FEATURE: Victoria McKay on the WFDB Presidents Meeting in Tel Aviv

Victoria McKay, chief operating officer of the London Diamond Bourse, gives an insight into the World Federation of Diamond Bourses’ Presidents’ Meeting in Tel Aviv, and explains why the diamond industry is focused on opening its doors and shrugging off its air of mystery.

As chief operating officer of the London Diamond Bourse (LDB), part of my global role has been to undertake financial work for the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), under the supervision of Dieter Hahn, president of the Diamond and Precious Stones Bourse Idar- Oberstein, Germany, and our very own, Harry Levy, president of the LDB, whose other industry titles need no introduction.

I understand from conversations with those not directly involved with the biannual WFDB Presidents’ Meetings, that these events are perceived to be closed door and very mysterious. There is much secretiveness that surrounds the diamond industry generally; no less than when the WFDB presidents from around the world meet. But contrary to common belief, I am pleased to report that my experience has not been in accordance with any of these reports.

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I arrive on my first visit to Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 13, with the beautiful Mediterranean Sea as our backdrop. The Jewish Sabbath ends on Saturday night and I believe that we will start work in earnest in the morning. However, Harry Levy corrects me and invites me to a 9pm meeting with the board of The International Diamond Council (IDC), established in 1975 by the WFDB and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) to create an international standard for rules, working methods and nomenclature.

We finish past midnight after a three hour meeting regarding what most would perceive as minor changes to methods for applying standards to diamond polishing. For the experienced professionals in attendance, however, the issues discussed have much wider reaching implications.

The first meeting on the programme is the following morning (June 14) when the Judicial Committee meet with lawyers and representatives of bourses around the world to agree changes to WFDB rules, making them more transparent and relevant for today.

Harry Levy is well in his stride in such a meeting so, half way through, I go to the Trade and Promotion meeting which is just starting next door chaired by Rami Baron, president of the Diamond Dealers Club of Australia. We discuss the benefits of using social media to bring attention to the diamond industry and specifically to the work of the 30 diamond bourses around the world. The London Diamond Bourse is now amongst the top bourses in this area and the chairman of the Trade and Promotion Committee allows me to speak to attendees specifically about the results various initiatives have delivered for LDB.

After a very swift lunch we are well into the afternoon session, including a visit to Israel Diamond Exchange. Here we meet with GIA vice president and chief laboratory officer Tom Moses who updates us on the lab’s most recent work.

Quickly onto a networking opportunity at the opening of a new exhibition called ‘Diamonds on 45’, held at The Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum, during which Ernest Blom, WFDB president explains to us that “keeping diamonds in the public eye is of utmost importance for future sales”.

The evening presents a wonderful opportunity to informally meet with all our friends and colleagues from the global diamond industry as we are now in the Hilton Grand Ballroom Garden. Its business, but everyone is very sociable and I meet David Lasher again — he is my counterpart at the Diamond Dealers Club in New York.

Lasher also sees great potential for his home bourse and has great ideas for the future. We met last year at the WFDB Congress in Antwerp having entered the industry around the same time. We exchange tales of our bourses and the interesting world we share, albeit oceans apart. Most significantly, we note that the average age of attendees has changed enough to be extraordinarily noticeable. We pledge to continue as the older generation around us have, to stay in-touch and keep information and ideas flowing for the good of the industry.

I’m noticing at this event that there are a few younger faces that I have seen, Over the course of the evening, I meet several conspicuously younger professional men and woman who are there in different but important capacities; notably a London-based business woman from De Beers, who is not only attending the conference but somehow finding the time to meet her clients around our very tight schedule.

Even more remarkable was meeting a Parisian lady representing a French diamantaire. We discovered a mutual interest in affecting further positive change in the diamond industry and we later also ascertain that we are both interested in other areas of the business, particularly bringing younger talent through to learn from the industry veterans around us. Again, we pledge to stay in touch for business.

Monday is soon upon us and an 8am start. First order of the day, the opening sessions. We hear speeches from industry insiders regarding the direction of the global diamond trade and the challenges it faces. Industry guru Chaim Evan-Zohar is on the bill to discuss profitability and he delivers an insightful and well substantiated commentary on the state of the diamond industry.

