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Rolls-Royce Axles Never Break, But Diamonds Need Strong Medicine

There are a number of variations of the apocryphal Rolls-Royce story. The owner of a Rolls broke an axle while driving in the African desert. He cabled Rolls-Royce and in a very short while, a repair team flew in with a replacement axle. When he hadn’t received a bill for the repair after six months, the man enquired with the company. He was told, “There must be some mistake sir, Rolls-Royce axles never break!”

In official Rolls-Royce parlance, their cars never break down, “they fail to proceed”. And there is a kernel of truth in the story above. In 1932, the great writer Rudyard Kipling's Rolls-Royce Phantom “failed to proceed”. As he was in the south of France, he telephoned the Paris distributor.

By noon the next day, Kipling had not seen anyone paying attention to his car, so he asked the hotel manager to remonstrate most strongly with the Parisian service manager. "But Monsieur", replied the hotelier, "the gentlemen from Rolls-Royce came last night and it was only a minor matter." Further questioning revealed that the mechanics had traveled through the night and had completed the repairs before dawn. They left unannounced, as they did not wish to disturb the great writer's sleep.

This sort of dedication to the customer was also backed up by the legendary quality of the product. More than six out of ten of all Rolls-Royce cars ever built are still roadworthy.

All of this underscores our reaction to the very mention of the name Rolls-Royce. Apart from the superlatives about quality, style and comfort, the one thing that always springs to mind is that Rolls-Royce stands so solidly behind the quality assurance that it gives its customers that it is willing to ensure it even when the customer doesn’t think it is reasonable to expect it of them.

Long before they’ve even sold a single car, Rolls-Royce have won a major battle for the consumer’s mind-space.

There are a number of other companies, particularly those making technology products that are currently the rage with consumers and command a major chunk of discretionary dollars, that have also successfully done battle for recognition in the consumer’s mind. Remember the lines of people who actually camped for days outside Apple stores before the launch of a new phone or tablet?

The gem and jewellery industry has not made any impact in the mental battle. It has to. Long before we can convince consumers that jewellery is a product category worth aspiring to, we need the consumer to mentally instantly make the connection with not only high quality but also the highest ethical standards. This is what also what will trigger instant approval when the word “jewellery” is mentioned.

But when diamond dealers engage hackers to breach the secure report database of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to fraudulently upgrade the reports of some diamonds they have submitted, the consumer’s mental image will instantly be quite the opposite.

One senior diamantaire whom I’ve known for decades told me sadly, “The ethical standards in the diamond industry in general are not what they were when you and I first met.” Sadly too, I have to agree with him. He and I were heartened by the news that the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and the Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB) had instituted a joint probe into the hack and report alteration incident. The probe team has senior members from both bodies on it. My diamantaire friend told me, “Nine out of ten people in the diamond industry will tell you off the record that they want really strong action taken against those responsible for this. These people have seriously damaged our collective reputation.”

He’s right. To win back consumer approval, the industry has to clearly signal that this behaviour is an aberration and not tolerated at all in the gem and jewellery fraternity. It has to take really strong action against those found guilty of the hack and fraudulent upgrade.

This means it isn’t enough to simply have law enforcement agencies book a couple of former employees of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the technology company the GIA uses among other things to maintain its secure database. It isn’t enough either to have them book some mid-level managers working with the companies whose diamond reports were altered by the hackers, for actually submitting the diamonds.

The world’s diamond industry has to also hold the ownership of these companies to account and take strong action against them. Diamonds have to be seen as coming from a demonstrably ethical community if we’re to have any chance of winning the consumer mind-space battle.

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