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“The industry is under some pressure, and as we all know, diamonds are formed under great pressure!”, says Dr Martin Leake

09 september 2019

martin_leake_xx.pngA veteran in the field of precious stones, Dr Martin Leake a doctorate geologist had worked for 22 years with BHP Billiton; and also set up a world-class marketing unit for Grib Diamonds in Antwerp.

Later, as an Independent Consultant, Dr Martin Leake was involved in many projects, including developing transparency in Commodity markets, Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Value Chain analysis, Price Discovery, Business Improvement (six sigma black belt), Optimising Processes / Process Discipline, Organisational Change Management and Sales Transformation and so on…

Currently, Dr Martin Leake is the Secretary to the Dubai Diamond Exchange and is Responsible for Precious Stones at the Dubai Multi Commodity Centre (DMCC).

In an interview with Rough&Polished, Dr Martin Leake talks about the much awaited ‘Dubai Diamond Conference, which is coming up later this month; and also expresses his confidence on the global diamond industry becoming stronger very soon.

Some excerpts:

For our readers' sake, can you give more details of the biennial Dubai Diamond Conference (DDC) on Sept 26?

September is going to be an exceptionally busy month for us at DMCC. Between 23 and 25 September, we will be hosting the Presidents’ meetings of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association. The high-level meetings are an opportunity for industry experts to discuss some of the most pressing issues in the industry including regulation and lab-grown diamonds. On 25 September, we will be unveiling our fully refurbished Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE)Auction Facility – the largest purpose-built tender facility for rough and polished precious stones) in the world. On 26 September, we will be hosting our flagship Dubai Diamond Conference, which we host every two years to discuss and debate the diamond industry’s most pressing and impactful issues.

Over the last two decades, the diamond industry has gone through a period of unprecedented change, at all levels of the supply chain. Today, we can safely say that the diamond industry is at a major inflection point, with developments such as the rise of automated manufacturing and the advent of lab-grown diamonds.

The main objective of the conference is to discuss and explore how these disruptive forces could affect the diamond industry as we know it today and what opportunities there are to create positive change in our sector. In short, how do we harness this disruption for positive change in the natural diamond sector.

We recognise that this conference won’t be able to provide all the answers. But if we can at least understand the issues better and open up new avenues of thought and discussion, we will be better placed to build a roadmap for a positive and more promising future.

What will the agenda be and will LGDs figure in a special session as well besides other issues?

The conference will kick off with some keynote speakers who will set the scene and theme of the conference.

The first panel will address the impact of increased automation and technological advancements on the supply chain. In particular, we want to look at how the diamond manufacturing process could evolve. Could it become a less labour intense process? What are the learnings from other sectors, and also from other parts of our supply chain? Technology will be a major focus of this panel, which will importantly explore the implications of these developments.

The second panel will focus on the advent of lab-grown diamonds. Technology now allows gem-quality diamonds to be produced in laboratory conditions, such that they are considered physically equivalent to their mined counterparts. The technologies used to create lab-grown diamonds, namely CVD and HPHT, are continuing to improve and become highly cost-effective at a time when costs of mining are increasing. The key issue to be discussed is how natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds affect the diamond industry overall and interact in the consumer markets.

The final panel will discuss the state of the market – making sense of all these disruptions. We will be soliciting the views of prominent bankers and miners who will help us put these disruptions into context.

We anticipate that all the panel sessions will be highly interactive and there will be plenty of opportunities for the audience to get involved.

As the Presidents’ Meeting on Sept 24-25 is happening ahead of DDC, is there a chance of topics overlapping, and get diluted during the discussion in DDC? Are Presidents’ Meet attendees participating in the DDC as well? How will the program and discussion pan out among members?

We are indeed honoured to host the Presidents Meetings of both the WFDB and IDMA.

Established in 1947, the WFDB currently numbers 29 affiliated bourse members and is the umbrella organisation of all the world’s accredited diamond bourses. The WFDB exists to represent its Bourse members and the international diamond trade, to protect the image and authenticity of diamonds, to safeguard the legal and commercial trading environment of the midstream diamond market and to engage responsibly on behalf of the industry with external stakeholders.

The IDMA is committed to fostering and promoting the highest ideals of honesty and best practice principles throughout the diamond industry worldwide, as well as full compliance with all relevant national and international laws.IDMA argues for an effective informational and educational campaign throughout the supply pipeline, from miner to consumer, to assure that there will be a clear differentiation between diamonds and their synthetic, gem-quality counterparts.

We are working closely with these organisations to ensure the joint opening sessions are complementary to the DDC.

While DDC’s focus on ‘Disruptions in Diamonds’ is very apt for the current situation, what are the main topics that would be discussed? Is there a plan to strategize during the conference and reach some ways to control the ‘disruptions’ on the tracks? Please explain.

The conference agenda has been carefully designed to address the most pressing issues affecting the diamond industry today. To put everything in context, we will be starting with a market review before going on to discuss the two mains sources of disruption - technology and automation, and lab-grown diamonds. The final panel will attempt to make sense of it all by focusing on bank finance and explore ways to bring forward response strategies that would improve the chances of prosperity and success.

In my opinion, the purpose of this conference is not to provide all the answers but rather ask and debate the key questions that will lead us to find solutions together.

Which among these… the fast-growing lab-grown diamond sector; consumers demand from the supply chain; financing; excess inventory or any other issues… do you think is the most pressing issues to be tackled immediately, for the growth of the natural diamond industry?

