Q. What are your current titles/functions in the diamond industry, both private and organizational?
I am the Chairman / Managing Director of Star Brilliant Group, dealing in diamonds and jewelry. We are cutters and polishers of rough diamonds, as well as jewelry manufacturers, with factories in Mumbai and Navsari, India. I am also the Vice President of Bharat Diamond Bourse [BDB], the largest diamond exchange in the world, and Treasurer-General of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses [WFDB].
Q. Tell us about your journey in the diamond industry, how you began and where you are now.
I am a first-generation entrepreneur in the diamond industry. I began my path in the diamond business in the year 1980, at the age of 19. During the early years I came to Mumbai from Kolkata, where my father had a tea business. My father wanted me to foray into newer avenues, and I thought, what better than expanding into the diamond sector. I still remember my first trip to Antwerp at the age of 20, to procure rough diamonds. I used the time not only to select the best rough for myself, but also to help other industry colleagues gather the best stones for cutting and polishing. We opened our first office in Opera House, Mumbai much before the Bharat Diamond Bourse was constructed. Travelling to important diamond centers gave me an insight on expanding my export business. We are a midscale company and have offices in BDB, SEEPZ, and Navsari [factories]. My son Parth Shah has joined the business.
My journey in BDB
The Bharat Diamond Bourse complex was delayed in construction due to certain governmental hurdles, as well as the reluctance of many companies to move to a diamond complex. That’s when I started participating in committee meetings and talking to industry members about the advantages of moving into a complex with better infrastructure. At that time 14 out of 16 members on the board were new members without much experience. Mr. Anoop Mehta, who is the founding member of BDB, took over as president and though we were all inexperienced we were confident that “we can do it” and “we will do it”. Soon after entering BDB, I came across a communication about a WFDB congress in London. Till then I had never heard of WFDB and some senior members gave a negative opinion about WFDB because of some bad experience in the past. I went to President Anoop Mehta and convinced him to participate in the WFDB conference and registered ourselves as delegates.
That was our first meeting in the WFDB. I was sent by-laws and asked if I had an agenda, and in reply I wrote that:
- India needs to be member of WFDB
- India should have a permanent seat in Exco (Antwerp, Ramat Gan and New York were already permanent members).
- We should be accepted as corporate members (that time only individual membership was allowed)
- India needa to host a Presidents’ Meeting.
Gradually all was accomplished, and in 2005 we hosted the first Presidents’ Meeting. All delegates unanimously agreed that Mumbai was the best meeting ever for the WFDB. With time, the importance of India was established and so too our relationship with all the bourses. Finally, the BDB complex was ready in 2010 and moving from Opera House began. The road to fulfilling our goal was always full of challenges, but when there is a will there is a way to overcome all challenges.
Once the Bharat Diamond Bourse was established, the benefit was immediately apparent, as the complex had all of the necessary facilities, including a customs department, banks, lockers, trading halls and restaurants. BDB also helped many diamond companies expand and grow. BDB security is said to be the best in the world. We have 100% recovery rate in lost and found, one of the only places in the world which is a 100% secure environment.
Q. What is the current situation in the Indian diamond industry?
The Indian Diamond Industry is a very vibrant and a progressive sector. The industry has faced many difficult situations, such as the current volatility and overcame them with grit and determination. The supply chain is affected by the Ukraine war, which impacts the supply of Russian diamonds, and the inflationary phase that many countries, including the US and Europe are experiencing. Nevertheless, we are geared to servicing our clients and are planning to regularize the rough flow from other mining economies such as Angola, Namibia, Botswana until the Alrosa supply comes back on stream.
If you look at the year 2021 – 2022, India imported around USD18,744 million worth of rough from April 2021 to March 2022 and exported USD24,434 million [gross] worth of cut and polished stones. I feel that this post pandemic performance would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the entire sector. We are hopeful that a new sun will dawn at the earliest in our industry.
Q. How do you think that the Indian industry will fare during the Christmas season? In 2023?
With fast changing situations, it is too early to predict now how 2023 will turn out for the industry. Looking at the current economic situation, as I mentioned earlier, I won’t say it will be bad but I am not be too optimistic. Smaller stones are seen moving in the US around this part of the year, and we believe that they will only grow. Next year, 2023, should ideally sustain the business for years to come.
Q. What do you see as the challenges and opportunities facing the Indian diamond industry?
The major challenge that we are facing currently is the supply of raw materials. As you know India employs close to one million people in the sector [directly and indirectly] and we as a sector feel responsible for the lives of many. We have asked the government of India to allow mining companies to come in and tender their goods, and allow them to openly sell to the diamond industry here with tax subsidy provisions. As of now IDTC [India Diamond Trading Centre] within BDB is facilitating tendering, but we want certain African mining economies such as Angola, Namibia etc. to also come into the country. This to a large extent will become a solution for the supply of rough diamonds.
Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.
Well diamonds run through my blood and I have spent almost all of my life in the industry. But one thing I can say is family comes first. Apart from work, my interest lies in CSR activities, and I spend much of my time in philanthropic activities and on fields with farmers.
My wife Priti Shah has been a pillar of strength for me in all these years of work and has stood strong in good times and challenging phases.