APRIL 29, 2020

Alan Cohen

Member of WDC Board of Directors

President, London Diamond Bourse

I’m writing this during my 1,000th day in “Lockdown London”….no,  that can’t be right! But at times it certainly feels like it. It also feels really churlish to complain when I look around and see the misery and heartbreak that this disease has caused.

During these days of global crisis, where all of us to one degree or another find ourselves in the same boat, it’s tough to decide who is offering special insight into our collective predicament. I tell you this as an excuse for not having any wonderful or erudite opinions on the current state of the market, or any crystal ball to predict the future.

I personally went into isolation on March 12, when we, on what then was the advice of the British government, were keeping the bourse open.

For those of you who have not visited the London Diamond Bourse, it is a large trading hall with the prerequisite tables, sorting pads, diamond lights, etc. It serves as an office for 100 or so dealers, who keep permanent assigned places. The rest of the space is free seating for the office or out-of-town members.

My first task, once I had decided on this course of action, was to purchase a Zoom subscription. With my “new toy” I could keep in touch with colleagues and set up calls to family and friends.

My isolation was going to be a “selfish one” – isolation with my family, and not alone by myself. I would withdraw my son from school. I was looking forward to the break. I could help him with his schoolwork, catch up on all those books I had not read, maybe even learn a new programming language. I would think about ways to increase membership to the bourse and in general consider ways to increase business once this was all over.

The government moved the UK into lockdown on March 23 for three weeks. This was extended again on April 16 for a further three weeks. And, by the looks of things and the terrible loss of lives that has been experienced in this country, this will most probably be extended again. At the time of writing, we have no clear path to lockdown being lifted.

My bourse has lost two members over the past 45 days. This has been a cause of much sorrow. One of them was a friend from my early days in the business in South Africa. The other was a member who was of an age that, when he passed on, many members called me and said he was one of the first people they had ever dealt with in Hatton Garden. They will both be dearly missed.

I think we will see that the world that we left, when we entered lockdown, will be a totally different to the one we emerge out in to. The way that we will interact, travel and do business will have changed.

WDC Board member Alan Cohen (right) at home during the lockdown in London, brushing up on his chess skills with his son Daniel.

What have I learnt over the past 45 days? Have I been able to accomplish any of my ‘lockdown’ goals?

Let me start with technology.


The Three States of a WhatsApp group users

  1. The person who is a regular user, knows how to send messages and, more importantly, knows how to delete messages “For Everyone” in a group chat.
  2. The person who loves his WhatsApp and sends you a message at five minutes to midnight in seven to eight separate texts <<Hi>> <<I>> <<hope>> <<I>> <<don’t>> <<wake>> <<you>>, three seconds later <<??>>
  3. The person who should only be allowed to write with a crayon!! He is the one who posts inappropriate videos in error. Then, when called and asked to remove them, he deletes only for himself, and leaves the video for the rest of you to cringe about. He might also be the one who somehow manages to repost the picture/article/link that someone already posted five minutes before.


Prior to this lockdown, I had participated in couple of webinars. My current count is now probably edging into the high 30s.

Nearly each and every one has been interesting and informative. I have learnt about emeralds, pearls, coral, brown diamonds, Lalique and rubies.

In terms of business, I have been lectured on what to expect when we come out of this lockdown and how to engage without customers during a lockdown. In the case of the latter I learned that a diamond listing platform is “the one for YOU, where you track your diamond from cradle to grave.” Should that not be what we’re promising the consumer? I have also attended webinars from our accountants on what we can claim and how to claim, etc., etc., etc.

In short, I am in webinar overload!  However, like medicine, I can’t stand the taste, but I know it’s good for me!

I have to admit, on a number of occasions I have just walked out the room and, of course, not wanting to show disrespect to my host, I have left the connection on.

And last but not Least Zoom Meetings:

I like being the boss in a Zoom meeting. I can mute EVERYONE! It’s great having that power, but only problem is that you have to stay awake and follow. Because when one person has finished speaking, you need to be able to unmute the next person.

I would note that this was some personal insight, or so I believed. Right now, I’m slightly upset, because I read an article this morning in the Financial Times about Zoom protocol – and its author stole my thunder!! Still, I will soldier on.

The most important thing about Zoom is your own MUTE button. But remember that it’s a video call, so people will see what you’re doing, even if you are not speaking.

The realization that I should have used Zoom or one of its equivalents a long time ago is profound. The London Diamond Bourse Board has members who are not resident in the city and it is very difficult for them to come in for meetings every time. Over the past six weeks we have had at least 10 meetings – all fully attended, even if the dress code has been broken.

I was looking forward to the WDC meeting in Moscow and the subsequent KP meeting. Now it looks like those are going to be Zoom ones too.

Our new verb of choice replacing “Uber” most probably is “Zoom.”  Maybe we can one day do the same with diamonds, but that will only be possible with branding. The most successful companies are destined to become verbs!

Allow me to return to my lockdown goals. How am I doing?

The report card is mixed, and one of the factors is that it’s tough sticking to a schedule because the clocks and the days of the week seem to have lost their relevance.

  • Help my son with his schoolwork: Well, I have managed to do that, except in the cases where I know nothing about the subject. In those cases, even with the modern tools of Google and YouTube, I have not been able to cope! I think I have realized I am not capable of going “back to school.”
  • Learn a programming Language: No chance at all!
  • Catch up on my reading: Yes, and that’s part of the reason that the clocks and days have little meaning.
  • Think about the bourse: I do that constantly. How we will be able to function as a trading floor with social distancing and all its implications? Maybe there is a webinar that will tell me.
  • Thinking about business: I do that constantly as well. But regrettably, there are no magical solutions at the moment.

I’m sure, to a greater or lesser degree, all the WDC members share the same concerns as my bourse members. I agree, very much, with what Rajiv Mehta wrote in his WDC Blog article. When we emerge from this situation, going back to our old ways may not be an option anymore.

We have to look forward to a different kind of world and find a way to embrace it and thrive.

Wishing you all the very best!

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