The Mines to Market Diamond Conference:
An Action-Packed Seminar with the Powers-that-be in Attendance
From live video message from PM Narendra Modi and inauguration by Minister of State for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines Piyush Goyal to marking the 50th anniversary of the GJEPC or highlighting the diamond industry’s weaknesses and threats, including finance and ethical issues through panel discussions, the Mines to Market diamond conference had been an eventful occasion for the diamond industry.
The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) recently held the International Diamond Conference – Mines to Market, in Mumbai. This two-day seminar on the diamond industry also marked the 50th anniversary of the GJEPC’s establishment. Inaugurated by Chief Guest Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of Power, Coal and Renewable Energy and Mines, GOI, the event was attended by the who’s who of the GJ industry.
But the chief attraction of the event was the live video message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the eve of day one. In his address, he congratulated the GJEPC on its 50th anniversary and acknowledged the efforts taken by the Council in making India one of the largest diamond cutting and polishing hubs and the recognition India’s GJ sector has received in the global arena.
He went on to advise that “It is important for the industry to plan its growth. But that is not enough. It is also necessary for you to think of the weakest amongst you. The Council should consider taking a census of the lowest-paid and least prosperous persons in your industry. For example, the workers living in places like Jaipur, Thrissur, Varanasi, Rajkot and Coimbatore. Can the industry ensure that every one of them is enrolled in the government’s low-cost social security schemes?” he asked.
Before that, when the event had kick started in the morning, Praveenshankar Pandya, Chairman, GJPEC, had appealed to Piyush Goyal in his speech that “Finding a new diamond mine is always very difficult and we look forward to your support to explore the opportunities in India. Our country has a lot of deposits and a few years back, Rio Tinto had found a viable deposit in Bunder in Chattisgarh. However, the project got embroiled in several issues, including legal ones, which led to Rio Tinto’s exit from Bunder and gift the project to the Chattisgarh government. We urge you to use your good offices to take this project forward,” he added.
Later when Piyush Goyal rose to address the audience, he said that “It is good to see the diamond industry of the world converge in India. It is an industry which has impacted several lives in Africa, India and businesses all over the world. In the 50 years of the Council’s existence and 19 years of autonomy, the industry had grown from a few millions to billions of dollars of exports. The industry and the government need to work together in partnership on the basis of trust,” he opined. He went also on to add that the industry has to transform itself in many ways. We have to reorient ourselves to a different way of doing business,” he suggested. Saying that the recent demonetisation represented an opportunity, he called upon the diamond industry to implement fully transparent systems.
“Regarding the mining section, we will see what can be done,” Goyal assured. He also went on explain that the government has adopted a policy of not granting Prospecting and Mining licences at a go, to keep the possibilities of misuse and corruption in check. He said that anyone can come forward to explore prospective areas and once the results are in, a transparent bidding process will be held to award the mining licence. “Revenue which comes in from this bidding process will go for better education, providing electricity and a shelter over the head of the poor sections of the society,” he revealed.
Even Walter K Chidakwa, Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Republic of Zimbabwe, made an impassioned speech on the occasion and pointed out how the diamond sector of Zimbabwe can help alleviate poverty and create opportunities for the poor children of his country. He outlined the huge potential which exists in Zimbabwe and called upon the world, specifically India, to help realise it. “We also want to become diamond manufacturers, jewellery manufacturers. I request India to give us the technology and training to achieve our potential, so that we can provide health welfare and education to our poor children,” he added.
Through a presentation, Russell Mehta, Vice-Chairman, GJEPC, emphasised on the challenges that the Indian diamond industry is facing at present. He commented that “The diamond industry is the original ‘Make in India’ industry. When exports first began in 1966, polished diamond exports was a US$ 17 million industry, representing about three per cent of the world’s polished diamond market by value. In 2016, polished diamond exports had reached US$ 17 billion and represented 75 per cent of the world market by value,” he informed.
Mehta also said that for growing the market for diamonds and diamond jewellery; ensuring that synthetics were kept strictly segregated from the natural diamond pipeline and transforming the diamond industry into a transparent, compliant and cashless one – a ‘Swacch Diamond Trade’ in line with the ‘Swacch Bharat’ campaign of the Prime Minister of India, has to be carried out.
Interactive panel discussions
With Chaim Evan Zohar, veteran industry analyst, as the chief moderator, the conference proceeded with panel discussions that chaired representatives of mining companies, leading retail chains, diamond manufacturers, banks, prominent delegates from all across the world and global stakeholders of the diamond pipeline. From unprecedented price and supply volatility and prolonged unprofitability in the mid-stream and synthetics making significant in-roads in the market to loss of trust in the industry by banks and the government in some centres, they touched upon various issues.
