‘It will kill’ the Trade to Ignore Diamond’s History

150 150 Rapaport News

(Rapaport…June 7, 2006) Chicago, Illinois, is a long way from Sierra Leone and Angola, but to the president of Dene Jewelry, Michelle Dene Reagan, West Africa is at her doorstep.

With a 20-year history of jewelry design under her belt, Reagan has worked her way up from retail sales and management into becoming an award-winning designer with her own showroom on Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s historical district.

Fair Trade Jewelry: Reclaimed 14 karat gold, Peridot 3.25-ct, Blue Topaz 4.07-ct, Grape Garnet 3-ct. Price points start at $750.

“There is no guarantee a given diamond is conflict free,” Reagan said. “We cannot afford to not know where a product comes from anymore.”

For the most part Reagan knows the origins of her products and she communicates the information to her customers. Business has grown more in the past 12 months than the previous two years combined, she said.

Reagan met with Rapaport News during the JCK Las Vegas Show at the Fair Trade Jewelry booth, sponsored by the Rapaport Group. “I didn’t come her to sell,” she said. “I came to educate and to have a positive impact on how Fair Trade can be done.”

She is as passionate about her profession of choice as she is responsive to having watched grassroots films from West Africa about the newest wave of children warriors. “Its still going on,” she said, “It is a highly emotional topic,” but she said the younger consumers are aware.

Child abuse during Sierra Leone’s diamond wars too was at the heart of Hip Hop artist Kayne West’s award winning song ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’ (in July 2005,) which quickly spread across the Internet before the song was officially launched. And at some point before year-end 2006 Warner Brothers is expected to release its own blood diamond movie again drawing attention to conflict diamonds.

To the diamond industry, Reagan urges dealers and jewelers to ask their suppliers for the source of products, whether it be precious metals or diamonds and gemstones, adding that jewelers must market their storefront as “a shop that cares.” And in all practical ways, she said the jeweler must authenticate the stone. “The research already proves consumers want Fair Trade. They want to know the product is building that cultural bond not destroying it,” she said.

“When will the time come for change?” Reagan asked. “When diamonds are no longer in vogue? It will kill us” to wait, she said. “Let the customer know where that product is from before they ask us.”

Reagan admits that Fair Trade is at the early stages; however, her manufacturer is already on board with the mission and supplies Dene Jewelry with a guarantee, which lists the type of goods, treatment (if any,) origins, and an unequivocal statement that the goods in no way harmed the environment or the people who mined, cut, or crafted the jewelry. The certificate is given to the customer along with purchase and offers with it free annual inspections and refurbishment.

Diamond jewelry (Top) Isole 3-ct center, 0.75tcw pave diamonds white and blue, set in palladium. (Center) 3-ct oval Burnished diamond, 0.75tcw melee. (Bottom) 2-ct, two 30-point hearts, 1-tcw melee. Price point starts at $2,000.

While diamonds are not yet considered as a Fair Trade product, Reagan does ensure that her diamond jewelry is certified through the Kimberley Process, she said. Colored gemstones however, used in her designs, are guaranteed as Fair Trade she said.

“We have to get started. We get the problem, so now lets fix it,” she said. “I know its imperfect right now, but consumers support the effort.”

Knowing a diamond or gemstone has a positive past “builds romance and desire for purchasing. The impact is felt across all emotions and it is not just a beautiful diamond but it represents a culture from mine to market that ensures consumer confidence in what we do.”

Reagan questions why there is any debate at all whether Fair Trade is the right path for the jewelry industry. “Did you see Invisible Children?” she asked. (One of several documentary style films showing present day child warriors across the a southern central swath of Africa’s continent.

But Reagan’s desire for change, especially change involving improving children’s lives, is nothing new and comes at no surprise considering her past charitable work. She is a dedicated sponsor of Chicago’s Abused Woman Coalition and she subsidizes costs for Chicago’s inner-city children’s football league.

The highest quality jewelry product is only possible with “the most ethical methods to create pieces that are truly alive with positive quintessence, where the focus of its appeal is directed to the educated, conscientious consumer,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.