We Should Strive to be Realistic Optimists

Ali Pastorini

‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.’ ― John F. Kennedy

2015 was a challenging year for the diamond and jewelry industries. Most would agree. Indeed a great many commentators predicted that the business would be forever changed, and some of its participants would not survive.

Whether one regards the situation as apocalyptic depends upon your perception of history. I do not, and rather consider this latest period as a moment in an ongoing evolution, which offers opportunity as well as risk. Economies are inevitably cyclical, and vulnerabilities exist in any business segment. Obviously some are stronger than others, but I don’t believe there is a perfect formula for avoiding crisis, because we cannot control all the various factors. What do exist are formulae to combat crises, and, more importantly, to adapt to new realities.

In fact, 2015 provided our industry with a reality check, for it was a year during which we learned that we cannot disregard the basic principles of supply and demand, and to do so inevitably creates imbalances in the pipeline that sooner or later need to be rectified. The so-called pessimists who had warned about an impending slowdown were shown to be realists, and their common-sense approach offered solutions for dealing with the current situation. One of the lessons I hope was learned is that we would have been better prepared if we all had communicated better, rather than acting independently out of what some may have believed was individual interest.

To take advantage of the opportunities that do exist it is imperative to embrace change, and dialogue is one of the best ways to recognize and appreciate how the situation is evolving.

The World Jewelry Hub and its place in the regional gemstone and jewelry sector is a case in point. From the outset, it was planned as a project to facilitate business between Latin America and the world, but this was not fully appreciated initially in Latin America itself. Despite the obvious advantages offered by the new trading center in Panama, we met resistance, which we learned stemmed both from a lack of information and an intrinsic reluctance to institute change.

That resistance was broken down through personal communication, during the road shows we organized during 2015 to various Latin American markets, through conversations and interviews conducted with the media, and most recently though personal visits with jewelers. We managed to convince our counterparts that change can be positive, and the best way to succeed is to work together. My past as an athlete helped me understand that through committed team-work a great deal can be accomplished.

I am confident that the seeds that we planted through communication in 2015 will grow strong, and that 2016 will be remembered as a year in which we succeeded by working together.

Many fellow Brazilians have contacted me in recent weeks, congratulating our team in Panama for the establishment of the World Jewelry Hub, which they now agree will serve as a platform upon which to expand their business in a safe and transparent environment. This is a greatly different to the environment that many in the trade have known in Brazil.

It has been a long process and I know that we can’t change the opinions of everybody overnight, but this marked change in attitude is indicative of what we already have managed to achieve through communication.

Most importantly, the World Jewelry Hub provides members of the Latin American gemstone and jewelry trade with a variety of alternatives and economies of scale, as well as a wealth of market insights, which enables then to adapt to the evolving business climate. As the owner of a jewelry brand, I know that there is a customer for every piece that I produce, as long as I am able to provide what the consumer requires. This means that I must appreciate what they prefer in terms of design, and what they are prepared to consider when it comes to price.

A trading center like the World Jewelry Hub instinctively appreciates that one size does not fit all. In a complex market there are a range of opportunities, even when times are tough. Today, luxury jewelry is not only bought to be worn, but also as an investment and means to preserve wealth.

The World Jewelry Hub is also fundamentally Latin America, and it understands the nuances of the regional market. It appreciates that, for the foreseeable future at least, Latino customers will continue to prefer 18K gold jewelry, because it is more affordable.

The American journalist Thomas Friedman once wrote that, while pessimists are frequently correct and optimists are frequently wrong, great changes are usually accomplished by optimists. I believe that we should strive to be realistic optimists.

The slowing of the Indian and Chinese markets in 2015 caused a good deal of concern, but we should keep in mind that the fundamentals of the market in those countries remain sound. They will survive and prosper, quite possibly during 2016, and will be joined by other developing markets, like those in Latin America.

As industry leaders our responsibility is to engender confidence among our constituents, and to provide them with the tools and environment in which their businesses can prosper. We can do that in 2016 if we remain strong, smart and united.

(The author is Vice President, World Jewelry Hub and Senior Vice President, Panama Diamond Exchange).