Interview with Stuart Samuels, President of the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association of America (DMIA), New York
Q. Who are you, Stuart Samuels?
First of all, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the WFDB newsletter. Naturally, I am available to your members at any time.
I am a happily married, not as young as I used to be, father of four. I’m also a grandfather, who can still get down on the floor and play with his grandchildren. I am an active member of the Orthodox Jewish community in a town on the South Shore of Long Island, New York and I am proud of the contributions my family and I have made to that community.
Q. What are your current titles/functions in the diamond industry, both private and organizational?
Premier Gem is my main business, which I run with my two brothers. My father Marvin, the patriarch of our family and founder of our company, has just celebrated his 90th birthday, and although he has retired from the business, he carefully follows the industry and often offers his insights and impressions. We have been DeBeers Sightholders for nearly 60 years and I believe it accurate to say that we are the longest-standing clients of DeBeers whose founder is alive and well.
I am the president of the DMIA (Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association of America) and am on the executive board of the Diamond Dealers Club of New York. I think it is important to give back to the industry and as such, I take these roles very seriously. The diamond community has been very good to my family and I am happy to do what I can to make it continue to flourish and grow.
Q. Tell us about your journey in the diamond industry, how you began and where you are now.
I did not take the typical route into the business. Although my father lived and breathed the diamond business, he did not push any of us to go into it and encouraged us to find our own way. My first love was the sciences and medicine, and I completed my first year of medical school before realizing that my destiny was not to be a doctor but rather to follow in my father’s footsteps in the diamond industry. So, I took a leave of absence from school and went to work alongside my father. I guess that diamonds were encoded into my DNA, and once I had a taste of the beauty and energy of our industry there was no going back. I started cutting diamonds on the bench, where I learned the fundamentals of how to bring out the beauty of a diamond from the rough state to the glittering polished diamonds we sell. I don’t think I was a particularly good diamond cutter, but it certainly gave me an appreciation of what goes into creating the beautiful gems that we work with on a daily basis.
Q. What are the challenges currently facing the diamond industry?
Like all businesses, our industry is always facing challenges. It is our job to figure out how to rise above them and continue to flourish. Natural diamonds are a treasure from the earth and I believe they will always be coveted and desired. Hence our businesses will surely endure. Threats from synthetic diamonds are considered by some to be a major challenge, however, I believe that with time, they will be clearly differentiated from natural diamonds, and two distinct markets will emerge. We have already seen in the past few years that the pricing curves are rapidly diverging, and the spreads are becoming larger and larger.
We cannot be complacent and I believe that it is imperative that every diamond company have a synthetic tester at their ready disposal, and preferably in their office. I have long maintained that although the lab-grown space is developing into a legitimate branch of the jewelry business, we need to be mindful that there is still much fraud attached to it. Fraud can take many shapes and forms. There is the outright fraud where someone tries to pass along synthetics as natural. Another type of fraud is when a retail seller does not truly disclose to the buyer that what they are purchasing is not a natural diamond. This is unfortunate indeed, as a diamond is supposed to symbolize something meaningful, sacred, and everlasting.
There is anecdotal evidence that says that fewer than 5% of people who knowingly buy lab-grown diamonds disclose that fact to their family and friends. The lab-grown space will evolve into its own business category when this figure approaches 100%.
Q. How have the sanctions against Russia affected the diamond trade in the US and elsewhere?
The war that Russia unleashed on Ukraine is universally and unequivocally condemned by our entire industry. Some countries have taken harsher measures than others but that does not minimize the outrage we all feel when seeing images of civilians being murdered, and millions of refugees pouring out of the country. It does not seem that this war will end in the immediate future, and as a result, many challenges to our industry will emerge.
There is an ongoing discussion regarding substantial transformation and the notion that the diamond loses its Russian moniker when cut in another country. That may indeed be the case for US Customs, however many retailers, as well as Rapaport, have taken the position that diamonds derived from any rough mined in Russia post-February 24 will not be sold by their establishments. As time goes on and the current pipeline empties out, the effects of this will be felt undoubtedly causing shortages and increases in pricing.
The Russia challenge coupled with the synthetic challenge will only accelerate the conversation and implementation of diamond traceability. The consumer will ultimately dictate to what degree this will be demanded and what degree of detail will be expected. However, to me, one of the biggest challenges and balancing acts in this equation will be how we can avoid devaluing diamonds currently being held by the public. The diamonds currently owned surpass the volume of diamonds being newly mined. All of these diamonds are family heirlooms and cherished deeply by their owners. This forms the backbone of the diamond dream and devaluing those diamonds risks tainting the reputation of all diamonds. I don’t claim to have the answer to this but am raising it as a point to seriously consider.
As a final note, I can only hope and pray that the war in Ukraine ends more quickly than what is currently being predicted.
Q. What is the status of the US market from your point of view?
The American market has fared very well these last two years, and although prices are plateauing, the demand seems to still be there. Naturally, everyone is getting nervous with increasing interest rates and the downturn of the stock market. However, with fewer places to put money in inflationary times, it is possible that diamonds will continue to remain a strong performer. Many of the high-end jewelry stores have also been buoyed by the tremendous run-up of the prices of the high-end watch brands.
Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.
I am deeply committed to my family life and religious life, and they play a central role in all that I do. We are involved in many charities, one closest to my heart is an organization that cares for children with cancer as well as children with special needs and their families.
We love to travel and discover new places and cultures, and as international travel was so restricted these last couple of Covid years, we have visited 3 National Parks during this period, admiring the beauty of the United States.
Thankfully international travel has returned and we are just now beginning to venture back out to overseas destinations.