Gaetano Cavalieri Makes Three Predictions About The Post-Covid World

What will the future look like once the severity of the pandemic abates? Dr. Gaetano Cavalieri,President, CIBJO, outlines some important changes that the industry could see in the near future. In an exclusive email  interview with Solitaire International, he speaks from the heart about the industry’s ability to come together to manage the worst period of this global crisis.

One of the gem and jewellery industry’s most well-known and respected personalities, Dr. Gaetano Cavalieri, has been the President of The World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO), for the past 20 years. CIBJO is the industry’s oldest international organisation in the jewellery sector, having originally been established in 1926.

Dr. Cavalieri was responsible in July 2006 for the organisation receiving “Special Consultative Status” with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), making it the first and only jewellery and gemstone representative to be officially recognised by the international body. Together with the United Nations, he established the World Jewellery Confederation Education Foundation (WJCEF), which is responsible for promoting Corporate Social Responsibility education in the international jewellery and gemstone industries.

Here’s what one of the most important voices in the global trade has to say:

Will Covid-19 permanently change any aspect of the global gem and jewellery industry, from mine to retail?

I think that a crisis of this magnitude, which has enveloped the entire world and has impacted hundreds of millions of people, cannot but have an indelible effect on all aspects of our lives, including those of us in the gem and jewellery industry. It is an inflection point in the human experience – a period in which we can be relatively certain that life after will not be quite the same as life before.

It’s still very difficult at this stage to predict exactly what changes will come about, particularly when the immediate threat of Covid-19 is still being dealt with, especially in India, which has suffered greatly in the past few weeks, just as Italy did at the start of the crisis. Under these conditions daily business can be brought to a near standstill, but that is temporary, and the recovery afterwards has shown itself to be pretty rapid.

I would point to three changes that will almost certainly take place, and each one of them requires work on our part.

First, Covid has caused many to re-evaluate what really is important in life, and this well could indicate that the period of ostentatious consumption – in other words spending simply to show that you can – may be behind us. Consumers will want to ensure that the money they spend reinforces their own set of priorities, and that in this respect, with a product that is symbolic of love and personal commitment, we are actually well positioned to benefit. But that will happen on condition that, when marketing our jewellery, we have a clear understanding of what the consumer believes is important.

Two, Covid forced all of us to develop the means to conduct business long distance, and what we have discovered is that, as we have become more familiar with the technological tools that are available, we actually are working more efficiently than we were before. The digital revolution, which before Covid some had embraced, and others ignored, is now fully upon us. Supply chains need to be digitally managed, marketing campaigns digitally conducted and coordinated, and sales and payment systems need to be digitized. If you are not able to do this, you will find it difficult to remain in the game.

Three, while world encompassing, Covid exposed the very substantial gaps that exist between the haves and the have nots in our societies. In many respects, as responsible members of the business community, we will be judged by how we react to support those less fortunate than ourselves. This is particularly critical in a business sector that handles luxury and non-essential products, such as jewellery.

What are CIBJO’s top priorities in the near future? Your outlook for the rest of the year?

Over the past year, we have concentrated largely on supporting the industry in its management of the Covid crisis and its economic fallout, and this will continue in the weeks and months ahead. 

At the same time, we are preparing for a return to normal – or possibly what will be referred to as the new normal – and this has accelerated somewhat with the vaccination drive having real effects in some countries, and people begin to travel once again. Our annual congress, which was cancelled last year because of the crisis, is on schedule thus far to be held this year in November in Dubai, which is where it was to have taken place in 2020.

But it’s important to note that we did not suspend our regular activities at any point in the crisis, and in fact the past year has been very productive.

In addition to launching the Jewellery Industry Voices webinar series, which to date has conducted 26 online webinars and 2 live hybrid webinar/seminars, viewed by more than 10,000 industry members, we played an instrumental role in the International Standards Organisation releasing ISO Standard 24016, the first internationally recognised diamond-grading standard last September; we completed the review process of the first-ever Laboratory-Grown Diamond Guidance document; we released a 62-page illustrated Guide for Classifying Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls; we established an across-industry committee that is developing agreed-to nomenclature related to responsible supply chain management; we launched an informational website providing  guidelines for describing diamonds found in nature and diamond crystals created in a factory; and we are creating an academy that will train and certify sustainability officers for the jewellery industry.

