Thoughts from the Rapaport Conference

Some quick impressions of yesterday’s Rapaport Diamond Conference:

– Not a lot of new ground covered, but there were some interesting moments. The morning speeches (from the heads of Eurostar and ABN-Amro’s Diamond and Jewelry Group) were good snapshots of the industry, and largely avoided “doom and gloom,” which is a little too prevalent in the industry right now.

But then came Gerald Celente of Trends Research Institute, who announced that America, as well as the world,  was about to enter a depression — which will be “worse than the last depression” (meaning this one). In case anyone didn’t get his point, he added we were on the verge of an “economic 9/11.” Charming! 

For all I know, this guy could be right; certainly, we are in scary times. But we all know how unsettling things are. His speech just seemed to reinforce the helplessness people feel right now, and probably didn’t spur anyone to action — in the case of a real depression, even smart business models will be decimated.    His talk may have been intended to wake attendees up — but I think it just freaked people out. 

– Far more useful was the afternoon session, which included a speech on branding from GIA chairman (and former Cartier head) Ralph Destino, and talks from Zale CEO Neal Goldberg and Minnesota jeweler Mark Moeller.

Goldberg was particulary impressive – if unsparing in his indictment of the jewerly industry. The industry was a “sea of sameness,” he said, where all the stores look alike, and the product never changes. Looking through industry circulars, he said, “I saw pages and pages of Journey, and circles. That’s a death spiral.” He was similarly blunt about his own company. Much of its product has been “poor quality,” he said. “We had a very inefficient organization.”

Goldberg showed how he had revamped the company’s advertising with the “Moms Rock” commercial for Mother’s Day, which can be viewed here. It’s a great ad, one of the most moving I’ve ever seen in this industry (and I’ve seen more than my share); we’ll see if Goldberg can bring the rest of the chain up to that level.

– Finally, I was surprised how well-attended the conference was. Perhaps it’s a sign that, in these tough times, people are looking for inspiration and new ideas.

JCK News Director