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From diamonds to sustainability, CIBJO demonstrates leading role in global jewelry trade

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For observers searching for an industry body covering literally every aspect of the jewelry pipeline, an influencer that is able to shape the debates in the trade, the evidence was on display at CIBJO's annual congress in Bangkok in November. CIBJO, or the World Jewelry Confederation, staged comprehensive discussions on everything from the latest developments in gemology, diamonds, colored gemstones and precious metals to ethics, responsible sourcing, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability – and more.

As a seasoned observer of CIBJO's debates, I can attest to the strength of commitment and dedication that its delegates bring to the annual proceedings. In fact, the annual congress is just the tip of the iceberg because much of the work of the various commissions is done between congresses in emails, phone calls, and meetings at industry events which are topped off at the steering committee meetings held over two days before the congress officially gets underway.

This year, the congress saw some 150 official delegates – who represent a wide range of trade bodies stretching across the gemstone and jewelry industry pipeline – and a total of approximately 300 participants from around the world.

Image credit: CIBJO

What was especially noticeable at this year's congress was the strong role CIBJO is playing in the jewelry supply chain as a result of realizing the importance, about a decade ago, and long before other industry figures or bodies, of the importance of ethical behavior, CSR and sustainability, with most of the credit for that going to long-time CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri who has led the World Jewelry Confederation for 10 years and was re-elected unopposed and unanimously for another two-year term.

Responsible sourcing, CSR, ethical business methods and sustainability have become increasingly relevant for all industries in recent years, not just the jewelry trade, and CIBJO can quite rightly claim the credit for having the perception to understand this well before the rest of the trade.

As Cavalieri told guests and delegates, the international body's guidelines have become increasingly important and are playing a leading role in ensuring that workers and consumers are not exploited. In his address to the official opening ceremony, Cavalieri stressed the role of the congress and the mission of the World Jewelry Confederation. "As most of you know, a CIBJO Congress is not a commercial event. There are no gemstones or jewelry on sale. We gather each year to talk about rules and regulations, standards and ethics, and strategies for the years ahead. We do so out of the firmly-held belief that, in order to succeed in business, we have to conduct our affairs in a manner that is beyond reproach, and we need to see over the horizon. The subjects we address make that possible," he said.

Image credit: CIBJO

"We have no illusions. Jewelry and gemstones are luxury products that consumers purchase because they want to, and not because they have to. For us there is no margin of error. If we lose the confidence of our consumers, and in so doing undercut the value of our product, we will not remain in business, let alone prosper," he added.

Meanwhile, World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) President Ernie Blom spoke of the importance of CIBJO to the diamond industry and also the joint strength that is created when the two international bodies cooperate. "Gaetano describes this illustrious organization as the 'United Nations of the jewelry business' because it represents the interests of individuals, organizations and companies everywhere earning their livelihoods from jewelry, gemstones and precious metals. CIBJO is the oldest international confederation of national jewelry trade organizations. Its purpose is to encourage harmonization, promote international cooperation in the jewelry industry and to consider issues which concern the trade worldwide. And foremost among these is to protect consumer confidence in the industry.

"CIBJO carries out a very similar function for jewelry industry members from across the pipeline, boldly setting the agenda for the trade on carbon-free operations and Corporate Social Responsibility, for example, as well as representing the industry at meetings of national and international parliaments, the OECD, the United Nations and other important organizations," Blom added.

The importance to the diamond trade of CIBJO was clearly seen with the ratification by CIBJO's Diamond Commission of changes to its Blue Book – or industry guide – that the International Diamond Council (IDC) had proposed. This, essentially, led the way for IDC's diamond nomenclature terms to be combined with those of CIBJO. Consequently, the CIBJO Diamond Book becomes the definitive guide to nomenclature in the diamond trade across the world.

“The CIBJO Diamond Book may now function as the single official reference book for nomenclature in the entire diamond and jewelry industry, with the goal of enhancing consumer confidence," explained Udi Sheintal, the CIBJO Diamond Commission President.

“The true beneficiaries of this agreement are the diamond consumers, who will now be able to refer to a single set of rules for describing diamonds,” said CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri. “Our Blue Books are living documents, which are reviewed year in and year out on a continuing basis, to ensure that they are current with changing conditions and technological developments. The fact that the CIBJO Diamond Book now endorsed by the WFDB and the IDMA, serves the interest of both the industry and the marketplace.

"This is a major step forward that we have worked towards for a long time. The IDC was created by the WFDB and the IDMA to defend the integrity of the diamond, and the step of creating a single, universally applicable book will combat any confusion in the market about nomenclature,” said WFDB President Ernie Blom.

The IDC was established in 1975 to provide its founders – the WFDB and IDMA – with a set of universally accepted standards of nomenclature for polished diamonds within the international diamond trade.

And in other diamond industry-related subjects, the Diamond Commission agreed to a proposal that Cavalieri begin talks with synthetic diamond manufacturers with the aim of bringing them into the overall jewelry industry forum as a way of protecting the interests of both consumers and the industry generally.

The power to achieve "top-billing" for CIBJO's annual congress was again in evidence this year, with Cavalieri securing an official opening by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand. He was accompanied by Apiradi Tantraporn, Thailand's Minister of Commerce, and Sontirat Sontijirawong, the country's Deputy Minister of Commerce.

General Chan-o-cha stressed his government's support for the Thai gem and jewelry industry, which is the country's third largest export earner. "We need to take care of the people in the value chain to make sure that nobody is left behind, especially the lower income workers, and we also want to ensure transparency and good governance," he stated. "Thailand is committed to improving our products and to becoming a global jewelry hub in the next five years, and I hope we can grow stronger together and enable Thailand to secure this vision."

Given that the congress was being held in one of the world's leading colored gemstone centers, many of the speakers and the sessions focused strongly on this sector, and of the growing urgency to formulate for it a viable responsible sourcing policy, which on the one hand will defend the integrity of the product from the perspective of consumers and outside observers, but at the same recognize the critical role it plays in the lives and communities of artisanal and small-scale miners who produce more than 80 percent of its rough.

On the issue of the integrity of supply chain integrity in the colored gemstone trade, the congress enjoyed a session focused on that very topic moderated by Anne-Marie Fleury, the Standards and Impacts Director at the Responsible Jewelry Council.

Cavalieri said that government involvement is necessary to help verify the veracity of the source of supply, and that element, coupled with self-administered due diligence at the industry level, is likely to provide the most viable alternative available. "I propose that we work towards creating a Kimberley Process-type structure for rough colored gemstones, which will enable the industry to demonstrate the integrity of its chain of distribution through a combination of government monitoring, and self-administered due diligence, he said.

"I am not naïve," Cavalieri said. "I realize the conditions in the diamond industry are vastly different to those in colored gemstones. In diamonds, just a handful of large companies control well over 90 percent of world supply, whereas in colored gemstones some 80 percent of supply comes via literally thousands of small and artisanal miners. But if we, as an industry, take the lead and work on an individual basis with governments that are eager to legitimize their artisanal colored gemstone sectors, then we can grow organically the group of nations working within a KP-type structure. At the same time, we can provide a legal and non-discriminatory path to the market for artisanal colored gemstone miners who otherwise may find themselves locked out."

Meeting on the final day of the of the congress, in addition to electing Cavalieri to another two-year term as CIBJO President, the CIBJO General Assembly also elected, for the first time, three Vice Presidents. They are: Roland Naftule of the United States, Eli Avidar of Israel, and Corrado Facco of Italy, while a new Board of Directors was also elected for a two-year term.

By our Israel correspondent Abraham Dayan