Industry / Podcasts

The Jewelry District, Episode 118: 24 Karat Weekend, Diamond Sanctions, John Kennedy


JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates recap 24 Karat Weekend and reflect on Ukrainian jewelry designer Valeriya Guzema’s account of war’s impact on her life, family, and business. Rob brings listeners up to date on Russian diamond sanctions, explains the United States’ new self-certification rules, and discusses what September could bring. Finally, Rob and Vic pay tribute to Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John Kennedy, who announced his retirement after a quarter century of dedication to keeping industry members safe from crime. 

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Presenting sponsor: De Beers (
Sponsor: Nivoda (

Show Notes
00:51  Valeriya Guzema on the human toll of war in Ukraine
09:08 Russian diamond sanctions update
16:48 JSA president John Kennedy retires

Episode Credits
Hosts: Rob Bates and Victoria Gomelsky
Producer and engineer: Natalie Chomet
Editor: Riley McCaskill


Show Recap
Valeriya Guzema on the human toll of war in Ukraine
Rob and Victoria discuss recent industry events in New York City, including 24 Karat Weekend and the Plumb Club Symposium ’24. Rob says the most impressive speaker he heard was Ukrainian jewelry designer Valeriya Guzema, whom Victoria interviewed during the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) luncheon of 24 Karat Weekend. Valeriya brought a human face to the impact of war in Ukraine and to the importance of embracing Russian diamond sanctions, Rob says.

Valeriya founded jewelry company Guzema in Kyiv in 2016, after working as a fashion reporter for local TV. Her brand was just catching on when war broke out. Valeriya’s deeply moving account of what happened next was “a pure, authentic take on what it’s like to live a very normal life, planning your vacations, running your business, taking your kids to school, and suddenly bombs start falling on your home,” say Victoria.

The jewelry industry often discusses sanctions in terms of procedures and paperwork, so it’s easy to think about the Russian war in the abstract, Rob points out. The real horror in Ukraine can slip your mind. Valeriya “brought it home,” he says. “She made an extremely compelling moral case that [sanctions] are something we should be thinking about and that we should be extremely leery of buying Russian diamonds.”

Valeriya and her family are now based in Barcelona, but the jeweler has returned to Kyiv for work and traveled 2½ days to come to the luncheon. Now represented by Luxury Brand Group in the U.S., Valeriya Guzema will be exhibiting as part of the Design Collective at JCK Las Vegas 2024. Victoria encourages attendees to meet her and see her work. Not only is it inspiring to see a designer persevere and thrive against such formidable odds, but “she makes really cool jewelry that is fashionable and fun and reasonably priced,” Victoria says.

Russian diamond sanctions update
The conversation moves to the latest on Russian diamond sanctions. March 1 was the deadline for implementing the first round of sanctions and closing the loophole that allowed diamonds mined in Russia but polished elsewhere to enter the U.S. The key question was how to prove an imported diamond wasn’t mined in Russia. With a flurry of competing ideas about documentation as the start date loomed, U.S. Customs decided to rely on importers’ self-declarations.

While this has some teeth, it’s “probably the weakest form of evidence that Customs could ask for,” Rob says. He acknowledges that asking beleaguered Customs agents to vet every diamond invoice when they’re grappling with issues like drug trafficking is a tall order. Still, this is a setback for the G7’s goal of enforcing a uniform Russian diamond ban. Currently, the European Commission, the U.S., the UK, and Canada all have different requirements, Rob says.

“Perhaps the biggest battle is going to be over September, where the European Union is pushing a plan for every diamond to be certified in Antwerp,” he continues. The plan is controversial because “this will actually make it more expensive and perhaps harder” to sell non-Russian diamonds, Rob says, noting that representatives from Namibia, Botswana, and Angola have sent letters to the heads of the G7, expressing concerns about the proposed changes.

While the moral logic of a Russian gem boycott is clear, the challenge is how to put it into practice. Perhaps the best solution would be to go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that penalizes Russian diamonds without inadvertently penalizing people for dealing in other diamonds, he says.

JSA president John Kennedy retires
Victoria and Rob discuss the news that Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John Kennedy plans to retire at the end of the year. “It’s a great loss for the organization and for the industry,” Victoria says. John, a former Jewelry District guest, has spent 32 years at JSA and is one of just four people to serve as president of the group, which was founded in the late 1800s.

Rob praises John’s commitment to preventing crime and ensuring that people follow best practices for safety, always including a moment of silence at the JSA’s annual luncheon for victims of jewelry crime. Rob reckons John’s work has saved numerous lives. When John started with JSA, roughly 30 jewelers were killed per year, Rob says. Now that number has been reduced typically to one or zero. “He has a great legacy,” Rob says.

John will continue to serve as secretary of the 24 Karat Club, a post he’s held for 22 years.

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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