I think we have to take a step back and look at each development and its potential implications on the entire supply chain. A lot is happening in the industry at the moment including high inventory levels, volatile market prices, extra compliance requirements, and challenges around traditional bank financing. The diamond supply chain is a highly complex one and that is why we are bringing the world’s experts to discuss and debate each of these issues at the Dubai Diamond Conference.

I remain optimistic and I think the industry and supply chain will look very different in 5 years. The industry is under some pressure – and as we all know, diamonds are formed under great pressure!

Today, Dubai is the world’s fastest-growing diamond trading centre. What steps are being taken in terms of expansion, ease of doing business, tax structure etc to make it the No 1 trading hub in the world? Will DDC spell out new schemes for overseas entrepreneurs to set up shop in Dubai?

The UAE and Dubai sit at a strategic geographic crossroads, connecting East and West, North and South, providing a natural bridge between producers, manufacturers and consumers.

Besides, the UAE has an attractive business ecosystem, ranking 11th in the World Bank’s 2019 ease of doing the business report. The country has also emerged as the number one commodity trading hub ahead of other notable countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. (*according to the Commodity Trading Index, launched in 2018 as part of the Future of Trade Report). In 2016, the UAE was selected as the first and only Arab country to chair the Kimberley Process (KP), a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to regulate and maintain the flow of conflict diamonds. As a result, Dubai today is known as the world’s fastest-growing diamond trading centre and the gateway to one of the fastest-growing consumer markets for luxury goods.

Infrastructure and regulations have also played a significant role in attracting new businesses to operate and set up in Dubai. We have built state-of-the-art infrastructure, developed unique products and services, as well as enacted flexible regulations to attract businesses to set up and trade through Dubai.

Given the momentum diamond tenders have gained over the last few years, our current focus is further increasing the number of auctions moving forward. As such, we are continuously investing in our infrastructure to make sure we offer sellers the best-in-class facilities and tools to allow them to make the most out of their tender/auction. Ahead of our much-anticipated Dubai Diamond Conference, we will be unveiling a new state-of-the-art DDE Auction Facility, which will enable producers of Precious Stones to exhibit their goods to a wide range of customers. We are also creating an updated model for the coloured gemstone trade industry to enable them to trade through the DDE. In this way, we are making sure that Almas Tower continues to be at the centre of the Dubai diamond industry.

As a veteran in all matters related to Diamond mining, what is your opinion on Lucara Diamonds, Karowe Mines in Botswana and recently AGD Diamonds JSC issuing ‘Sustainability Reports’ for the public, which increases the transparency of the companies’ working methods? Should all mining companies, big or medium or small, follow this trend for the diamond industry’s successful future? Your take.

As part of our commitment to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), we published our second DMCC Sustainability report in May 2019, outlining our progress towards our long-term sustainability strategy. In 2018, DMCC became the first free zone in the UAE to sign the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. Moreover, DMCC established its SDGs Steering Committee – with representation from across the entire organisation – to direct the free zone’s strategy and ensure sustainability is embedded across its supply chain. As you can tell, DMCC is a strong advocate for sustainability, whether for mining companies, or other key stakeholders across the supply chain.

We believe the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) to be a great example of how we can ensure that the diamond trade industry operates under the utmost scrutiny – responsibly and sustainably. The association was created by the main global diamond producers to ensure diamond-related companies

keep their employees safe, partner with their communities, and protect the environment in which they operate.

Today, over10 million people depend on the diamond industry for their livelihood. It is therefore very important for mining companies to show the benefits that their activities have on the communities in which they operate.

Origin of their diamonds, effects of production methods on the environment, conflict diamonds etc has made a strong mark in the minds of end consumers in recent times. However, there has been no progress to amplify the definition of ‘conflict diamonds’ till now. KP Chairs and associates have done their bit to formalize the artisanal mining sector as well but are not enough. After the recent KP Int. in Mumbai, do you anticipate any positive results soon? Your comments?

At DMCC, we are continuously working towards ensuring the diamond industry operates with utmost safety, integrity and transparency. As such, we play our part by supporting and engaging with initiatives that support our vision for the industry, such as the Dubai Diamond Initiative (DDI).In July, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DMCC Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer – who is also the former chair of the KP – visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see first-hand the positive impact of DDI’s work in the country.

The DDI helps organise registered artisanal miners into associations and supports them to become democratic and financially autonomous organisations. The initiative also works to improve the safety standards at artisanal mines and help educate the women and children of the miners.

The global diamond industry has survived many a bad phase in the past and returned to a robust and healthy sector. But this time, there seem to be too many ‘disruptions’ to tackle. From what you have witnessed in the past, do you see a repeat this time? Or is it too demanding an effort that might not work? Your predictions?

I am personally optimistic about the future of the diamond industry. Diamonds are rare and a miracle of nature – formed deep in the earth’s mantle and bought to the surface by volcanic eruptions in only a few locations which makes them very rare. As a geologist, I can tell you how difficult it is to find new diamond mines.

Diamonds are very much considered a luxury item. As the global GDP goes up, so does the disposable income of millions of people who want to join the diamond dream. Even though lab-grown diamonds are on the rise, I view them as a short-term phenomenon dedicated to a niche target market.

As I’ve mentioned before, the industry is truly under some pressure – and as we all know – diamonds are formed under great pressure. Therefore, I do not doubt that the future of the industry will be just as polished as my favourite precious stone!

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough & Polished