I think that’s pretty good for a year in which we could not travel and had to communicate largely through teleconferences. As I said, we need to embrace our new digital world, because that is what our future will look like.

How does CIBJO ensure compliance with its Blue Books / terminology guidelines at the retail store level?

CIBJO is not a police body and the standards that we develop are voluntarily applied. Nonetheless, they have been adopted by numerous countries and written into law, and also are used in defining reference documents in courts of law around the world, including in the European Union.

Furthermore, elements of the CIBJO Blue Books have been adopted by the International Standards Organisation, meaning that laboratories can be certified against them, and the CIBJO Diamond Blue Book is today fully aligned with the International Diamond Council, meaning that they are applied in IDC labs.

Your home country Italy was among the nations worst affected by Covid-19. How are the Italian manufacturing centres like Vicenza and Arezzo coping with the crisis? Any estimate on when Italian exports will likely recover to pre-Covid levels?

We, who lived through the crisis in the north of Italy in March and April of last year are acutely aware of what you are experiencing in India. The lockdowns, the heroic efforts of medical teams to cope under extremely difficult conditions, the concern for loved ones, and the efforts to keep on working and being productive were all part of our lives, as they are for you. It wasn’t easy, but you can be comforted by the fact that eventually it does get better, and our ability to cope is greater than any of us may have imagined.

I think the knowledge that we are all in this together, and that the ability of each one of us to get through the crisis depends on we all being able to do it together is what kept the Italian production centres intact. Obviously, government support in terms of paying furloughed staff, and the support of the banks, the tax authorities, the manufacturing and trade associations were all critical elements here, as they were in other countries. We always knew that, if we could keep things together on a low burner and just be patient, we would be able to bounce back quite quickly when business returned. 

Given the spectacular recovery of the Chinese market and the relative robust recovery of the US economy, I am quite hopeful that exports will get back to pre-Covid levels quite quickly.

Has the pandemic altered life for you personally?

You have to understand that prior to the start of the Covid crisis I rarely spent more than three days in one place at a time, and most of the travel involved moving between countries. However, since the end of February 2020, when I was in Dubai planning what we thought would be the 2020 CIBJO Congress in Dubai, I have not used my passport even once. In fact, save for a brief trip to my home Sicily, I have not even stepped on an airplane. This is the longest stretch that I have been at home since before the age of 16.

At the same time, I have continued to work seven days a week. I also have spent hours with my family, including two young grandchildren, whose life I am now part of on a daily basis. I am eating better, exercising more and I am more relaxed. So, the period of the pandemic, while terrible in many respects, has had its silver linings.

Would you consider any efforts of the worldwide gem and jewellery industry to be ‘exemplary’ during this humanitarian crisis?

How do you define “exemplary?” I don’t think we need to be patting ourselves on the shoulder, but rather asking “what else can we do?” In my opinion, the contribution that we and our products make to society should be an integral part of jewellery and gemstones’ value proposition, and that certainly is the case during a humanitarian crisis such as this.

Mining, gemstone and jewellery companies have stepped up in a variety of ways – helping acquire critically needed medical equipment in the regions in which they are active, changing production lines to manufacture masks and disinfectant gel, supporting workers and families despite the fact that many were at home, and the list goes on.

Right now in India, both GJEPC and the Bharat Diamond Bourse, with the support of industry associations from around the world, are raising funds to assist hospitals and support the families of diamond workers in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Are we doing the right thing? Absolutely. Could we do more? We can always do more. Superlatives like “exemplary” are not necessary right now.

Let me quote Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your actions. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Any other message for the Indian gem and jewellery industry?

Remain strong. Your best days are still ahead of you. From my knowledge of India, the Indian people and the Indian spirit, I know that you have the ability to remain rock steady. The trajectory that your country and industry were travelling on has essentially remained unchanged. Your skill, knowledge of the product, innate marketing and sales skills and your ability to adapt to new conditions will see you through. I have no doubt about that.

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