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World Federation Of Diamond Bourses

Interview with Dave Bonaparte, President and CEO of Jewelers of America (JA)

Dave Bonaparte

Q. What are your current titles/functions in the diamond and jewelry industry?

I am the President and CEO of Jewelers of America (JA). Jewelers of America is a non-profit organization that provides its members with resources, representation and the recognition needed to be profitable in the evolving marketplace. I joined the association in 2012. I am also on the Board of Directors of Diamonds Do Good, The United States Jewelry Council and the World Diamond Council.

Q. Tell us about your journey in this industry, how you began and where you are now.

In 1997 Reed Exhibitions acquired a large trade show portfolio that included the JCK Las Vegas show and JCK Orlando. I was responsible for the JCK global brand that eventually included JCK Magazine. Before I joined JA, I was the SVP of the JCK portfolio. Over those 15 plus years I became indoctrinated into the jewelry industry and because JCK was such a broad portfolio, it gave me a well-rounded view of important industry issues. More importantly, I established many of the professional and personal relationships that I still have today.

Q. The US is the largest market for diamonds and diamond jewelry. What is the current situation in this industry in the US?

Diamonds and diamond jewelry represent over half of total jewelry sales in the U.S. The industry recorded the best year ever in sales in 2021 – topping over $112 billion. This was a significant increase over 2020 and largely due to the easing of COVID 19 restrictions. 2022 leveled off a bit but was successful for most of the industry considering the banner year in 2021. The industry is experiencing some easing as current sales are down year-over-year with March, April and May sales down. We expect sales to continue to be flat through the summer as this period is typically quiet.

Q. Looking forward, how do you think that the local industry will do during the second half of the year? In 2024?

We anticipate the second half starting a little slow but finishing strong through the holiday selling season. The industry recently came off a strong Las Vegas Jewelry Week with lots of buying and optimism. We hope this converts to retail sales! The industry seems to be cautiously optimistic.

Q. You represent independent jewelers. How are they faring now? Have they been harmed greatly by online shopping?

Jewelers of America membership is largely made up of independent retailers, as well as major retailers and multistore independents. We also have a strong representation of brands, suppliers, manufacturers, and dealers as well as leading watch brands. Online jewelry sales continue to increase across all categories. This has been a steady trend since we started to track online sales. In 2022, online sales increased 10.5%. This has created the need for all retail jewelers, small and large to become ecommerce enabled. Those who have been able to adapt have grown with the change. Ecommerce has become an important part of the overall sales strategy. Our independent jewelers have been able to provide their clients with a blend of online convenience and in-person client experiences.

Q. Lab Grown vs Natural diamonds. LGD’s have grown exponentially but the prices are constantly coming down. What do you see as the future for each category?

The trend has been that natural prices have been falling because demand is down. The same is true for lab grown because production has increased exponentially, and consumers are increasingly looking for larger stones at lower prices. This trend for lab grown will continue as prices will continue to drop. 2021 lab grown diamonds’ share of diamond sales was 5% growing to 7% in the first quarter of 2022. Lab grown prices will find a bottom as this market levels out. I don’t think there will be a large negative effect on natural sales as natural diamond sales have proven to be resilient year after year.

Q. The US will soon introduce stricter sanctions on Russian diamonds. How do you think that this will impact the US diamond and diamond jewelry market?

The U.S., along with the global diamond and jewelry industry, has participated in several meetings with the Department of State. We were informed that the G7 will require proof that all jewelry, diamond parcels or gold bullion did not come out of the ground in Russia. Diamond sizes may be phased in, but gold and jewelry imports may be affected as well. What is clear is that the G7 (and their customs authorities) will require new and increased burdens of proof along the supply chain. While we don’t know what this proof will consist of, they explained that this will likely occur starting January 1st, 2024, and gradually include more loose diamond sizes in the future. There is no clarity about ready-made jewelry, which is the principal import into the U.S. However, Jewelers of America is working diligently – along with the global industry – to propose solutions to address these requirements and ensure there are minimal disruptions to our members’ businesses.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities facing the US industry?

Aside from supply chain challenges caused by Russian products, business is being affected by inflation, employment shortages, and competition for the share of wallet from consumers in the luxury space. The volatile stock markets have put a strain on consumer confidence and their willingness to purchase jewelry. However, the jewelry industry has always proven to be very resilient. There are always birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, and other special occasions that drive jewelry sales.

Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.

In my free time, I enjoy spending as much time as possible with my family and on the golf course.

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