Day one saw an extensive discussion on diamond mining and the mid-stream of the diamond pipeline with Andrey Polyakov, Vice-President, Alrosa; Paul Rowley, Executive Vice-President of Global Sightholder Sales at De Beers, James Pounds, Executive Vice-President, Diamonds of Dominion Diamond Corporation, Vikram Merchant, Managing Director, Rio Tinto (India) and Rajiv Mehta, Director, Dimexon in the panel.
The discussion raised some pertinent issues and questions, particularly from Rajiv Mehta. “I sometimes wonder, if we are just stone manufacturers for the miners or an industry?” he shared. His contention was that a system was needed, which could ensure the generation of margins and thus, the ability to invest back in the business.
Speaking on the opening day, Paul Rowley, Executive Vice President – Global Sightholder Sales, De Beers, lauded the Indian diamond industry saying “India is the heartbeat of the industry and the heart of the industry is in slightly better shape.” In his presentation ‘Dictating Your Diamond Destiny: Sustaining Success in an Unpredictable World’, Rowley listed down several key factors that are needed to take the diamond industry to the next level. According to him, the industry must focus on having strong relationships; access to information; robust and transparent finances and operational flexibility. He also stressed on the need to improve transparency and efficiency in order to increase consumer confidence in diamonds.
Andrey Polyakov, in his presentation, outlined the challenges before the diamond industry in terms of synthetic diamonds and said that natural diamond has its own special emotional meaning, which cannot be substituted with synthetics. In his opinion, what makes the situation for the natural diamond unique is its emotional value that has been instilled into the minds of the consumers through generic marketing in key consumer markets. He also pointed out the contribution of the diamond industry to the development of the communities living in countries where the diamond industry is functional.
“Synthetics target the socially and environmentally conscious people by creating ‘virtual’ myths,” Polyakov said. He captured the overall consensus that generic diamond promotion and advertising has to be placed at the top of the industry’s agenda to keep the ‘Diamond Dream’ alive.
The day one culminated with presentations by David Bouffard, Vice President, Corporate Affairs Signet Jewelers Ltd and Rohan Shah, legal luminary and specialist in international laws and compliances.
Mid-stream focuses on orderly growth
On second day of the conference, a group of panelists including Ghanshyam Dholakia, Director of Hari Krishna Exports, Stephane Fischler, President, Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), Mavjibhai Patel, Director of Kiran Gems and Sanjay Kothari of KGK Group, highlighted the concerns of the mid-stream players.
Stephane Fischler emphasised on the need to focus on the human element and data-driven strategies for growth. He said that the diamond manufacturing sector must stop relying on low-cost solutions and put real investment into high-quality employees and technology. “Investing in human skills, technology and business solutions would enable better margin for companies. The industry must hire more women, raise its investment in marketing and understand how to become more attractive to banks,” he said.
On the topic of survival in the industry with no growth, Sanjay Kothari, MD, KGK, emphasised on the need to adapt business strategies to the current market regime. He said that times are changing and the diamond industry has to follow in line. “The diamond industry should focus on moving to the next level rather than finding quick fixes for the current set of problems,” he said.
Ghanshyam Dholakia, Founder and MD, Hari Krishna Exports, asserted that diamantaires should focus on securing and stretching their core competencies and not divert funds from a successful diamond business to bolster performance gains in other industries. “Diamonds are our business and we should devote ‘tan, mann and dhan’ to them. We should invest in the employees of our business,” he opined.
Mavjibhai Patel, MD, Kiran Gems, divided the success strategies into four parameters. “Procure only goods that could be manufactured profitably. In the area of manufacturing, the focus should be on achieving high quality rather than merely large quantity by investing in technology and training. Bankers are stakeholders, so should be treated as ‘a part of the family’. Finally, ‘think out of the box’ and discover the opportunities that exist and could be tapped into,” he shared.
The afternoon of the second day of the conference saw an industry panel, including Tom Moses of GIA, Ans Anthonis of HRD and Debbie Azar and Mark Gershburg of GSI, discussing a spectrum of issues and concerns related to the menace of illegal mixing of natural and synthetic diamonds. In their brief presentations, all of them assured that they will work towards protecting the natural diamond pipeline from being polluted with undisclosed mixing of synthetic diamonds.
The broad consensus that emerged at the end of each session and the assurance given by the powers-that-be culminated the event on a hopeful note for the diamond industry.
The conference was powered by partner GIA; Associate Partner – Hari Krishna Exports. Co-partners – Dharmanandan Diamonds; Dimexon; Dominion Diamonds, GSI, H-Dipak, HRD Antwerp, Jasani, Jewelex, KBS, KGK, K.P. Sanghvi, Mahendra Brothers, Rosy Blue and SRK and lanyard partner – BVC.