Finalist Number 3 – It only took 28 years

It only took 28 years…

In 1981 I was a 19 year old Front Desk Clerk at the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South in Manhattan.

One night the most gorgeous man I had ever seen walked up to the desk and asked me to go out to dinner with him. He was a Swedish Tour Guide named Mats. We went out to restaurants and clubs and laughed and danced and fell in love.

One night while we were having dinner at Un Deux Trois, Mats proclaimed that we would be married within a year. We were both radiantly happy and completely in love.

Then Mats decided that he wanted to finish his studies in Stockholm and that he wasn’t sure if we should get married. He went back to Sweden and left me heartbroken.

I was an undergraduate at Hunter College with a Double Major in Chinese and Latin and poured myself into my studies to recover.

THEN, In 1984 Mats called me at my apartment on the Upper West Side and said, “Louise, it’s me, Mats. Please come to Sweden, I have finished my studies and am ready for us to get married now.”

I hopped on the next flight to Stockholm. Mats and I bought our wedding bands and then traveled all over Europe. We laughed and danced all over France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Sweden.

THEN, when we were supposed to get married, Mats decided that he wasn’t ready.

I went home, heartbroken again.

When I got back to New York I mailed my ring back to him in Sweden. That was THAT!

THEN, in 1986 I went to live in Taipei, Taiwan for a year to complete my studies in Chinese Language and Literature. I had sublet my apartment in Manhattan.

In 1987, when I returned from Taipei, they guy who was staying at my apartment gave me a piece of paper and said, “This guy Mats called you about 2 weeks after you left.”

I called Mats back immediately and said, “Hey! It’s me, Louise, what did you want when you called? I’ve been in Taiwan for a year.”

Mats said, “Louise, I was calling you to ask you to come to Sweden and marry me!”

I said, “I still love you and I’ll take the next flight to Stockholm.”

Mats: “But I called you a year ago!”

Me: “So what”

Mats: “Well, I met somebody else.”

Well, you can imagine…that was the end of that.

I ended up buying a house on a mountain top in North Carolina and went on to become an International Hotel Accounting Consultant.

I have been a Financial Controller or Consultant in Barbados, Philadelphia, Manhattan, Antigua, Taiwan, Peter Island, Key West, Miami, Durham, Aruba, Marco Island, St. Louis, and Puerto Rico.

NOW, on November 11, 2009 my telephone in “The Middle of Nowhere Next to a Cow Pasture,” North Carolina rang.

You guessed it!

Mats: “Louise, it’s me, Mats is Sweden. I have been looking for you for ten years. Please come to Sweden and marry me. You are the only woman I have ever loved.”

Well!

After I was over the shock, I told Mats that he had to convince me.

Mats HAS convinced me and we are to be married, FINALLY! in January 2010 in North Carolina.

We are both as happy and as in love as we were 28 years ago in 1981.

We have both had full and interesting lives and now, as Mats say, “It is finally time for us.”

So, for all those people who have been alone and wondering what happened to their one true love. I wish you the courage to pick up the phone, hire a detective, do an internet search, ANYTHING to find him or her, because they may be out there missing you, too.

This Thanksgiving I have even more for which to be thankful.

Finalist Number 2 – My Mother Always Says

My Mother Always Says…

…that everything happens for a reason. So, in the middle of a tumultuous divorce in January ’92, as I arrived home to a pile of ashes on Sargent Beach, Texas, I wondered how this would play out to her standard doctrine. All that was most cherished and dear to me, a fine ornate iron bed I bought 20 years ago from Benny Luckenbach, pictures of my kids, old dishes from my great grandma, etc. was now ashes or melted. (Luckily, my sister had insisted on confiscating my gun collection, with the divorce drama going on) It took a week to locate another rental, this time I settled in Surfside. Given the recent loss, this time it seemed a good idea to get renter’s insurance. Over the phone I got coverage from a local agent, and felt like a clean new start with a new tv, futon, and microwave oven just in time for the Super Bowl. It had been a long week, staying at my mother’s. By mid summer, the deal was done on the divorce, and I carried on, with weekend visitations with my two young daughters. By September, I was told by a girl at work that her agent sent a message to me via her, about my coverage; turns out we were both her accounts. I asked if she looked as good as she had sounded on the phone, and was quickly informed that was the case, and that she was also single. I then decided it was time for me to hand deliver my monthly payment, and was needless to say speechless when I did so. Suddenly, I was a 41 year old teenager, alive again! We later had good exchanges on the phone, and eventually I finally asked her out… Well, suffice it to say I was elated when she accepted, but thought I blew it when we went out and, to get a feel for her age I popped off that I recall being in the 5th grade at school when John F. Kennedy was shot and we all went out by the flagpole and prayed, where were you? She said she was born the year after that…I could have died right there…but she laughed, and we continued to see each other…and my 6 year old and 18 month old daughters played well with her 5 year old daughter…Everything seemed to be so perfect with Regina, life was really good again! That pile of ashes from my rented burned out beach-house led to me getting insurance on the next one, and meeting Regina!! Mother’s prophecy did play out with that total loss. As our hearts melded more and more, I had my 6 year old help me pick out a pave wedding band for Regina, and I wrote the following to surprise her with:

“Enamored” is the term I think,
for what we seem to be.
I know this thing is wonderful
between my you and me…
It seems this thing is much beyond
my sense of self control,
This way I think and feel for you
from deep within my soul…
I know to have you close beside,
and in my arms is sweet…
My love you are my heart’s desire,
my love for you complete.
So let’s enjoy this love we share
and savor life so sweet,
And worry not what ‘morrow brings
’till we, the tomorrow meet…
If then we find we’re still this way,
so smitten with our love…
Then us as family evermore,
is what I’m thinking of!!

As it was Easter, I put this and the ring into a small plastic Easter egg, then that egg into a larger one, and those into a larger one, etc. and my oldest daughter placed it high in a hanging plant as I held her up. I assured Bogie the Easter Bunny needed help with the diamond ring, but he will be along later to hide more eggs for you girls, his limit is chocolate…and Easter morning after the girls found all the eggs that E.B. left for them, Bogie told Regina to look in the hanging plant. When she opened the egg, and finally got to the smallest egg, she beamed when she found the ring…and waterworks followed when she read the poem. It looked like a favorable reception, so I dropped to my knee and the girls cheered when I proposed and Regina made me the happiest man alive with her answer. Ok, so maybe there was a little pressure with the girls as witness, but hey-I knew I needed all the help I could get! We set the date for July, Regina got the printed napkins, matchbooks, invitations were sent out, 3 matching dresses for the kids that were same color as her wedding dress for the procession, reserved the Ima Hogg plantation mansion in West Columbia for the ceremony-EVERYTHING…

