Not Your Father’s CIBJO

The World Jewelry Federation, known as CIBJO, is often called the jewelry industry’s United Nations, and many see it as just as ineffective.

At a time when worldwide diamond associations have acted with lightning swiftness on issues like conflict diamonds, CIBJO is seen as a relic of the past, an endlessly deliberative body that produces more yawns than achievements.

Yet today an all-encompassing group like CIJBO is arguably more important than ever, as the industry grows increasingly global and interconnected. And so the group—which met recently in Bangkok, Thailand—is trying for a rebirth. Prodded by its flamboyant, energetic president, Gaetano Cavalieri, the group is instituting a communications strategy, scouting for new delegates, and generally giving out signals that this is not your father’s CIBJO. (This was demonstrated by its recent dinner cruise, a raucous affair featuring multiple drag queens and dancers so scantily clad as to make Janet Jackson blush.)

CIBJO also began drafting an industrywide set of “Best Practice Principles.” Attendees were generally impressed. “It seems that the ‘old distinguished lady’ is much more lively than her age and has not yet lost her sex appeal!” Cavalieri said in an e-mail following the conference.

To maintain this momentum, CIBJO has changed its unwieldy bylaws to speed up response time, streamline the organization, and make the group less like … well, CIBJO. True to form, the discussion over the rule changes went on interminably and got bogged down in minutiae, but most hoped things would be a little zippier in the future.

Cavalieri, who in Bangkok was elected to an unprecedented third term, has won support for his efforts: The meeting attracted trade luminaries such as Diamond Trading Company marketing director Stephen Lussier, Gemological Institute of America president William E. Boyajian, and World Diamond Council chairman Eli Izhakoff. But the group still has a way to go in the area of media relations. The conference’s highlight was an uncharacteristically lively discussion on HPHT and treatments in the diamond commission … but unfortunately, we can’t bring you any of it: After considerable negotiations, JCK was let into CIBJO commission hearings but then told we could not report what was said—not a good precedent if the group wants to raise its profile.

The other noteworthy effort at the conference was a resolution proposed by Cecilia Gardner of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee that CIBJO delegates educate their home associations about the diamond industry’s “system of warranties.” This was suggested partly because the controversy has had little impact on retailers in markets like Australia, and delegates said local retailers were largely ignorant of their obligations under the Kimberley Process. But delegates thought awareness of the issue was particularly important amid reports that NGOs were springing random “pop quizzes” on sales associates—asking about their knowledge of the issue. (See “Industry Flunked Pop Quiz,” Up Front, p. 30.)

Other highlights of the event:

  • Diamond Trading Company marketing director Stephen Lussier said the 7% growth in diamond jewelry sales in 2003 was an “extraordinary result” that validated the DTC’s Supplier of Choice policy.

  • Noting that diamond sales lagged behind worldwide gross domestic product in the 1990s, he said that today “we are no longer an industry in decline. We have outpaced our luxury goods competitors. We are a growth industry in a year with a particularly challenging set of news, with a war impacting the United States, and SARS in the Far East. This is a very important lesson: We as an industry can actually control our own destiny.”

  • But to continue to prosper, Lussier said, the industry must become “dream makers, not deal makers.”

  • “Marketing is not just about advertising, not just about brands,” he said. “It’s a general philosophy that means understanding your customer.”

  • He noted that if the industry continues to sell solely on price, “we should all go home, because Wal-Mart will sell 100% of the world’s diamond jewelry.”

  • Lussier’s embrace of marketing was echoed by two later speakers.

  • Tawhid Abdullah, chairman of the Gem and Jewelry Corp., Dubai, called on CIBJO to “create an international jewelry movement to compete with the multimillion-dollar marketing budgets of our rivals. … Together we can overcome years of marketing neglect. We need to fight like lions to preserve our industry.”

  • Carlo Alberto Carnevale-Maffe, an Italian marketing professor who was called upon to give an “outsider’s perspective,” said the fragmented jewelry trade needs to consolidate because “small firms can’t compete globally or internationally.” He also warned: “I don’t see managers attracted to your industry. … You are not attracting talent, and without talented managers, you will not be able to change your processes.”

  • On the scientific side, GIA president William E. Boyajian reviewed new developments in treatments and synthetics, noting that the trade has dealt with more gemological challenges “in the last five years than it has in the previous 50.

  • “Our research will always continue, because there will always be new recipes that people will cook up to fool labs like ours,” he said.