However, I’m excited to hear from renowned international luxury marketing consultant, Dr Frank Mueller, about his views on the competitive challenges the diamond and diamond jewellery markets are facing in the global luxury consumer product market.

Mueller states: “Worldwide, the consumer market for luxury products will continue to grow, with a spending power of potentially trillions of dollars. This bodes well for diamonds too, provided the diamond industry and retail jewellery sector invest focused efforts in enhancing the desirability of diamonds among consumers”.

In summation, Mueller states that there is a huge need for generic marketing for diamonds, and the need to change the way the industry views its marketing. He adds there is a need to make diamonds “sexy” in order to make them more desirable.

Inhale a deep intake of breathe — did someone say the word ‘sexy’ in the presence of all these diamond industry ‘Statesmen’? Well, he got everyone’s attention and attendees seem convinced when Mueller demonstrates some ideas for tasteful luxe marketing campaigns — no overt improper content at all.

His argument is fairly concrete; Generation X and Millennials are not spend thrifts when it comes to technological or fashion products but their spending habits are entirely different to the generations before them and we as an industry must learn how they think.

I’ve been saying this for some time to my industry peers so, I come away inspired and am surprised afterwards to read a report by the Wall Street Journal that states: “Chanel bags increased pricing by up to 70% in five years, Jimmy Choo shoes have gone from $495 to $650 in the same time, and Mulberry has merrily hiked up the prices on its bags.” What Franck Mueller is saying is, marketed the correct way, diamond jewellery could also have a 7,500 strong waiting list like Hermes does for its Birkin handbags. Imagine if you could do that with diamond jewellery…

Two heavy working sessions later and we are treated to a Gala dinner like I have never seen. Israel Diamond Bourse have put on a game changing showstopper of an event.

An industry accolade is awarded to Dieter Hahn; the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the oldest diamond manufacturing company in Germany. I’m on a great table, there are lots of topical discussion and I find myself deep in conversation with Paul Van de Steen, formally of the HRD Antwerp board of directors. I learn more about the physical properties of diamonds in a few minutes than I have in months.

Inspirational speeches ensue and a full-on stage show by some of Israel’s most renowned singers and artists, while the worldwide diamond community creates new relationships and renews old bonds. I am lucky enough to be introduced by Harry Levy to more of his long-established colleagues who are so welcoming of a new generation coming through.

There has been much documented professional coverage of the WFDB meetings over the last few weeks, with WFDB president Ernest Blom praising Shmuel Schnitzer, president of Israel Diamond Exchange and his team for their initiative in putting together such a complete programme. “The Presidents’ Meeting is an excellent opportunity to gauge the wellbeing of our industry and the downstream market,” said Mr Blom.

The closing sessions included speeches from both Philippe Mellier, CEO of De Beers, and recently appointed Alrosa president, Andrey Zharkov. They both gave their own perspectives on the present condition of the diamond market.

I left Israel with a more complete view of the industry. However, my overall reason for reporting my experience in Tel Aviv to the UK industry is to stress that seasoned diamond professionals are increasingly aware of the need to interact with the younger generation.

Well-intentioned professionals such as myself are being welcomed to meetings because there is growing recognition that Generation X and Millennials have a relatively small window of opportunity to work alongside our established industry hierarchy. Also, we bring something to the table — a new way of working and insight into a fresh generation of consumers.

I do not dispute that the diamond industry can be ‘old school’ but isn’t that the beauty of our trade? The basis of our customs and our history coupled with modern working practices could result in a heaven-sent industry, but there will be a need, in the future, to combine the old and the new and for that to be effective, we ‘youngsters’ need to learn.

Basic logic dictates that if we, the next generation of diamond industry professionals don’t make ourselves known to those who came before us, they are not going to go in search of us on our LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter. We have to make ourselves known in the oldest of ways, by being physically present, as without us being present there is no way for us to benefit from the infinite diamond wisdom and knowledge at these events, which would be an incredible loss to us.

Overall, I would encourage anyone who is interested in the future of the diamond industry and learning from those established elders of our trade, to start to find a way to participate at a national or global level, as soon as you can. You might find that you get a surprising welcome. To put it in the hashtag speak that almost everyone is beginning to understand… #effectchange #getinvolved



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