Then in June, she had a seizure. It had happened in the middle of the night and scared her and her daughter badly; when she told me about it the next day I urged her to see her doctor…as a matter of procedure, he had her undergo an MRI. Two days later she called me, very upset. I left work in the Dow plant to meet her at her parent’s home in nearby Lake Jackson, and learned her doctor told her she had a massive brain tumor, and she needed to see a specialist right away. We made arrangements to meet with a brain surgeon at Methodist Hospital in Houston, bringing the MRI’s with us…He advised us to have it removed immediately, and showed us the mass was the size of a large bar of soap in her left frontal lobe, but appeared to be operable. He recommended proceeding with surgery asap- she asked about our pending wedding the next month, but he said to not worry about that, to delay this surgery longer for the ceremony would be life threatening. IF she survived the surgery, there could be loss of speech or blindness or partial paralysis-deal with the wedding later. How could this happen to a beautiful 29 year old girl? Needless to say, we were in shock. He said we’d hear from his office for the scheduled surgery date. As we drove back to her parent’s, I suggested we elope IMMEDIATELY. I convinced her we’d blow off the wedding, and just cruise the Texas hill country that we both love, and get away from it all. We stopped off at the courthouse in Angleton, got a marriage license, packed and took off. I showed her my great grandparent’s old abandoned house in Sabinal, my high hill country stompin grounds through Leakey, Hunt, Luckenbach, etc…stopped by my home town of Cameron, Texas a few days later and did a quick ceremony at the Magnolia House. I called an old family friend, Mrs. Edna von Rosenberg ahead of time and she arranged for her Reverend Don Hogg to perform the service, while she served as the entire wedding party…best man, bridesmaid, ring bearer, everything! (we just went to her 100th birthday party this October). I have pictures since I placed my Nikon camera on a tripod and used the timer…

I must say, although this was not my first time to make the vow, I had forgotten until I was told to repeat the passage “till death do we part..” How I kept my composure as I said those words I’ll never know. My guts were ripping apart, yet happy at the same time.Mr. and Mrs. Bo Durr returned to the coast the next day, with a message awaiting us…her surgery was scheduled to be in 3 days. Three of the longest days of my life surpassed in length only by the 12 hours it took for her surgery. I last saw her in pre-op as they prepared to shave half her head for surgery. Finally, when they wheeled her out of surgery, Dr. Jerry Bob told me it went well. To prove it, he asked my semi-conscious Regina what her name was. Though wed for just 3 days, she was able to say REGINA DURR!!!

After enduring the intensive radiation treatments 3 times a day for 6 weeks, and chemotherapy, she made the transition of having thick auburn hair to mid back, to being bald as a golf ball, to now once again having her hair back. Her badge of honor is her scarves she wears to cover the 25% bald spot on the left front-those 3 titanium plates do not allow hair growth. But my darling bride is the best mother and homemaker on the planet. We are still as blissfully in love and trusting as we were 16 years ago when we wed. At this time I would like to nominate my bride as the recipient of this ring contest. I do believe it was our strong love and the Good Lord was willing, that got us through all of this, and for her to receive $25,000 in jewelry would finally be a reason she could wear!

Finalist Number 1 – Our 25

Our 25

Every love story has a great beginning. This is ours. When least expected, our soul mate can walk into our lives and change things forever. Such is the case with us, Scott and Leanna.

June of 1982, I was living in the greater Los Angeles area and working for one of the first sexual fantasy phone services, a funky little place called Lips International. Far away in Seattle, Washington, my true love was working for a travel agency at the Sea Tac airport. It would seem impossible for two such people to meet, but never underestimate the power of love.

Since most calls came at night, I was working swing/graveyard shift. Scott worked graveyard. Like most guys, Scott read the current men’s magazines of the time, and like most sexual fantasy businesses, Lips advertised in those magazines with an 800 number no less! Scott would often call our number, but since he didn’t meet the criteria for a paying fantasy (no credit card), he would just chat with some of the girls, including me. One night he called and, being the manager of that shift, the girls passed his call to me. You are such a nice guy, but we can’t keep talking to you for free, was my response. Unbeknownst to Scott, I was planning to meet one of my customers in Seattle the next night. A gentleman I had been talking to for some time, wanted to meet me and was willing to pay for plane fair from LA to Seattle. Recently divorced from my first husband, I figured I had nothing to lose by meeting this guy. So, I told Scott that I would be in! Seattle the next night and I promised to call him. He gave me his work number and we said goodbye for now.

The next evening I arrived at LAX to take the red eye mail flight from LA to Seattle with a stop in San Francisco. I was 28 years old and had never flown on a commercial flight. Sure enough, my ticket was paid for and ready for me to pickup at check in. I settled into a seat and tried to prepare myself for this meeting with my customer. Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, the distance from LA to Seattle really did not register. It also never occurred to me that the man I was about to meet might be some kind of psycho creep, or worse. I had a one way ticket, $40 bucks, and an ATM card in my purse and I was off on an adventure!

Two hours, five cigarettes (yes, that’s when you could smoke on a plane), and several drinks later I arrived in Seattle. As expected, I met my customer. We were in the process of impressing each other when he announced that he would get his car and drive around to the United terminal entrance. I could get my belongings out of baggage claim and meet him out front. With a few minutes to myself, I thought I could dash to the ladies room and then call Scott, as I had promised. I grabbed my bag, hit the ladies room, and ran to the bank of pay phones. I dialed the number Scott gave me the night before and a nice voice told me that he wasn’t there at the moment. Oh, well, I tried. After all, I promised I would try, I thought. About that same time, it occurred to me that my rendezvous neglected to mention what kind of car he drove.

No big deal, by now it was 1:00am and not too many people at the airport. I walked out the terminal doors and waited by the curb. 30 minutes passed and no car. I went inside and had him paged. No answer. 30 more minutes passed, another page, and still no car or answer. By now, the only people in the airport terminal were me, a clerk at the United counter and a guy pushing a broom. Had I been in a movie, this is where the music would sound very ominous. After waiting for two hours, the gravity of the situation came pressing down hard. What did I get into? Tears were starting to slide down my cheek. I reached into my purse for a Kleenex and saw the slip of paper with Scott’s number. Trying not to panic, I walked back into the terminal and approaching a pay phone, took out the number and once again called Scott’s work. Oh yes, he’s here said the nice voice from before. Hello, this is Scott. I’ve been stood up; I started and then came the tears. And I don’t mean the little ladylike drops, but the big boo hoo kind.

Where are you at, he asked. I’m at the United terminal. Don’t move. I’ll be right there. I hung up and stood right where I was facing the pay phone, not moving. Within a few minutes, Scott came waking around the corner. Leanna? The voice belonged to a young man with kind, brown eyes, a tee shirt and a pair of jeans. Scott, I blubbered? And yes, the stars aligned, time stood still, and two young people looking for, but never expecting it, found each other and an everlasting love. My customer disappeared into the night and only later did I learn than he was using another guy’s credit card to pay for his calls and was afraid he would get caught in the fraud. 24 hours later, I was on a plane back to LA and Scott were back to work. But oh, those 24 hours! The attraction was instant and mutual, and not knowing if we would ever see each other again, we acted on it, becoming each other’s fantasy. As Scott put me on a plane the next night, he looked into my eyes and said I will see you again. That summer I flew back to Seattle twice and drove up once. The romance was on and our phone bills became astronomical. By October, Scott was laid off, and I convinced him to move to Los Angeles.

When people say they started off with nothing, I have always wondered how you have nothing. Looking back, I realize we had literally nothing. We did have a television, although a few years later when the TV died, we went a long time without one. Scott had his stereo and a pillow he swiped from a Motel 6 on his way down to LA. I had a bed (my settlement from my first marriage) and some dishes. Didn’t matter, we had each other. After a short period of living together, I looked Scott straight into his eyes and told him If you want to marry me, don’t just expect it to happen. You will have to ask. Christmas of 1984, he did, on one knee, and with a diamond ring. I said yes and finally my parents stopped referring to him as that guy and started calling Scott by name.

