was told we could not report what was said—not a good precedent if the group wants to attract media in the future.