I write to you from the comfort of my home in Antwerp, which would seem an unremarkable fact were it not the last place I would ordinarily expect myself to be in the middle of a workday during the final week of March. Uncharacteristically, for quite a number of days, we have been fortunate to enjoy a beautiful blue sky outside. The bright light streaming in is most welcome during these trying times. Most of you who are reading this are also at home and are most likely doing so with a similar sense of suspended disbelief. In an astonishingly short space of time, life as we knew it has been turned upside down. While COVID-19 unites us in terms of common experience, physically it is keeping us apart. Social distancing is a practice that once would have been considered abhorrent in an industry as sociable as ours.
Every evening at 8:00 PM sharp most of us living on our street, like many others in Belgium, thank all the health workers for their amazing commitment and sacrifices. Neighbors applaud, meet, talk and sometimes sing together. I had the immense joy of having them wishing me a happy birthday from their windows and balconies. It was unique and so very a special experience.
These are very strange but also anxious times, for we feel that the most basic foundations of our existence are being eroded. Naturally, our first concern is for our own health and that of our families, but also of friends, fellow workers, colleagues and members of our larger community. I have done my best to maintain close contact with all of them, even those living on all other continents, sharing ideas and stories.
We fear also for our financial stability, which has been shaken by the sudden and almost absolute economic shutdown. And the general sense of trepidation is exacerbated by the fact that we are all treading in uncharted territory, where even the experts admit that their understanding of what is likely to happen is tentative at best.
But there are elements from which we can take comfort. Even though we are physically cut off from each other, we remain connected, as no other society has ever managed to be in the history of humankind. Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp and a host of other applications are enabling us to communicate in real-time, keep up to date with one another, and also to collaborate in finding solutions to what will be a formidable environment when we get to the other side.
For when this crisis is behind us – and that day is drawing closer – many of the challenges that brought us together in the first place will still be there, but they may be amplified and changed by the pervasive and universal effects of the pandemic.
As we remain confined to our homes, we should be more acutely aware of the value of time. Indeed, the situation in which we have found ourselves has provided plenty of that commodity to contemplate, to share and to learn. So, there is no reason that we should not think ahead, nor waste this opportunity to enrich our knowledge of the world in which we operate, and to examine what we can do to improve it.
We could begin by understanding more about the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the diamond and jewelry industry, and certain WDC members are already developing an impressive number of online tools in this regard. I would recommend you take a look at what has been made available by the Jewelers’ Vigilance Committee (JVC) [https://jvclegal.org/covid19/], Jewelers of America (JA) [https://www.jewelers.org/ja/events-news/press-room/1044-jewelers-of-america-initiates-intensive-webinar-series], and the Diamond Producers’ Association (DPA) [https://diamondproducers.com/trade-access/], I expect that many other resources will become available, and we will be happy to communicate their existence when we become aware of them.
It’s also worth noting that some among us had already developed tools that allow them to continue doing business remotely, and undoubtedly that number will rise as the crisis continues. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all invention.
The WDC, too, has not shut up shop. Long used to working together from great distances, our officers and committees have kept up the pace of work, well aware that what we do remains critically important, and will possibly even more so in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
In the meantime, we are eager to hear from you, to learn how others are coping, and to develop mechanisms by which we can work together for our industry, and for those who are dependent upon us. We are an organization that was established to deny diamond proceeds to be hijacked to finance conflict, and through global collaboration, we have worked diligently to do so for almost 20 years. I know that we have inner resources to do it again, this time as well.
Wishing you strength, endurance, and good health.