September 7, 1985, we were married on a sunny day in Port Orchard, Washington. The sparkling water of Puget Sound and the sky line of Seattle served as a backdrop to a very happy day. So now the story is supposed to go and they lived happily ever after. Not exactly. It was the 80’s, in Los Angeles, and before long we were living life in the fast lane. Now say what you want and remember what you’ve heard about drugs, but until you live through an addiction, keep your judgment to yourself. Cocaine became our drug of choice and soon snorting wasn’t enough, so free basing took over. As good as the high was and the great sex that came with the altered state of being, the depression and low that followed were abysmal. One day, after spending the rent money and whatever else was in our meager bank account, we took a paper bag and put all the drug paraphernalia inside, grabbed a hammer and smashed everything. You would think that action alone would have broken the habit and for a time it did, but within months we replaced cocaine with another drug crystal meth. At this time in Southern California, meth was making the scene. It’s a wicked little drug that makes one believe you are invincible and able to multi task like the Tasmanian Devil. In truth, you are very vulnerable and running around in circles with one foot tied down. It didn’t take long for the daily use to change our lives completely.

By 1990, during this time of drug abuse, the best friend I will ever have died of AIDS. The loss fueled my drug abuse ever more. Soon, I lost my job, making money even tighter. I became a consummate dumpster diver, hustling cans and bottles to recycle for cash. The next year we had to file bankruptcy and with that came the repo of our car, the loss of our residence, and a huge strain on our relationship. Scott kept up a brave front at his job, but the drugs were taking their toll. Soon we could no longer afford our own place and we moved in with a friend and took up residence in her garage. Scott was still working and I was selling things I would find in dumpsters at the local swap meets. It was spring of 1993 and in Texas, my oldest nephew was planning his wedding. We managed to scrounge up enough money for me to fly to Houston to attend. That separation started a change in our lives we never anticipated. Could there be life away from LA?

The next month my niece was also married in Houston. This time we both came to Texas and so did our little secret. No one in our families really knew what we were going through. They knew we were experiencing some hard times due to job loss and my friend’s death. But no one knew the extent . Later I would learn that this was about the time my sister started praying that someone would come into our lives and help us.

When we came back to LA after the wedding, we began to talk about changing our lives. By September my sister became involved in a writing project that required all of her time. So she invited me to come to Texas for six weeks and help her with the housework and her day to day stuff so she could concentrate on her project. I came and it was the longest time Scott and I had ever spent apart. During those six weeks Scott mailed me enough meth to keep going, but when I returned home, I knew things had to change. How were we going to survive? God responded to the prayers lifted up in our name and doors began to open. That Christmas we flew to Washington to be with Scott’s family and his parents agreed to give us the money to move. Ultimately we knew that the only way to break our addiction was to completely move from California. We could go north to Washington to be close to Scott’s family or east to Texas to be with mine. The U-Haul went east and we became Texans.

Everything we owned went into that U-Haul and our car was hitched behind. Somewhere in the sorting, packing and snorting, my wedding ring was lost.

I cried inconsolably, but I still had Scott. So what’s a ring? Any woman will tell you that her wedding ring is just as much a part of her as her soul. Losing mine was like losing one of the best parts of myself. The diamond wasn’t large, but it was mine, just like the man who gave it to me. When you look into the brilliance of a diamond, you can lose yourself. A jeweler may tell you that it all is in the cut, clarity, and color, but the beauty lies in what each sparkle represents. I would stare into my ring and with each flash of refracted light I could see the possibility of good things to come in our lives together. It was a constant reminder that I truly belonged to someone who loved me. Something inside me still believes that I will find it one day, tucked away in a box long forgotten. Someday . . .

It took four long driving days to reach Texas from California. Compared to starting over in every detail of our lives, the time it took to move was very short. We had no jobs, no money, except the deposit for returning the U-Haul, and no clue what to expect. My sister lovingly opened her home to us and within six weeks we both had jobs and an apartment of our own. Now, you’re thinking, comes the happily ever after. Not quite.

Come this February it will be sixteen years since we came to Texas. In that time, so much has happened. We renewed our wedding vows on our 10th anniversary. We have lost loved ones and gained new members in our families. We have struggled with finances and still have been blessed with abundance. We have enjoyed good times and endured bad times. In short, we have lived life and everything that comes with it. I don’t know if anyone ever lives happily ever after, but I do know that our relationship has survived and flourished. We find the love and commitment we share grows every day by serving others; through our church, our community, and our work. I could list all the things we don’t have, but the reality is that we have everything we need and more. In a quiet moment, sitting on the couch, I can reach out, touch Scott’s arm, and just the feel of his skin on my fingertips stirs feelings of passion and comfort.

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, these are the things we promised and have experienced them all. We were given an extraordinary gift; each other. Through God’s love and mercy we will continue to cherish and culture this great gift.

Congratulations, Diamond Cutters International. We know what twenty-five years is all about. It’s a journey every day. Our story is not complete because we are not finished yet. The next chapter is waiting to be written. One thing, I know for a certainty. When we are really old, we will look back on the improbable beginning of our relationship and through tears and laughter, we will know that this love was truly meant to be.

Diamond Prices: A Guy’s Best Friend

December 20, 2009

By Jennifer Waters

Wall Street Journal

The holidays can be a romantic time and there will be plenty of guys popping the question along with the champagne corks in the next few weeks. And if you’ll need a diamond to go along with that proposal, now is the time to buy.

While prices vary widely based on the quality of the cut and the rarity of the stone, diamond costs in general remain about 10% below year-ago levels.

Those prices have started to creep up from their lows in March, though, and the relative bargains won’t last long as the effects of the recession wear off and an oversupply of polished gems diminishes, retail diamond sellers say.

“There is a fair amount of inventory still out there because of the weak demand and because of a general aversion to wearing bling during these economic times,” says Dione Kenyon, president of the Jewelers Board of Trade, an industry credit bureau.

But don’t be blinded by love when diamond shopping. The process can be intimidating because of the lofty prices involved and what to the untrained eye can appear to be minor distinctions between stones. Markups on retail sales can be anywhere from 50% to 100%, jewelers say.

“There is a fault line between rough prices and polished prices. Since January rough prices are up 60% while polished goods are down 8%. Expect a 70% major earthquake rise in prices over the next 12-15 months as the structural imbalance re-stabilized into the new reality.” –Fred Cuellar

Everlon: Boost or Bust?

By Ben Janowski — JCK Online, November 1, 2009

Ads for the new De Beers program, using the brand name Everlon, broke in the consumer press in September. I suppose we must pay attention to any De Beers program, since their advertising and marketing budgets are the largest in the industry. But I don’t get this one.

De Beers’ programs have changed radically. At one time, De Beers would allocate $200 million or so each year for image-building promotions they developed. That was fine when De Beers controlled 75 percent or more of all rough output. As that declined, De Beers became determined that the benefits of the advertising accrued mostly to them and their clients. Even so, as programs were developed with specific product themes and characteristics, the market as a whole emulated the concepts.

These “beacons,” as De Beers calls them, enjoyed varying degrees of success. Many years ago, the Anniversary ring was successful, as were studs, the tennis bracelet, and the three-stone ring. Others were far less successful, but at least the ad programs got attention and provided something to pitch.

De Beers generally went with simple, generic pieces—the idea is to sell diamonds, not fancy jewelry—which made it easy for the trade to participate in or mimic.

But economic times have changed. De Beers is reluctant to back off from its programs entirely, even though other mining companies spend very sparingly on image advertising. A new plan is in the works, which has all major producers contributing to a global diamond campaign. It is as yet unimplemented, and the decline in diamond prices and production may impede the program. De Beers, however, is under unusual financial stress, with some $3 billion in debt maturing over the next year-and-a-half.

