The Jewelry District, Episode 106: Hedda Schupak, Russian Diamond Sanctions, Grand Seiko


JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates pay tribute to former JCK editor Hedda Schupak, who passed away this month. An industry icon as well as a mentor to Victoria and Rob, Hedda steered the magazine successfully through major changes in the early 2000s and played a key role in the early years of its annual Las Vegas trade show. Then, Rob updates listeners on the latest news regarding Russian diamond sanctions, and Victoria shares highlights from her recent trip to Japan to visit Grand Seiko’s studio in the mountain town Shizukuishi.

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Sponsored by De Beers: institute.debeers.com

Show Notes
00:50 Loss of an industry legend
09:39 A few words from Hedda
16:24 Update on Russian sanctions
20:10 Diamond market challenges
25:33 Visiting Grand Seiko’s mountain retreat in Japan

Episode Credits
Hosts: Rob Bates and Victoria Gomelsky
Producer and engineer: Natalie Chomet
Editor: Riley McCaskill
Plugs: @jckmagazine; institute.debeers.com

Show Recap

Loss of an industry legend
The episode opens with sad news about former JCK editor-in-chief Hedda Schupak, who died of cancer on Oct. 3 at age 62. Victoria remembers her predecessor, who spent 23 years with the magazine and held the top editorial post from 2000 to 2009 (immediately before Victoria), as “wonderfully talented and extremely respected.”

Like many others in the industry, Rob was “shocked and blindsided” to hear about Hedda, not only a longtime colleague but a friend who attended Rob’s wedding. “It’s a huge loss,” he says, adding that he has been touched by the many online tributes to Hedda. Trace Shelton of Instore said, “Hedda was an icon in this industry for good reason.”

Former JCK editor Jennifer Heebner wrote that Hedda was “a larger-than-life figure” who “gave everyone an opportunity to learn, innovate, and a chance to find their own niche in the jewelry industry” and yet remained “humble to the core. Her smile lit up every room.…Hedda will remain a one-of-a-kind industry treasure.”

Rob recounts how Hedda guided the JCK team through corporate changes, including the magazine’s move from Pennsylvania to New York in the mid-2000s. “Managing a staff of 15 is not easy,” he says. “There were a lot of people who saw things in very different ways. If anything united us, it was our faith in Hedda and the fact that we all admired and respected her and were loyal to her, and she was extremely loyal to the people on her team.”

Victoria remembers the last time she saw Hedda—in June in Las Vegas—and the first trip she ever took with her, to Botswana in 2004, when Victoria was new to the jewelry industry. She praises Hedda’s smart, insightful writing and her ability to live life to the fullest. Like Rob, Victoria considered Hedda a mentor and role model.

A few words from Hedda
Rob and Victoria share a recording of Hedda on The Jewelry District’s 2019 podcast celebrating JCK’s 150th anniversary. In it, Hedda explained how she joined JCK and worked her way up the ranks. She also recalled the roots of the magazine’s now iconic trade show and laughs about her initial reaction to the location: We can’t have a show in Las Vegas! There’s no jewelry industry there.

On the first day of the first-ever show, “The University of Nevada Las Vegas marching band opened the ceremonies,” Hedda said. “They chose to play John Philip Sousa’s ‘Liberty Bell March,’ better known to the world as the Monty Python theme song.” With a laugh, she adds that she and fellow JCK editor Russell Shor “blew a raspberry at the appropriate time, standing behind the ceremonial red ribbon with the rest of the JCK staff.”

On a more serious note, Hedda shared the following prediction for the jewelry industry: “I personally believe consumers will always want to adorn themselves and express themselves, and that they will always value precious metal and gems as a way to do it. How they go about doing it is still changing—and that has a very long way to go.”

You can read more about Hedda Schupak from Rob here.

Update on Russian sanctions
In more traditional news, Victoria asks Rob for the latest on Russian sanctions. What do diamond buyers need to know now? “It’s pretty clear that sanctions are coming, and people want them,” he says. “The only question is how the sanctions will be done.”

Rob attended an event last month at the residence of the Belgian consulate general, where he spoke with the Belgian prime minster. “Belgium had a lot of bad PR about blocking Russian diamonds, but now they are out in the forefront making it clear they want Russian diamonds banned from G7 nations,” Rob says.

He explains that while Americans are not allowed to deal with Russian diamond miners, there’s a loophole: If Russian rough diamonds are polished in India, they are allowed in the U.S. However, representatives from the G7 countries and the U.S. State Department recently held talks in India, and Rob predicts the loophole may close in early 2024. How will new restrictions be imposed? That’s the challenge, he says. “It’s not easy to enforce and it’s not easy to track diamonds,” Rob says. Complicating the issue are dueling plans from the World Diamond Council and the Belgian government.

While many unknowns remain, “I think the G7 wants something muscular and strong just to send a signal,” Rob says. “The industry is going to have to gear up for it.”

Diamond market challenges
Continuing the diamond conversation, Rob believes the industry is struggling because despite the absence of import challenges in the past few months, people don’t seem to be stocking up on diamonds. This could be due to people underestimating the challenges new sanctions will bring—or it could stem from reduced demand.

Rob notes that India just announced plans to stop all rough imports for the next two months. “That’s a pretty strong statement that people feel overloaded,” he says. “The big complaint I hear is that there’s too much inventory in the pipeline and prices have been falling.” He links the glut to lab-grown diamonds’ growing market share, but says both lab-grown and natural diamonds have had “a tough couple of months” and cautions that “any kind of dip in demand always leads to a ripple effect.”

Victoria points out that these trends may reflect a return to reality after the epic highs of recent years. “Everyone should be prepared for that,” she says.

Visiting Grand Seiko’s mountain retreat in Japan
Victoria talks about her recent press trip to Japan with Grand Seiko. The luxury sibling brand of Tokyo-based Seiko was founded in 1960 and available only in Japan until 2010, where it developed a devoted fan base. After the Seiko Group Corporation spun Grand Seiko off as its own mark in 2017, “it continued to gather a cult following in the Americas, in Europe, and in Asia,” Victoria says. “It is really a remarkable company.”

Her journey took her from Kyoto to Seiko’s production facility in Nagano to Honshu in the north via bullet train. From there, she traveled to the mountain town of Shizukuishi to see the 21,000-square-foot studio space where Grand Seiko produces its mechanical timepieces. Celebrated Japanese architect Kengo Kuma designed the facility, which opened in 2020. “It’s a beautiful place,” Victoria says. “It has all the qualities associated with Japanese design—a respect for minimalism, natural woods, a real sense for the natural environment around the studio and how the timepieces made there reflect that.” Among these influences is nearby Mount Iwate, whose 6,000-foot peak inspired a Grand Seiko dial pattern.

Rob asks how the watchmaking approach Victoria saw in Japan compares to that of Swiss watchmakers. The facilities in Nagano prefecture, where the quartz pieces are made, were well-run but more factory-like, Victoria says. Shizukuishi, by contrast, has “a Switzerland in Japan vibe” that “felt more like a small atelier.”

“I urge everybody to check out Grand Seiko if you’re not familiar with it,” Victoria says. “People adore this brand”—and the love is justified, she notes.

Any views expressed in this podcast do not reflect the opinion of JCK, its management, or its advertisers.

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By: Kathy Passero

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