Delve below the surface of the global diamond industry and you will find not only a fascinating mosaic of culturally diverse communities, but an extraordinary story of how these communities have constantly cooperated using their own socially cohesive community networks to support the functioning and development of the industry to today’s globe-girdling enterprise, contributing both to the betterment of their own communities and national economies.
When I was a young and active diamond broker I had the privilege to work closely with two such communities, both of which initially made a vital contribution to the manufacturing side of the industry. Although the two communities are from different continents, they share one thing in common, they are both from farming backgrounds, and initially provided the labour and skills which enabled first the Belgian and later, the Indian industry, to develop into global diamond hubs.
In Belgium, highly skilled Flemish cutters and polishers in the farming region outside Antwerp known as the Kempen, set up as cottage-industry-style contractors working with the predominantly Jewish diamond traders of Antwerp, in time many emerged either as manufacturers exporters in their own right or in partnership with the Antwerp based dealers and Sightholders.
Similarly the extraordinary rise of today's Indian industry is the result of the close collaboration between two communities in particular, the Palanpuri Jains the" founding fathers" of the modern Indian industry, and the Kathiawaris, originally from the Saurashtra farming region of Gujarat State, who back in the 1960s and ‘70s, established small-scale contractors with close links to the rural farming communities that they themselves came from, providing employment and social development extending into rural communities which were previously so dependent on agriculture, that a poor monsoon had ruinous consequences on them.
The entrepreneurial mindset and interaction between these communities generated exponential growth in employment and progress at both a local and national level. It is a story of how constant cooperation innovation and enterprise brought opportunity and prosperity to economically deprived regions.
In 2006, eminent Cambridge professor Kaivan Munshi published a major thesis entitled From Farming to Transnational Business: The Social Auspices of Entrepreneurship in a Developing Economy. This academic study focussed on the how the Kathiawari community was transforming and regenerating the Indian industry.
Other academic studies of the industry in New York, for example, have demonstrated how the bonds of community have always been the underlying strength and sustenance of the diamond industry’s success.
Last week, JCK’s News Director, Rob Bates, a seasoned gem and jewellery industry writer with in-depth knowledge about the diamond industry, wrote a brilliant open letter to film star Leonardo Di Caprio, brand ambassador and investor in the "Diamond Foundry”, a lab-grown diamond start up which has the financial backing of number of significantly wealthy Silicon Valley investors.
The ensuing debate showed that while the trade has no problem competing with lab created diamonds as long as they are a clearly declared and differentiated product category, it really takes issue with the way it's promoters’ sole USP seems to be the constant propagation of a defamatory narrative about an industry which, according to the Word Diamond Council, employs some 10 million people worldwide. An industry which has economically empowered not just communities, but countries too (lifting Botswana from poverty); one whose representative trade bodies have consistently faced up to its moral responsibilities in adapting and responding to challenging circumstances.
Maarten De Witte of the Diamond Foundry replied to Robs letter with a predictable list of unsubstantiated anti-industry rhetoric; adding a new claim that it "uses big factories, big machinery, and minimal employment.” Is it the Indian industry he is referring to, with its one-million-strong workforce, or something else? It appears that Mr. De Witte is scrupulously careful not to reference his assertion with established facts, knowing that when all else fails, incorrect claims or defamatory remarks can ultimately be challenged in a court of law.