So this new “brand,” Everlon, is designed to meet two objectives: offer a line of jewelry available only at De Beers’ downstream stake-holders, and share the cost of the program among both sightholders and participating retailers. The central theme is a knot, a Herculean knot, of sorts.

On the plus side, the design is simple, easy to understand, and uses classic lines the public will probably accept. The pieces use a range of stone sizes (more or less fifths to 1.00 ct., in middle qualities) that De Beers has in excess supply. The design fits well with target customers, mostly chains.

But De Beers has burdened its clients with heavy participation costs. Sightholders work on thin margins when selling to chains, so the added costs for sightholders and retailers could make these basic pieces uncompetitive. De Beers counters, I’m sure, that the advertising and branding more than offset this aspect. But it takes years to build a real brand, and the public may not pick up on it in the four months that it will be promoted before Christmas. And can a brand be built on a long-used design? Does the design even warrant heavy promotion?

Other manufacturers and retailers will “emulate” the pieces. Even if some make straight knockoffs, I doubt any copyrights will stick (assuming De Beers copyrights the designs). This scenario looks like a price war, but with De Beers’ sightholders and their participating retailers on the short end. The retailers, who compete against each other in many markets, will face off with identical items that are branded—the very thing they have long avoided in diamond jewelry. And the competition will have a real price advantage.

As of now, only four sightholders are involved. At the London preview, De Beers refused to show the designs. I presume they feared knockoffs. It was suggested to me that it took some arm-twisting to get this far. Considering the product and the costs, it’s understandable that sightholders and retailers were reluctant. Some major retailers have said they won’t get into this program. Other comments I heard related to the essence of the product. People don’t believe larger diamonds will sell in such designs; some say it will quickly degrade to cheap, smaller diamonds; others say the ring won’t work because the diamond is off-center; nobody I spoke with was excited by the designs. The ads refer the reader to www.adiamondisforever.com to find participating retailers. I tried several times, on different days, and couldn’t get through.

If there was ever a time when innovative and cost-effective programs were needed, it’s now. But this program is a dud.


“If De Beers thinks that tying a knot in a noose that is already around their neck is going to get them out of their $3 billion mess, then I guess they have not met The Hangman, the consumer!” –Fred Cuellar

Click here for orginal article.

Vol. 8.11 “The Hobo At The Fence”

In the spirit of the holiday season and its meaning, I hope it will inspire you. This story was adapted from Charity: True Stories of Giving and Receiving and edited by Rosemerry Wahtola Trimmer.


In the ‘ 40s and early ‘50s, the plaque of a smiling cat displayed in the window of a home meant that a hobo might find a hot meal there. Tootie’s grandparents didn’t have such a plaque in their window, but because they were just blocks from the train crossing, they would encounter their share of men who were just passing through. Tootie’s grandfather was always willing to pay these fellows a couple of dollars in exchange for their labor.


One morning, Tootie noticed a hobo tending her grandfather’s yard while her grandmother was in the kitchen fixing bacon and scrambled eggs.


“But we’ve already had breakfast,” she said to her grandmother.


“This is for the hobo,” her grandmother said as she collected a jar of peanut butter, crackers, and other food from the pantry. She stuffed the items in a bag, grabbed a table cloth, and headed out to the picnic table in yard.


“Are we going to have a picnic?” Tootie asked.


“No, this is so it’s nice for him, “ the grandmother said. She placed the bag of groceries o the table, “ and so he has something for later until he can get a decent meal.”


Tootie wondered why her grandmother was treating this hobo like he was special, and she said as much.


Her grandmother let out a sigh and told her the story of an uncle who’d gotten into a bit of trouble as a young man during the depression. In a fit of desperation he’d run away from home. A neighbor told the family that he’d seen the uncle hop a train that was going to California. Decades passed, and the family never heard from or saw him again.


Tootie’s grandmother thought of this uncle each time a hobo came past their fence. Somewhere out there these men had family who were missing them and hoping they’d return. A chance to earn their keep, a kind word, a little food, and a prayer was the least anyone could offer someone who’d lost their way.


Over the years, Tootie witnessed her grandparents treat these men with dignity and compassion, never once judging them nor asking them to divulge their secrets.

Love,

Fred

Diamond Industry Makeover Sends Fifth Avenue to Africa

By VANESSA O’CONNELL

MOGODITSHANE, Botswana — Tiffany & Co.’s iconic blue boxes have long cradled some of the world’s most expensive diamonds. Now, an increasing number contain stones cut by some of the industry’s least-experienced hands.

 

In a windowless factory in this African village, Tiffany is teaching more than 80 workers to transform raw diamonds into gems for Tiffany engagement rings. As novices recently pressed pea-size stones against whirling blades, a visiting Tiffany executive spied a problem.

 

“You don’t try to save money by using cheap architect and building a castle on sand!”–Fred Cuellar

 

Tiffany & Co.’s iconic blue boxes have long cradled some of the world’s most expensive diamonds. Now, an increasing number contain stones cut by some of the industry’s least-experienced hands.

 

“You can see the polishing lines!” said Mark Hanna, an Antwerp, Belgium-based vice president of Tiffany’s diamond unit. “Tiffany diamonds can’t have polishing lines.”

 

Tiffany is one of the largest diamond retailers making a play in Botswana to cut and polish its own diamonds . But other firms are setting up shop there, too. Vanessa O’Connell takes a tour inside a new factory in Gaborone which produces polished gems for Graff Diamonds.

 

Such are the risks for the New York-based retailer as it strives to transform its diamond business amid a decade of industry boom and bust. Tiffany has decided that to preserve and expand its $2.9 billion-a-year enterprise, it needs this factory — with its high labor costs, low productivity and workers who staged a two-day sit-in this month.

 

Tiffany’s is an extreme example of an industry shift that started during the recent luxury boom. Like most other diamond retailers, Tiffany long bought the vast majority of its diamonds pre-cut and pre-polished from industry middlemen. But with global diamond-jewelry sales soaring earlier this decade, Tiffany and others worried they would soon be fighting over dwindling supplies.

 

“There are no shortage of commercial grade diamonds; just non-commercial grade.” –Fred Cuellar

 

So Tiffany began venturing into an end of the diamond business it spent much of its 172-year history avoiding — sourcing, cutting and polishing its own diamonds. “We decided to move backward” in the supply chain, says Chief Executive Michael Kowalski.

 

The retailer invested in mine operators, and in 2002 it began opening cutting-and-polishing plants in Canada, Belgium, South Africa and Vietnam. In the past two years it added similar operations in China and Mauritius. The in-house unit Tiffany founded in 2002 to run these plants, Laurelton Diamonds, now employs 1,100 workers, or 14% of the company’s work force. It will supply more than 50% of Tiffany’s diamonds this year — up from 40% last year and none in 2003.

 

“Does that mean 1 out of 2 diamonds now will be subpar? You might as well flip a coin to see what you’ll get there.” –Fred Cuellar

 

Others have made similar bets. Privately held retailer Graff Diamonds International owns a majority stake in a South African diamond wholesaler and polisher with facilities from Antwerp and New York to Botswana. Suppliers have made incursions on retailers’ turf. Mining giant De Beers Group operates retail stores in a joint venture with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA. Canadian miner Aber Diamond bought a controlling interest in retailer Harry Winston in 2004. Indian jewelry manufacturer Gitanjali Gems Ltd. transformed itself into a global retailer starting in 2006, buying U.S.-based Samuels and Rogers jewelry chains.

