The jewelry industry’s future will depend in part on how much it “gives,” hip-hop mogul and philanthropist Russell Simmons told the audience at his keynote speech Friday morning.
Simmons began by thanking the industry for the warm reception he’s received. “I just got in this industry it feels like just a few minutes ago, and now I’m being embraced and asked to address you,” he said. “With all the other industries I’ve gotten into, like financial services and music, it took a long run for people to allow me in. But you have embraced me, and for that I thank you.”
Speaking about diamonds, he noted that when his wife first wanted to get into different businesses, he told her he didn’t want to be involved with “diamonds and fur.”
“To me, those things seemed hurtful and frivolous and involved in things that I didn’t want to promote,” he said.
But as he learned more about the industry, he realized it could make a positive difference in Africa. “I learned about how diamonds could be really good for Africa, and without them, many people would suffer,” he said.
When he visited Africa, former South African President Nelson Mandela asked him to bring back the message that “diamonds were good for Africa.”
But he also thought diamonds could do better. “It became my message to inspire people and become part of that transformative process,” he said. “I came up with the idea that a diamond equals love. Now I know that, for 50 years, this industry has spread the idea that a diamond equals love. But the idea is that through a transparent diamond, you can see an empowered African. Then misinformed people would not look at a diamond like a fur coat.”