“Women of the Diamond Industry” focuses on the issue of gender equality along the entire diamond and jewelry supply chain. The series provides a platform for women in the industry to tell their own stories and describe the particular challenges they have faced in their careers.
The sixth article in the series is authored by Elodie Daguzan, Executive Director of the World Diamond Council.
THE PASSION OF A LIFETIME
Elodie Daguzan, Executive Director of the World Diamond Council.
If you ask my parents how I came to love gemstones, my mom will tell you that around the age of three I would roam the beach collecting small and colorful seashells and pebbles, and then save them like treasure. At age 12, my dad gave me a large amethyst that he said he had picked off the ground while walking in the mountains of Morocco. As it so happens, just a year ago I discovered that he actually had bought it on Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakech, but the original story had been inspirational enough to convince me to collect minerals. I still do, a whole variety of them, although today my heart belongs mainly to the diamond.
How did I end up in the industry? Already at age of 15 I told my parents that my future career would be in diamonds. At the time I dreamed of becoming a diamond buyer for a luxury brand. It would, I believed, offer me the rare opportunity of working daily with a wonder of nature.
Now bear in mind that I was raised in Paris, which in the mid-1990s was not considered a diamond trading hub. The city had once been home to one the world’s earliest diamond bourses, but it was no longer operating. On the other hand, Paris was the nerve center for many of most prominent high-end jewelry brands, and where they go so do diamonds.
My dad, who understood that I had already made up my mind, remained the responsible parent. He sat me down and asked whether I realized that this will not be an easy way forward. You will be a woman in a man’s world, he said.
Armed with the strong support of both my parents and an internal drive that I later identified as a “calling,” which was not greatly different from that experienced by doctors and religious people, I plotted a path that I believed would provide me both with the knowledge and experience I would require.
I was lucky to get my first job at the largest diamond trading company in Paris, Rubel & Ménasché. There I learned to sort polished diamonds. With 95 percent of its staff being women, gender equality was never really a topic.
After three years I decided it was time to move on with my masterplan – getting an education and then becoming an assistant buyer at a high-end jewelry brand. The first part went pretty smoothly. I resigned my position at R&M and traveled to New York, where I studied diamond grading at GIA . I returned to Paris, diploma in hand, as we say in French full of hope and naivety.
But stage 2 of the plan was more difficult. After three months of chasing a job as a buyer, I compromised, taking a position as a sales associate. Not quite what I wanted, but it was a valuable experience. I sold some of the most beautiful jewelry that France was able to manufacture, going from one brand to another. This I did it for five years.
Elodie Daguzan, representing the World Diamond Council at the Kimberley Process Plenary Meeting in Delhi, India, in November 2019. She is flanked by Agathe Bukasa-Mukamba (left) of the De Beers Group of Companies, and Feriel Zerouki, also of De Beers and today WDC’s Vice President.
But the original passion never left me. One day a former colleague, who was now in charge of the diamond melee purchasing division at a large French jewelry brand, called me and gave me my chance. It was not quite a buyer’s position but close enough. A few days after I started I met one of the head buyers, and could not help telling him that “You should know that I want your job.” Desire is a difficult animal to tame!
I have never suffered blatant discrimination for being a woman in the business, and from conversations that I have had with colleagues I have learned that I was fortunate in this respect. But I certainly had a more arduous journey getting to where I wanted to, by being both female and by being a first generation rookie in the industry.
I managed through hard work and persistence. I am not going to lie; I would have given anything to have been born into a diamond family . But even if I had been, nothing would have been guaranteed. As a young and bright CEO of a world-renowned Antwerp-based company once told me: “Elodie, if you were my sister, you would not be working!” So in my case, the more difficult route provided opportunity.
Elodie Daguzan with Stephan Wolzok, CEO of Rubel & Ménasché and the individual she refers to as her mentor, during a visit to Antwerp in 2017.
After two years, I found my way back to Rubel & Ménasché, and began working with the man who became my mentor, Stephan Wolzok. The company’s CEO, he believes in enabling members of his team to self actualize. I became his ambassador, traveling widely to meet the leaders of our industry, learning from them, building him a reliable network, and bringing back intel on the challenges our business would soon face. A key role was helping our company explain the industry to our clients.
Stephan has a very steady moral compass. He did not need much convincing when I told him that we needed to publicly commit to the Kimberley Process, as the conflict-free origin of our merchandise was of crucial importance to our clients. He is a man of conviction first and foremost, but also a visionary who decided to obtain Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) certification as far back as 2010. To this day, Stephan’s wisdom enlightens my way.
My original dream had been to buy diamonds professionally, but I ultimately discovered that my purpose was to work towards the betterment of the diamond industry and its stakeholders. When the opportunity came up to work for the WDC, how could I have refused?
The Kimberley Process, in which the WDC is the industry representative, is a unique body. Where in the world and in the name of what other industry would you find a permanent and international forum under the umbrella of the United Nations, which is able to gather around the same table 82 countries, civil society and the private sector?
The KP is the backbone of our industry. Without it, there would be no trading in rough or polished diamonds whatsoever. It is a dedicated customs system for diamonds, where the tariff is due diligence to ensure the goods are conflict-free. The WDC represents the entire supply chain from mine to retail, working to protect its integrity and also consumer confidence.
Elodie Daguzan (center), participating in a working group at a Mano River Union meeting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in February 2020. The workshop looked at regional cooperation in implementing the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, in an area that includes Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.
As WDC Executive Director I have the privilege of engaging with governments and NGOs. It has broadened my perspective on what the diamond and diamond industry represent.
Working within the KP requires commitment. It is a commitment to continuous improvement, to partnering with other industry organizations, to building stronger relationships with civil society and governments, all to improve the positive impact that diamonds have on the lives of millions of people and the communities in which they live.
My job also requires a commitment to education, helping all industry actors understand what we do for them and their consumers. And the latter group is critically important. There is no diamond industry without confident consumers.
At the WDC, I have had the honor to work with some of the most committed people that our industry produced, from the two presidents that I have served, both of whom are extremely well versed in diamonds and diamond politics, to our incredible officers and board members, who guide me every day. Engaging with the RJC on a regular basis through our organization’s cross-membership and especially taking part in its SDG Task Force has been most rewarding. Being part of its Working Group on Women Leadership has also brought me a sense of accomplishment.
One step at the time, I believe I am making my mark on the industry I so love. Experience is a candle that illuminates the one who holds it, but also sheds a light for others in its vicinity. What I have experienced will surely be different from what other have, but I hope it informs them as they search for their purpose.
I found mine. It is to learn and teach people about the immense potential of the diamond industry, its achievements, its positive impacts, its extraordinary history and its promising future.