 

Some industry analysts see risk in running operations that span from mining and manufacturing to high-end retailing and marketing. “[They’re] all totally different types of activity — and one needs tremendous expertise, skills, infrastructure to be truly competitive” in each, says Chaim Even-Zohar, principal of Tacy Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based industry consultant.

 

Such companies may miss out on savings that result from competition in these specialized areas, Mr. Even-Zohar adds, and may risk using some parts of their supply chain to subsidize others. “Vertical integration sounds great from a promotion and marketing perspective. But more often than not it doesn’t make economic sense.”

 

“The key to selling diamonds isn’t to treat them as coal but as work of art. If you cut out the master craftsmen, you’re back to coal! If you screw someone over to try to increase quick profits, the long term dollars disappear.” –Fred Cuellar

 

The stakes are especially high now that tight diamond supply has given way to slack demand. The global retail market for diamond jewelry is expected to fall 16% this year, to $65 billion. The U.S. will lose an estimated 900 specialty jewelry stores this year alone, following 1,500 closures last year. Industry players have retrenched: Signet Jewelers Ltd., the parent company of retailers Kay Jewelers and Sterling Jewelers, recently stopped buying rough diamonds and polishing them on contract in India, an initiative it started in 2005. A spokesman said the program broke even.

 

Tiffany is also feeling the pressure. Its inventory has swelled to $1.54 billion this year, up from $1 billion in early 2005. For the first time in recent memory, Tiffany says, it has lowered its prices for diamonds. The engagement rings it sells in the U.S. are priced 10% lower than last year. In all, the company expects a “high teens” decline in sales this year at U.S. stores open at least a year.

 

Tiffany acknowledges its lack of mining expertise. Although it reaped a large financial gain from its 2004 sale of a minority stake in the 40%-owner of a Canadian mine, it recently disclosed that it wrote off a $12.4 million investment in a small mining project in Sierra Leone. It also has written off loans of about $44 million to a former supplier whose mine has ceased operations. “I think we want to let the miners do the mining,” said Chief Financial Officer James Fernandez.

 

“By the time it’s over 84% of ‘spam’ jewelers will be gone!” — Fred Cuellar

 

A Diamond’s Path

 

But Tiffany says its cutting-and-polishing strategy is solid. In slow markets, the company says, it can rein in purchases from outside suppliers. When demand returns, it says, it will have guaranteed, lower-cost stocks. “There were many in the industry who thought we were foolhardy,” Mr. Kowalski says, but the diamond-cutting operations “have exceeded our expectations.”

 

If there’s a weak link in Tiffany’s global diamond chain, it’s the polishing plant in Botswana. A glimpse into this secretive end of the diamond business shows the high costs, tricky logistics and labor unrest Tiffany is willing to shoulder to maintain its diamond pipeline.

 

“Dynamiting the pond always exceeds your expectations but only for a moment! You can fool some of the people some of the time, but don’t come between a woman and her best friend.” — Fred Cuellar

 

Fancy Goods

 

Founded in 1837 as a New York stationery and “fancy goods” emporium, Tiffany bought large jewelry collections from French aristocrats fleeing revolution, and in 1878 paid $18,000 — the equivalent today of $400,000 or more — to buy the Tiffany Yellow Diamond in Paris. Co-founder Charles Lewis Tiffany gained the nickname “the King of Diamonds.”

 

Even so, by 1991, diamonds accounted for only 17% of Tiffany’s sales. To boost profits, the company began pushing diamond jewelry and opening new stores in Europe, Asia and the U.S.
In early 1999, Tiffany’s new CEO, Mr. Kowalski, feared surging global diamond demand could hinder the company’s efforts to stock its expanding retail network. That July, Tiffany purchased a minority stake in the 40%-owner of a mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

 

Tiffany soon saw other openings. De Beers, which long controlled the world’s rough-diamond supply, was paring back after years of sparring with European and U.S. antitrust regulators. When De Beers closed its high-tech diamond-sawing and -polishing operation in Belgium, Tiffany bought some of its machinery and hired former workers including Mr. Hanna, now Laurelton’s vice president.

 

The new Laurelton unit built a cutting-and-polishing factory in Canada, bought a majority stake in a Johannesburg plant and acquired what would become its largest plant, a 570-person polishing operation in Vietnam.

 

But the elusive prize was Botswana, the world’s largest producer of gem-quality diamonds since the 1980s. Its Jwaneng Diamond Mine is the world’s richest by value of recovered diamonds. Botswana is also among Africa’s least-corrupt countries, according to an index by nonprofit Transparency International. Securing a supply of stones here would help Tiffany allay mounting consumer concerns over “conflict diamonds,” sold to fund wars or produced under unethical labor conditions.

 

Tiffany executives made their first reconnaissance trip to Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, in 2004. “Do we need to be in Botswana?” Mr. Hanna recalls asking at the time. “We said, ‘Yes, but we aren’t quite sure how to do it.'”

 

“Really? That’s the goal? ‘Least corrupt’? Don’t do what you don’t know how to do just becuase you are desperate.” — Fred Cuellar

 

Sparsely populated and AIDS-ravaged, Botswana has minimal manufacturing infrastructure and few direct flights beyond the continent. Tiffany faced further roadblocks. It couldn’t get into mining, which was controlled by a 50-50 partnership between De Beers and the Botswana government. It couldn’t buy rough diamonds locally, because the state mining venture sold its production only through De Beers’ sales offices in the U.K. and South Africa.

 

Botswana’s cutting operations were also unattractive: A parcel of diamonds polished here costs about $100 per carat, compared with $30 in India, according to industry estimates.

 

The calculation changed in 2006. Renegotiating its mining deal with De Beers that year, Botswana announced it would license 16 international cutting firms willing to build factories here. In return for training locals to polish diamonds, the government said, these firms would eventually gain the right to buy rough diamonds in Botswana.

 

Tiffany jumped. It took a majority stake in one of these firms, Rand Diamonds. Rand set up shop in an unmarked factory amid the used-car dealerships and military barracks of Mogoditshane, a former cattle post at the edge of the capital’s urban sprawl.

 

With few Batswana versed in diamond polishing, the company put an ad in the Botswana Guardian newspaper for English-speaking applicants with a high-school-level education. To help winnow its 300 hopefuls, Tiffany/Rand screened for math aptitude. It gave candidates tweezers and timed how fast they could place 40 tiny metal sticks into holes set in a board.

 

When the factory opened in early 2007, its new hires worked on small and low-cost brown diamonds, overseen by experienced cutters imported on short contracts from India and Mauritius. “We are literally parachuting people in from one operation to the other,” Mr. Hanna said.

 

“Very simple: You get what you paid for!” –Fred Cuellar

 

Bruters and Polishers

 

Sitting at workstations arranged by task, bruters round the diamond pieces. Polishers add top and bottom facets, looking at magnified images of their diamonds captured by a lens near the whirring polishing wheel.

 

On the factory floor on a recent afternoon, a worker learning to make facets walked over to a Laurelton-designed training machine to double-check an angle. When he set the diamond in the protractor, a display flashed 35.2 degrees. Over the whir of grinding wheels, Mr. Hanna nodded in approval.

 

Trainees who learn such basics of bruting and faceting become “qualified” workers in four to six months, Tiffany says. About 30% fail. The rest start handling gem-quality stones, working at a pace of up to one polished diamond a day. Tiffany expects their pace to increase considerably.
For now, the plant’s expatriate and local workers produce about 250 finished gems each week, primarily “round brilliant” stones, with 57 light-reflecting facets, for Tiffany engagement rings. About 85% of the stones are deemed “Tiffany qualified,” and are forwarded to a Tiffany office in Pelham, N.Y., for grading.

