By Melissa Smet, director, the Belgian Diamond Manufacturing Association.
Gem Lab Services, a Malca-Amit Group company, established a solid reputation as a fine logistic service provider in Antwerp. Boaz Lev, General Manager of Gem Lab Services, spoke in an exclusive interview with De Belgische Diamantnijverheid, the quarterly magazine of the Belgian Diamond Manufacturers Association (SBD), about the importance of logistics, diamond grading, the future of his company and the future of Antwerp's diamond business in general.
Why and when did you decide to start in the diamond industry?
“I started out in the diamond business after a previous other career and higher studies in Law and Accounting. I felt, at my former role, that there was not enough room for creativity. It made me feel limited. That’s why I took the decision to leave. At that moment, I didn’t have one specific direction of what to do yet. And not long afterwards, I found myself in the diamond business because something about diamonds as well as jewelry seemed very attractive to me. Diamonds go beyond the commodity of crystallized carbon. People, emotions and sensitivity are part of the product. The transformation from rough to polished as well as the diamond trade have to do with fashion and feelings. Different cultures work together, sharing the same passion for stones. All these elements pulled me into the diamond industry and now, I have been working for ten years in this sector.
As an intern in a big diamond company I learned the most important steps of the diamond supply chain (rough, cutting, sorting, trading…). But I realized that I didn’t fit in the structure of the company. After finishing my grading education with GIA I left and joined Malca-Amit. With my background, I found myself better suited in Malca-Amit, a company that is, on one hand, a service provider and on the other hand very much oriented on security.
Soon afterwards, I moved to Belgium because Malca-Amit had a vacancy there. Still one thing was missing: creativity. That’s why I started with Gem Lab. Gem Lab Services are a division of the Malca-Amit Group. I loved setting up a building, developing a platform and creating a new service that could add value for our loyal Malca-Amit customers and attract new ones.”
Can you explain the activity of Gem Lab Services?
“Gem Lab provides access for customers looking to submit diamonds and other gemstones for grading at laboratories around the world. Gem Lab is a GIA LabDirect program participant and as such, is able to offer local customers the ability to obtain all its gemological services efficiently from their location. Our service includes two interesting additional advantages. First, all gemstones are handled individually. When you entrust five stones to our care, they immediately leave for grading, but not all are necessarily hipped to the same lab location and neither do they all need to return together at the same time. As a result, customers may take advantage of shorter turnarounds. In addition, we do not just handle all logistical procedures required for transporting stones to and from the labs. We also communicate with the labs and this improves the service in many ways: it helps transmit clearer communication, overcomes time-zone differences, local holidays, working schedules, etc. Our team understands the customers' needs while it also knows the labs' abilities, possibilities and turn-around times. We know how we need to present the information in both directions. These small advantages add value to all parties. And in some cases, it can make all the difference! We developed an online platform, enabling us and our clients to communicate with the labs in real time. Via this platform, clients can check the status of every gemstone online, view results as soon as they are available and perform their actions in real time. Our platform enables them to request any secondary or advance service and also place special requests, e.g. advise on repairing or re-cutting stones to improve their grades. As soon as the stone is on its way back to Antwerp, customers can already download the final grading report. Furthermore, clients can consult their submission history, which helps in controlling their inventory with Gem Lab. This is especially helpful for tracking stones that were resent to the lab or to control their stone photographs inventory, as well as costs.”
Gem Lab has developed photography services and is offering high quality imaging products. Is this a successful new service?
Boaz Lev shows me various images: images of loose diamonds, images of matching pairs, images of jewellery, shot on different backgrounds, in 360 degrees. He explains that it is even possible to watermark the images with your company logo. The images have one thing in common: they are all incredible high-resolution photos.
“The photography service and images are available on the online platform, which was mentioned earlier. Important to know is that we work exclusively with in-house photographers. The pictures are a very powerful tool, that brings customer’s clients closer to decision making. Images have the strength to depict the information on the certificates. For a potential buyer it is very interesting to see where the inclusions are located and how they actually look. In addition, we recently developed in-house jewelry imaging solutions. We realized the need of customers to present jewelry correctly and attractively is as strong, if not stronger. Our goal is to provide our customers products and services in our one-stop-shop to help them market their products easily. We constantly develop additional products that align with this concept. I believe the demand for all imaging products will constantly grow as more and more businesses develop their digital presence.”
I’m going to ask a few questions about GIA now. What differs GIA from other grading institutions?
“First of all, GIA is a well-known institution, very familiar in our industry and I doubt I need to elaborate much. GIA established itself as a public servant and made its mission to increase knowledge and trust in gem and jewelry. But aside from GIA there are other very reputable labs, some located in Antwerp. They serve the industry well and have an important role of presenting an alternative. That’s also very important.”
GIA is planning to open a lab in Antwerp – do you think this is a threat to your business or does the opening of the grading lab in Antwerp bring more opportunities for Gem Lab?
“I cannot comment on GIA’s plans or decisions, nevertheless I am certain they are well thought through. As far as Malca-Amit is concerned, I believe there is always demand for services, as long as they add value to our customers. Our profession is service and we take pride in delivering absolute peace of mind to our customers. We have gained plenty of experience, operating Gem Lab for the past decade. I hope and believe this experience will continue to add value to our company and the entire industry.
Personally, I enjoy developing businesses and creating new services. Gem Trade, for example, is another Malca-Amit Group company, which we established recently. Gem Trade provides overseas Malca-Amit customers an accessible gateway to Antwerp (or anywhere in Europe). We assist with importation of diamonds into Belgium, enabling companies to explore new markets for their goods while enjoying VAT exemption when applicable. I hope that one day we will sit together again to discuss Gem Trade in more detail (he smiles).”
Gem Lab is certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council because Gem Lab meets the highest ethical, social and environmental standards established by the RJC’s Member Certification system. Can you tell how your company achieved this level?
“When you set up a new business and when you take it seriously, it is logical that you want to act responsible towards your customers, employees and authorities. Thus I was looking for standards and came across the Responsible Jewellery Council. I looked into their Code of Practices and it was actually very applicable to my company! Gem Lab is built on solid foundations of transparency and responsibility, the principles that RJC stands for. We joined the RJC in 2012 and I became a board member too. I was very proud of the fact that Gem Lab was the first logistic service provider with a RJC label. Now, we are already in our second term. And the organization keeps growing: it has a membership of more than 1,000 companies that span the jewellery supply chain from mine to retail. Thus the RJC affects hundreds of thousands laborers and employees. The RJC is not a static organization: the Code of Practices keeps evolving, standards are open to review and there is constant discussion in which various NGOs take active participation. It is also important in my view, that the RJC was founded and grows within our industry and not imposed by any authority.”
Do you have an advice to share with the members of the Belgian Diamond Manufacturers Association (SBD)?
“Despite the current mood in the diamond industry, both locally and globally, I am optimistic about the future. Although challenging and maybe worrying for many companies dealing with diamonds, I believe that every individual in the diamond business who is a professional and is a specialty-service entrepreneur, must be able to reinvent himself.
We have to take the time to adapt, think and ask ourselves: what is my advantage? How can I add value to this industry?
Afterwards, we have to develop these qualities. Our local hub is unique. Various individuals and companies from all cultures and nationalities work together in the Antwerp diamond district. Multimillion establishments with the most advance technologies, alongside artisanal cutters, artists and craftsmen of the highest grade. Moreover, Antwerp has a brilliant history and location, as the European gateway. Given these elements, I’m sure Antwerp has an important role and is able to grow as a global diamond center. We need to develop new tools to increase transparency and re-establish trust, internally and externally. Our own fate is in our own, good hands.”