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Nikki Oppenheimer farewell speech at the WDC gala dinner

17 may 2012

At the gala dinner of the eight World Diamond Council meeting, a first industry leader, the chairman of De Beers Nicky Oppenheimer was awarded for significant contribution to the diamond industry.

WDC President Eli Izhakoff presenting a silver plate with inscription which recognized the De Beers chairman for his many years of dedicated support for the World Diamond Council and the Kimberley Process.

In turn, Oppenheimer presented historic speech, the majestic silence come to the hall from the start of his speech. Everyone was waiting from the diamond “king” some special words, to listen such a great person for each one was a great pleasure.

Mr. Oppenheimer, who was accompanied by his son Jonathan and other senior De Beers officials, said that the World Diamond Council dinner would be the last industry event that he would address before his retirement from De Beers, a company whose history has been intertwined with that of family’s for four generations.

“Over this time the industry and De Beers have been subject to extraordinary changes. Change, of course, brings new challenges and this has been particularly true over the last decade during which:

- We have seen the emergence of new axes of production and consumption as the economies of China and India have assumed the mantle of driving global economic growth.

- And we have seen our business having coming to terms with the fact that diamond consumers have become ever more knowledgeable and ever more demanding.

I am proud to be part of an industry that has so successfully met the challenges of the past decade and has moved with the times to protect the good name and provenance of our product. But new challenges are round every corner and we need to be quick on our feet, as never before. The WDC will have a key role to play in that future. Over the last ten years the diamond industry has remained on the right side of history and that is something that must continue.

Since it was founded a little over a decade ago the WDC has played an on-going and important role in assisting our industry to respond to some of the serious challenges we have faced.  

Conceived through the vision of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association in response to the challenge of conflict diamonds, the WDC was established through collaboration across the industry, from mining through to retail. 

Its initial success in binding the many different elements of our industry together in common cause was a significant achievement in and of itself.  Since then, its successes have been many and lasting. As a result the World Diamond Council is today an internationally recognised and respected organisation that has served the diamond industry well in engagements with governments and civil society.

I would like to pay particular tribute to Eli Izhakoff whose vision and leadership helped ensure that, soon after it was established, the WDC was swift and effective in positioning the diamond industry as a key part of the solution in our collective fight against the scourge of conflict diamonds.  In addition, I know that there are many members of the WDC Board who have played a key role in ensuring the WDC’s success and they too deserve our praise and respect. 

But today, the diamond industry faces new and different reputational challenges.  The rise of the digital age means that potential crises can develop more swiftly with more damaging consequences for than was the case a few years ago. Consumers, rightly, are better informed and more demanding than was the case a decade ago, civil society is better organised and more influential and Governments are increasingly more willing to regulate business by statute to ensure that high standards are maintained.

I am sure everyone in this room would agree that the last two years have been particularly challenging. The questions raised by the debate concerning Zimbabwe’s participation in the Kimberley Process have shown not only how much the world has changed but also how important it is for institutions like the Kimberley Process to evolve so that they remain relevant and effective. The Kimberley Process was created to prevent diamonds fuelling large scale conflicts and it was successful in doing so. Thankfully conflicts of that sort, particularly among the diamond producing countries of Africa, have declined but the challenge of today and tomorrow is to assure people who buy diamonds that they have been produced in an ethical manner and that the benefits flowing from diamonds are sustainably utilised. We must never forget that our industry is based on people being prepared to invest large sums of money in the ultimate gift, a gift that has as much emotional value as beauty. As ever more people round the world take the decision to buy a diamond they need the assurance that their investment is ethically based. The Kimberley Process needs to find a way to evolve to be able to give this assurance.

I am pleased to see the current Chair of the Kimberly Process, Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, in her short tenure in the role she has already made considerable progress in facilitating the development and delivery of a credible reform agenda for the KP.

I am also delighted that South Africa has retained its leadership role in the KP over the last decade and would like to pay tribute to Minister Susan Shabangu who has played such a pivotal role in guiding the Kimberley Process through difficult waters over the last two years. Recently she has demonstrated great statesmanship in working with the United States to champion and implement much needed reforms and it is only fitting that South Africa should Chair the KP next year, when we celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Like the KP, the WDC will also need to evolve to ensure that it can continue to represent the diamond industry effectively in its engagements with governments and other stakeholders. The industry is growing in its global reach and new consumer markets, emerging trading and polishing centres and new producers must have an equal voice in the future direction of our industry as they stand alongside more established markets and producers. There is no doubt in my mind that the World Diamond Council’s success over the next few years will be measured in part by how effective it is in building bridges of understanding across the diamond pipeline to the benefit of both producers and markets.

Only a diamond is forever. Be that as it may, I am confident that WDC and our industry as a whole take the steps necessary to ensure that it can continue to promote the enormous good we are capable of achieving and to defend the integrity and of our unique and beautiful product. Doing so simply requires that we remind ourselves once in a while that the value of diamonds stems not just from their rarity, brilliance and beauty but from their ability to absorb, amplify and reflect the emotional and symbolic qualities that we vest in them at each stage in their journey from the mine to the finger.”

The dinner, which was hosted by the Fiera di Vicenza, was held in the Ca' Marcello House, one of the doge of Venice, an ancient castle of the 16th century, countryside villa set in the Veneto countryside.

On the photo above: Nikki Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers; Dr. Gaetano Cavalieri, CIBJO President; Ms. Susan Shabangu, Minister of Mineral Resources of the Republic of South Africa; Gillian Milovanovic, Chair of the Kimberley Process; and Eli Izhakoff, President of the World Diamond Council.

Veronica Novoselova, Rough&Polished correspondent in Italy