 

“Is this anything like an AIG stamp of approval?” –Fred Cuellar

 

Tiffany doesn’t tell its customers where individual diamonds are mined or polished, and declined to say how much of its overall inventory is now sourced and polished in Botswana. “We really want the focus…to be on the quality of the diamond ring, not how it came to be,” said Mr. Kowalski, the CEO.

 

Tiffany’s payout came in April 2008, when approved cutting firms gained access to about 15% of the country’s raw diamonds, in local sales valued at an estimated $550 million annually by the end of 2010. De Beers began to sell natural diamonds from various mines 10 times a year at bulk sales in Gaborone, where Tiffany’s Mr. Hanna is a frequent buyer. Diamond merchandise now represents 47% of Tiffany’s sales.

 

But tensions at the Mogoditshane plant are high. Local workers and managers, whose names were provided by a factory partner, said in interviews that the plant’s expat supervisors do too much of the work themselves, slowing Batswanas’ advancement.

 

Complaint Letter

 

“We are eager to learn about diamonds — about cutting and polishing and the valuation and stuff like that…[But] it seems certain people are scared [about] sharing information with the locals,” said one local who works in a management position. “It’s a bit of a clash of cultures.”

 

Workers aired many complaints in an Oct. 7 letter to the plant’s managers, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Identifying themselves as “local staff,” they wrote they hadn’t qualified for performance-based raises, but that managers wouldn’t show them the data on which those pay decisions were based. They called their work environment “prisonlike,” writing that they had been threatened by a Belgian production manager they characterized as “corrupt, racist, vulgar, abusive, bully[ing]” and “not professional.”

 

The next day, all but about five local laborers gathered in the facility’s reception hall, refusing to work until the plant’s director addressed their concerns, according to the plant’s human-resources manager, Meshack Lejuta. The director sent Mr. Lejuta to address the workers. The sit-in stopped in the middle of the next day, Mr. Lejuta says, when he warned his fellow Batswana they could be fired because their strike was unlawful.

 

Responding to the letter and strike, Tiffany said workers expressed concerns as part of a union organizing effort. It said it intends to address grievances with a union representative, including “any tensions, wrongly characterized as racist, that may have arisen because skilled workers from other African nations and from Asia have been engaged for training purposes.”

 

Mr. Hanna said Tiffany wants local workers to take over diamond cutting, key decisions and training of other locals. Foreign supervisors, whose numbers once nearly equaled those of the factory’s local workers, now account for about one in five positions.

 

The Botswana government is pleased with Tiffany’s commitment to train residents, says Akolang Tombale, a government adviser and recently retired secretary of Botswana’s minerals department. Other polishing plants are experiencing strikes and slow training initiatives, Dr. Tombale says.
Tiffany, meanwhile, is pushing ahead. While buying raw diamonds in Gaborone’s diamond district recently, Mr. Hanna looked out a window and pointed to an area of bush. Tiffany plans to begin clearing land there this year to build a 20,000-square-foot factory. Set to open in 2011, it will employ as many as 275 workers.

 

“The tarnish on Tiffany isn’t just tarnish anymore it’s rusted through.” –Fred Cuellar

 

Click here for original article.

This Cat Betrayed His Girlfriend

This is hilarious!!!

The Health of Your Jeweler

In the last two and a half years one out of every seven jewelers has gone out of business! Generations of jewelers have been wiped off the face of the map because they were ill-prepared for the next tidal wave of consumerism—Twitter, text message, Facebook, etc. connected consumers that don’t care what the old way to do business is because they want to buy their way on their schedule! Jewelers who had legions of fans have been left in the Sahara Desert as their fast track-spending baby boomers are off searching for the meaning of life and have put away their pocket books and wallets! Of the remaining jewelers, half are on life support betting on Christmas! If Santa appears, they may squeak by with their lives. If not? It’s Sayonara! Arrivederci! After the next 3 months, we will have a pretty good idea of which jewelers are going to survive and which ones will join the Tyrannosaurus Rex!


As a consumer here is what you have to be on the look out for:

1) Promises that seem too good to be true! If the jeweler keeps lowering the price until you buy he’s not going to be around tomorrow!

2) The lack of non-bonded diamonds; the bonding of commercial diamonds. If the jeweler is offering a lifetime buyback guarantee on crummy diamonds, it’s because they are just dynamiting the pond to get the most money in their pocket before they go out of business. Of course, they don’t have to worry about keeping a promise if they close up and leave town after the sale.

3) Over-stocked Cases! Desperate jewelers bring in a lot of jewelry on consignment that they haven’t paid for yet hoping to make a quick sale! If they sell it to you and they go out of business with out paying their bills you are in possession of stolen merchandise!

4) How long the jeweler has been in business now is irrelevant! Legacy jewelers are dropping like flies. Look for the little things like small repairs that haven’t been made, lights out in cases or outdoor signs that haven’t been replaced. Out of date décor. Does the place have a current minimalism look or old fashion iron stands behind the cases approach?

5) Look at the age of the jewelers. If everyone serving you is older than dirt there is a good chance there is a hole in the desert six feet deep that the company is going to be dropped into.

Are the sales people a little eager like their life depends on it or do they give you room to breathe? If they crowd you it’s because they are missing the crowds!

6) Flat out ask them if their diamonds come with “certificates” guaranteeing the diamond? If they say yes run for the hills! The FTC has deregulated lab reports to not be responsible for the exact accuracy of their grades as long as disclaimers are present! If the jeweler is telling you a piece of paper stands behind their diamonds and not the jeweler himself, you are talking to a dinosaur.

7) Does the jeweler have a social media director? If they don’t they are in the dark ages and will soon be left in the dark.

8) Do they try to make the sale today vs. giving you time to make your decision? If they’re rushing you they are hunting for cash.

9) And finally, who do you know of your friends that have recently bought from the jeweler? If you can’t quickly Facebook your friends and find at least a half a dozen happy customers it’s because they don’t have any!

The health of the “business as usual” jeweler is critical. They are on life support and if they are on life support, how are they going to be around to support you?


by Fred Cuellar, author of the best-selling book “How to Buy a Diamond.” More questions? Ask the Diamond Guy®

Don’t Force It! (Pre Fab Isn’t Fab)

Ninety percent of all jewelry sold in the United States is prefabricated. Let’s see what Webster has to say. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word Prefabricate as follows:

Function: transition verb

Date: 1932

1: to fabricate the parts of at a factory so that construction consists mainly of assembling and uniting standardized parts.

2: to produce artificially

Think about it! Ninety percent of all the settings that hold our diamonds and gemstones are manufactured PRIOR to knowing what diamonds or gemstones are going to go in it! That’s life in the 21st century—picking out a frame for a newly discovered DaVinci without bothering to ask the exact dimensions. That’s Crazy! But, I’ll keep going! All this Prefab jewelry is mass produced in such great quantities, (#1 goal being profit) that any decent quality control to insure against under-carating of the quality of the gold or precious metal is thrown out with the baby and the bath water! Prongs that should be hand rolled for durability and strength are plucked out of an assembly line machine losing an incredible amount of tensile strength (that’s what keeps your rocks in place)! Of course even under the most optimal conditions, using a Master Craftsman & Master Stone Setter, damage is possible but why would we want to increase the odds of an accident by over twenty times?! We might as well text and drive with an open container in the car! All right, don’t get me started! Here are the facts:

1) Prefab jewelry is a lot less expensive upfront but will cost you more on the back side with costly repairs.

