Two Experts on Their Journeys With Natural Diamonds
Formed deep in the Earth over millions of millennia, natural diamonds are among this world’s most precious treasures. We talk to two people about their own journeys with these extraordinary jewels.
From their creation over billions of years to being mined, cut, polished, traded and set – and then sometimes changing hands several times – the diamonds that adorn our precious jewellery have been on a remarkable journey. As these odysseys involve human connections, too, we spoke to two Hong Kong residents about their own experiences with these natural treasures.
Vincent Guy Raffin’s journey with diamonds began in Paris, the city where he was born – and where he was exposed to jewellery from a young age. Now the chief marketing officer of the fourth-generation, family-run jewellery house Hemmerle, Raffin’s passion stems from the historical connection with his home town. “The city’s lifeblood of luxury can be found in the small neighbourhood shops,” he says. “On my way back from school, I’d often stop by the antique store windows and look at their glittering displays. I was fascinated by the stories expressed through the designs.”
Aged 19, Raffin began working for a couture designer whom he assisted during a collection launch that was presented alongside high jewellery. “I recognised all the stones, admiring their colour and the perfection exuding from the jewels. From that moment on, I knew I’d never leave this world and that I belonged in it. In a way, the jewels chose me.”
Keen to express his love for high jewellery, he wrote a letter to the talented (and extremely elusive) jewellery designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, or JAR as he’s fondly known. “He invited me to his office,” recalls Raffin. “I told him I was thinking of quitting university to dive into this industry. He told me to finish school and that he’d reward me with a gift, on the condition I passed my final exams. Fuelled by a renewed energy, I passed with honours, and he was the first personI called to celebrate. He congratulated me and, waiting for me in his office, was his book, which he autographed with the words, ‘Dear Vincent, welcome.’”
Thereafter, Raffin’s unique journey resulted in more than 15 years’ experience in fine and high jewellery in Europe, Asia and the US, involving creative participation and artistic designs of his own. On the most spectacular diamond he came across, he says, “One of the perks of my job is to be able to see many spectacular things that remain hidden from the outside world. A few weeks ago, I was showing a historic diamond to a private collector in Hong Kong. You learn the importance of protecting secrets when you make dreams come true.”
The business of high jewellery is, by nature, a traditional one in that the pieces must be tried on and worn. However, Raffin explains that because of the pandemic “there’s a growing audience that’s increasingly comfortable online”. This has forced a shift towards online sales and digital connections. “Today, with the growing focus from buyers on sustainability and authenticity, the luxury industry places a priority on human connection too,” he says. “Having a strong cultural heritage builds legitimacy. We always remember emotions and stories better than facts or data.”
On what, in his eyes, makes a natural diamond beautiful, Raffin draws parallels between the ways we connect with a diamond and with people. “We connect with what reflects our sense of personal identity in a world that’s constantly evolving,” he says. “The ideals of perfection influence our choices and tastes. This can also change when we accept our flaws as attributes of charm and spiritual meaning. It’s similar in diamonds. Nature is perfectly imperfect. This is what makes anything natural valuable – and crossing paths with something as precious as a natural diamond is a gift.”
Sean Lin, a vice president at the De Beers Group, started his own journey with diamonds after hearing the stories behind them. “At the beginning, it felt a bit mysterious to me,” says Lin. “Diamonds are part of historical events and the world economy, so I was interested in finding out more.” Crossing industries to join De Beers, Lin came on board with a fresh mind to bring new thoughts and ideas into the organisation– and, seven years on, he continues to do so.
In that time, he’s had the rare opportunity of seeing diamonds in their rough form. “We deal with a lot of exceptional diamonds – and for me the most spectacular was a D colour flawless diamond that was more than 200 carats. It’s the biggest I’ve handled and touched with my own hands.I think the most incredible thing is when you see the polished diamond that comes out of that piece, and that in itself is an amazing experience.”
Lin, who’s spent time in Israel, mainland China and Botswana, has made connections in the countries he travels to. “I was always traveling to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, which is a very peaceful city where people live a simple life.” After making many connections in this part of Africa, Lin says,“I join my friends for a family meal and I go to church with them.”
De Beers hosts sales events in Botswana, where customers from around the world are able to view the rough diamonds. Commenting on the positive impact diamonds have had on the country, Lin says, “Botswana used to be one of the poorest countries in the world. Now, it’s a middle-income country. In terms of democracy, social equity and rule of the law, Botswana is doing well. The revenues from diamond exports are very important and play a big role in the country’s economic development.”
Moreover, De Beers supports education and healthcare programmes, key aspects in Botswana’s development that encourage others to build factories and facilities, which in turn bring about job opportunities. “Within De Beers, there’s a lot of local talent and the company helps to give them exposure in an international environment,” says Lin. “This is the ripple effect that diamonds bring.”
As for his connections elsewhere, Lin says, “New Zealand is my dream destination.” Asked why, he explains, “Connection can mean different things for different places in your heart. For me, wherever you have relationships, you have connections. The landscape in New Zealand is stunning and I have a lot of friends there, just as Botswana isn’t only a workplace. I have friends there and I stay connected with them, even during the pandemic when I couldn’t travel. I also have connections in Tel Aviv, where we have customers and we bring families together. Beijing also has a special place in my heart, because I’ve spent so much time there and my kids were born there.”
Unable to travel these past two and half years, Lin reveals he’s been able to explore Hong Kong. “I did a lot of hiking and kayaking, and spent some time on the beach, enjoying time with the kids and family. Now, I feel connected to Hong Kong too.”
On how diamonds can symbolise these connections, Lin says, “Nowadays, people have different understandings of marriage, relationships and love. But I’ve always believed that humans long for eternity. They long for relationships to last. And I think that’s where diamonds come in. They symbolise an everlasting relationship between a couple, between parents and children, or between friends. It’s a symbol of eternity in these relationships and the genuine connections between them.”
PHOTOGRAPHY ALISON KWAN
Source: Prestige Online