Colored Stones / Industry

Roland Naftule, Gem Dealer and Dedicated Industry Official, Dies


Roland Naftule, a widely respected gem dealer who devoted untold hours to industry associations, died on April 1 in San Diego. He was 85.

Naftule was born in Switzerland in 1937, into a family that cut and polished gemstones for high-end watchmakers in Geneva. His grandfather Leon Naftule had had a neighbor who knew how to cut gemstones, and the business fascinated him. Leon’s three sons later joined him in the company he founded.

At age 19, Roland Naftule joined Nafco Gems, which his father, Jean, had opened in New York City in 1952. The firm developed a nationwide and eventually international footprint, with mining ventures in Tanzania and Maine and a cutting factory in Ireland.

After his daughters joined the business, Roland turned his attention toward what become his true passion: serving the industry. He was one of the founding organizers of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and the group’s first president from 1983 to 1985.

He later recalled that gemstone dealers had long dreamed of a wholesale association, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Naftule, along with Leon Ritzler and Ray Zajicek, made it happen. “In just a few days we recruited 150 members,” he said.

Naftule also chaired AGTA’s industry rules committee for 12 years.

In 1984 he helped found the International Colored Stone Association (ICA), and served as chairman of its organizing committee and founding president from 1985 through 1989. In 2003 he received ICA’s lifetime achievement award.

He was also a member of GIA’s board of directors for 12 years, starting in 2001, and chaired GIA’s colored gemstone advisory and museum committees.

But his longest-lasting relationship was with CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation.

For more than two decades Naftule was president of CIBJO’s Sector A. There, he supervised the preparation of the association’s Blue Books, the widely used set of jewelry standards and terminology, which are continually revised and updated. “Each Blue Book is a living document,” Naftule once said.

He also served as CIBJO’s vice president, U.S. representative, and member of its board of directors, executive committee, and president’s council, as well as president and vice president of its colored stone commission.

The work Naftule oversaw “forms the basis of standards adopted across the globe, and are ensconced into various national laws and regulations, and are accepted by courts that adjudicate disputes in a variety of countries,” said a statement from CIBJO. “His work, dedication, and wisdom will continue to serve industry professionals and their clients for many decades to come.”

In the same statement, CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri said, “The term ‘industry giant’ is often overused, but in Roland’s case it is an understatement.

“His contribution to our community is immense, beginning with colored gemstones, his first love, but spreading to every facet and corner of what we do. He stood at my side for every year of my presidency, and what has been achieved over the entire period is to his credit as well. I mourn the loss not only of a mentor, advisor, and confidant but of a close personal friend, who was more of a brother.”

Naftule is survived by his wife, Fabienne; daughters, Myriam and Stephanie; and their families.

(Photo courtesy of CIBJO)


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By: Rob Bates

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