2) Prefab jewelry is ordered out of a catalog so you may get it quick and fast but you aren’t buying something meant to last.

3) Prefab jewelry serves a place in our society the same way a place holder does. It’s a good band-aid until you know exactly what you want your dream piece of jewelry to look like.

4) Custom made jewelry is more expensive (but not unaffordable like some jewelers want you to believe) but will more than pay for itself when it lasts generations not
months!

Here’s how you protect yourself:

1) Ask the jeweler if the ring was Prefabricated by him or anyone else.

2) If the ring was Prefabricated and you are willing to roll the dice with prongs that have been FORCED out of place to fit stones that were jammed into them, what guarantees does the jeweler provide when the little sparkly beauties start jumping ship?

3) If they say the ring is custom made will they put it in writing and guarantee any stone loss (Large main stones must be covered under a personal floater policy) as long as you bring it in for scheduled maintenance?

4) Did the jeweler attempt to show and sell you a setting first and then ask you to pick out the main stone? * Never put the cart before the horse!

5) And finally, how long did the process take from start to finish? If it took days and not weeks with several visits, I’m sorry my friend, you just bought a Prefabricated piece of jewelry and as the story goes “Prefab aint Fab!”

by Fred Cuellar, author of the best-selling book “How to Buy a Diamond.” More questions? Ask the Diamond Guy®

Vol. 8.10 “The Gift of Gratitude”

This is a story adapted from Taking Care of Me by Mary Kay Mueller in Bits & Pieces. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


On Monday, Mack Stewart would be celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company. Members of his staff gathered over coffee one afternoon to brainstorm ways to commemorate his big day.


“I’m sure the company has something special planned for him. After all, if it weren’t for Mack we never would’ve met those dead lines on the Sampson and MacGregor projects,” said one worker, “but I’d still like our group to do something special for him.”


“Count me in,” said a fellow from an other department. “When I first started here… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t still be here if Mack hadn’t mentored me through that first year.


“He’s always thinking of others, one woman recalled. And she reminded them that aside from his contribution to the annual department potluck, Mack always brought In sugar free treats and a vegetable tray to accommodate those with dietary restrictions.


The group contacted Mack’s assistant, Flo, to make sure there plans would not interfere with whatever management had planned. Much to their surprise, they learned that because of cutbacks, the company had no budget or plans to honor this beloved employee. They were even more shocked to learn that in the 10 years she’d been his assistant, Flo couldn’t re call one instance where her boss had received a thank you note from anyone.


“That settles it, “some one said, “This Monday is going to be Mack Stewart day in this office!”


When Mack arrived at his desk on that day, he found a mail bin stuffed with envelopes. It contained about 100 letters and small token gifts from his colleagues letting him know just how much they appreciated him. Mack looked up to find a crowd of workers gathering and smiling back at him. “Happy Anniversary,” they cheered.


“Thanks, guys, you’re the best,” he said as he held up a box of bagels and doughnuts. “I brought in some treats. Let’s celebrate.


Sometimes we forget that one of the most precious gifts you can give a person is an acknowledgement of gratitude. No matter how busy you are today, make some time to show appreciation to someone who has touched your life.


Love,

Fred

The ‘Post-Cartel’ Diamond World Faces Its First Crisis

Rob Bates, Senior Editor — JCK Online, 8/31/2009 6:22:51 PM

In a 1998 interview, Nicky Oppenheimer told JCK: “In good times, people often say, ‘We don’t need De Beers,’ and it’s true; in good times, you don’t. It’s in bad times that people recognize the benefit of the CSO [Central Selling Organisation].”

The past year fits anyone’s definition of “bad times.” It saw the steepest drop in diamond demand in more than 50 years. It saw banks refusing to lend, business come to a standstill, and a jaw-dropping string of retailer and manufacturer bankruptcies.

And the CSO is just a memory.

De Beers, of course, is still around. But it’s a remade company that is forbidden from cartel-like activities-such as stockpiling diamond production or buying up “distressed” goods-by agreement with the European Union. And the fact is, even if it tried to manage the diamond market, it likely wouldn’t be able to. Today, De Beers controls 40 percent of the market, a far cry from the 80 percent to 90 percent it did when Oppenheimer made the statement above. It now competes with other players in the rough market, which use a variety of sales mechanisms including BHP’s tenders and systems that resemble sights.

How did the diamond industry manage through the economic crisis? Not always well; the market is still reeling and will feel the pinch of this downturn for a long time. But at press time, there are tentative signs that the U.S. economy is in recovery mode, and a tinge of optimism is in the air. De Beers’ sights are up-recent ones were triple those at the beginning of the year-and rough prices are increasing.

Here are the main lessons from this downturn:

Cutting production arguably has the same effect as stockpiling. As previously mentioned, De Beers can no longer stockpile goods. So it made what might be a better business move: It stopped producing diamonds.

De Beers broker Mark Boston, chairman of H Goldie, in London, notes that stopping production is a “similar mechanism” to stockpiling “but perhaps more effective, and more transparent. When they tried to manipulate the market in the past it was actually not very easy. It was pretty frustrating for them.”

De Beers Group director of external and corporate affairs Stephen Lussier says the production halt was a matter of simple economics. “When there was very little appetite for new rough diamonds, we didn’t want to produce more than our clients needed, because then you would be deflating the price,” he explains.

The company’s mines in Botswana, Canada, and Namibia all went on “extended production holidays.” There was a precedent for this: During the Great Depression, De Beers closed two of its mines for two years. In all, the company’s output fell a staggering 90 percent in the first quarter of this year, allowing second-place miner Alrosa, which produced and stockpiled diamonds through the crisis, to claim (temporarily) the mantle of “world’s largest diamond producer.”

At press time, the mines are back in production. Even so, De Beers likely will produce only 40 percent of its standard output this year.

De Beers was not alone. Many mines, including the main ones in Canada, either halted or cut production in response to the crisis. Other parts of the pipeline also tried to put on the brakes. India’s Gem and Jewellery Promotion Council instituted a voluntary one-month halt on imports. But producers objected and it wasn’t extended.

Price volatility is now a fact of life in the diamond industry. Once the magnitude of the financial crisis became apparent, miner BHP spooked the market when prices at its tender were a reported 30 percent to 40 percent less than those charged by De Beers. Charles Wyndham noted on his Web site that prices at the Lesotho tender, which his company administers, were down a similar amount. Polished prices were down a third to a half for certain items, although it was difficult to get accurate price information since there was so little activity in the market.

All of which left De Beers in a quandary. It couldn’t sell its diamonds for 30 percent more than competitors, because no one would buy them. But it didn’t want to shake the market or hurt consumer perception of diamond value at the same time it was launching an ad campaign trumpeting the “value” concept.

In the end, De Beers did lower prices, but to a limited extent. “DTC prices have come down from their peaks,” says Lussier. “But we did not want to see deep discounts. And the reality is that diamond prices didn’t decline that much. It was a very short-term thing.”

Lussier stresses that, with demand growing in emerging markets like China and India, and with few new mines coming on stream, the long-range outlook is for diamond prices to rise. Still, what this crisis drives home is that diamond prices now fluctuate, like the prices of any other commodity. The tenders, in particular, are widely watched and have an impact on rough prices.

