Confucius Is Smiling

Even if you’re not a follower of Confucian philosophy, you’re probably familiar with his dubious blessing, “May you live in interesting times.”

Confucius should have been a jeweler. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s smiling at us—because we do live in interesting times, and our industry never lacks for its own interesting controversies.

Three years ago, the words “conflict diamonds” appeared in quotation marks whenever they were used to describe stones linked to rebel brutalities in Sierra Leone. A year later, the term was a household word in

the industry. Last year, with the Kimberley Process on its way to implementation, it seemed that a solution to stopping the flow of tainted stones had been found, but by then a much scarier question emerged: Could diamonds also be helping to fund al Qaeda?

This year, Kimberley was supposed to have gone into effect on Jan. 1, but at press time was still not completely up and running (although it is reportedly close). By the end of the summer, however—if not by the end of this month—jewelers also will have to comply with the terms of the United States Patriot Act, designed to ensure that no American business either willingly or inadvertently helps to fund terrorists. Every jeweler in every city and town in the United States will be responsible for making sure their suppliers—and their suppliers’ suppliers, and even their suppliers—are legitimate and not helping to launder money or otherwise fund al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization through the sale of jewelry and gems.

Yes, indeed, these are interesting times. The stock market continues its ups and downs, the economy moves in fits and starts, but there are some positive signs of economic growth. In our own industry, both the MJSA Expo in March and the tool-and-machinery pavilion at January’s Vicenza fair were busy—an indication that manufacturers are preparing to invest in growth. We had a warp-speed war, the rapid end of which helped boost consumer confidence. SARS is scary not only from a global health perspective but also because the business implications are staggering for any industry that sources a lot of products from Asia.

Some of our internal controversies are on their way to resolution. For example, it’s no secret that padparadscha-like corundum coming out of Thailand isn’t just heated as many initially claimed. Even if some suppliers don’t want to admit the gems were diffusion treated, jewelers are suspicious enough of those stones to look for evidence of treatment in any parcel that’s not accompanied by full disclosure.

We’re moving closer to—but haven’t arrived at—a definitive consensus about diamond cut grading. The subject was the topic of the Town Hall meeting at the annual AGS Conclave in Austin, although this year’s debate shifted from “can we” to “should we.” Regardless, the ultimate decision about a stone’s beauty still rests in the eye of the beholder, not in the paperwork.

The 12 months since last June have seen the loss of two beloved industry figures, Mike Roman and Richard Liddicoat. Both served the industry long and well, and both will be long remembered by the legacies of integrity and innovation they left behind.

Finally, three years after JCK‘s move to King of Prussia, the HVAC is still quirky, area roads are still a nightmare, but at least we don’t have to explain the name. (But a free one-year subscription will go to the first person who correctly identifies how the town got its name!)

Meanwhile, the earth continues to turn, and people continue to buy jewelry. In fact, in times like these that are certainly “interesting,” the lasting permanence and value of fine jewelry is more important than ever.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com