The “old” De Beers is dead and gone. Although many diamond companies have suffered during this recession, few thought De Beers would be one of them. But as one veteran De Beers watcher put it, the company is now “in the business of self-preservation, like everyone else.” For the first time, the company seemed financially stressed. Its first sight of 2009 came in at around $100 million, a stunning $500 million drop from the year before. Other sights had similar numbers.

The company reacted to this downturn like so many others-by drastically slashing expenses. It laid off 25 percent of its staff in London, and new ventures, like its Washington corporate affairs office, were scuttled. Even so, De Beers had to borrow $800 million (interest free) from its trio of owners to pay off its debt, and it recently renegotiated its loan covenants.

De Beers also made unprecedented moves to boost sales. It talked openly of selling diamonds to non-sightholders and investment funds, but in the end those plans went nowhere. There were no “significant” sales to investors, Lussier admits, and the plan to sell to non-sightholders raised such a fuss it was quickly dropped. But De Beers did institute one new mechanism that was more successful: “Second-week sights,” which allowed clients to get a crack at goods other companies had rejected.

“We wanted to make sure we maximized every available sales opportunity,” Lussier explains. “We didn’t want to create demand where it didn’t exist, but we didn’t want to feel we had lost sales. And we did find instances where we created opportunities.”

Despite all the talk of the company’s change in stature, it remains an important player in the industry, as evidenced by how much of this article is devoted it.

“De Beers lost the dominant position in the way they once had it, but regardless, people still look to them as a leader,” says Boston. “They really can’t escape their history-and perhaps it’s their destiny-of leading the market.”

The diamond industry needs a generic marketing mechanism. Problems were compounded by the fact that, for most of 2008 and 2009, virtually no one was doing any significant generic diamond advertising. De Beers, sensing bad times were coming, slashed its marketing budget at the beginning of 2008. It later reversed itself, starting the “Enduring Value” campaign in the fourth quarter of last year and planning a new “big idea” for Christmas 2009.

And yet De Beers has long maintained it can’t shoulder the marketing burden for the entire industry, especially now that it no longer has an endless pile of cash to draw from. At a meeting on the crisis last year, the major players agreed to start an industrywide entity to handle generic marketing. That entity is now called the International Diamond Board (or IDB) and is searching for a chief executive officer. Its budget has been estimated at $70 million to $100 million, a far cry from the $200 million a year De Beers used to spend. But if it works, the IDB may be one of the few positive results to emerge from this recession.

Click here for original article.

Petra Unearths Diamond the Size of a Chicken Egg

By Thomas Biesheuvel

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) — Petra Diamonds Ltd., a miner of the stones in Africa, said it unearthed a gem the size of a chicken egg at the Cullinan mine that may be among the 20 largest “high quality” rough diamonds discovered.

“Initial indications are that it is of exceptional color and clarity, which suggest extraordinary potential for its polished yield,” Chief Executive Officer Johan Dippenaar said in a statement today.

The 507.6-carat stone, weighing more than 100 grams (3.53 ounces), may sell for more than $20 million, Brock Salier, an analyst at Ambrian Partners Ltd. in London, wrote in a note. “That would probably be a guide,” Dippenaar said, when asked about the estimate on a conference call. “We certainly hope it’s not that little.”

The world’s biggest certified diamond is the 3,106-carat Cullinan, found at the mine near Pretoria, South Africa in 1905. It was cut to form the Great Star of Africa and the Lesser Star of Africa, set in the Crown Jewels of Britain. Petra sold a 7.03-carat blue diamond, cut from a 26.58-carat rough stone found at the mine, for $9.48 million in May.

Petra rose 5 pence, or 7.9 percent, to 68 pence in London after it unveiled the latest find, which spokeswoman Cathy Roberts said was the size of a medium chicken egg. The stock has more than doubled in the past six months.

St. Helier, Jersey-based Petra also found three other “special” white stones weighing 168 carats, 58.50 carats and 53.30 carats, it said. A carat equals 0.2 gram. The three stones may fetch more than $10 million, according to Salier.

Reports Loss

Rough diamond prices are rebounding after falling as much as 65 percent from September last year to March, according to Ambrian, as the global economic slump slashed demand for luxury goods. Petra today reported its full-year loss widened to $90.9 million after the price slump and as it wrote down the value of some mines and exited exploration projects in the first half.

The figure compares with a $7.2 million loss a year earlier. Sales slipped 10 percent to $69.3 million.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that we have seen a bottom of the market,” Petra said in a statement. Diamonds are still selling at prices 30 percent to 35 percent lower than averages achieved for the year though June 2008, it added.

De Beers, the world’s largest supplier, has restarted operations in Botswana and Namibia after cutting first-half output by 73 percent. ZAO Alrosa, the Russian state-run diamond monopoly, resumed sales in May as demand improved.

Click here for original article.

Smithsonian Offers Public Rare View of the Hope Diamond

By Jacqueline Trescott

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 3:17 PM

The famous blue stone now stands alone.

This morning, for the first time in its 50-year residence at the Smithsonian Institution, the Hope Diamond was taken out of its setting, giving the public a rare look at its bare beauty.

The famous blue gem now rests on a discreet bracket in a custom-made display case and vault. The public got its first look at the naked stone at 10 a.m. in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the National Museum of Natural History.

At a morning press conference, with the doors locked and security personnel glaring, a jeweler wheeled a trolley out from a workroom. Atop it was the Hope Diamond covered with a white cloth; the cloth was taken off with a flourish by museum director Cristián Samper. “This is a new chapter in the history of the Hope Diamond,” said Samper, facing a lineup of camera crews. “We wanted to celebrate this legacy by giving people a look at the Hope Diamond in a new way.”

The 45.52-carat gem, which was donated to the Smithsonian on Nov. 10, 1958, by the firm of Harry Winston Inc., has been one of the most visited objects at the Smithsonian. More than 5 million people a year peer into its enclosure. “This is the world’s most famous gemstone,” said Jeffrey Post, the curator of the gem and mineral collection.

To observe its 50th year at the museum, the Smithsonian Channel is producing a documentary called “Mystery of the Hope Diamond.” In addition, the show’s producers sponsored an online contest to select a new temporary setting for the gem from among three patterns proposed by the Winston firm.

The winner of this unique publicity gimmick — as if the diamond needed more notoriety — was also announced this morning. Members of the public — or at least 45,000 of the 100,000 who cast votes — chose a setting called “Embracing Hope.” It is a necklace of a ribbon of diamonds with the Hope sitting in a cluster of diamonds in a teardrop shape. The Hope will be displayed briefly in its temporary setting next spring, the museum said. The diamond will be returned to its original setting, a pendant circled by diamonds, on a diamond necklace.

Participating in the documentary and seeing the gem out of its setting is giving the Smithsonian’s staff new opportunities to study the stone. “Because blue diamonds are so rare, you don’t get a chance to examine them,” said Post. “This is a unique product of the Earth and by studying it we can learn more about all diamonds.”

The diamond has had an unusual history. Mined in India, it was sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. After several owners, it was purchased in 1911 by Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was a prominent hostess in Washington. She owned it until her death in 1947 the Winston firm bought her entire jewelry collection in 1949.

Throughout its history, the diamond has also been associated with a so-called curse. “It has brought us good luck in the last 50 years,” joked Samper.

After the unveiling of the bare stone, the diamond was taken back to a secure room until the display area was cleared of cameras, press and staff.


Click here for original article.

Vol. 8.9 “Expand Your Boundaries”

I would like to share with everyone a story I stumbled across in Bits & Pieces by Rich Horwath. It is adapted from Deep Dive.


Two boys, one 17 and other 10 spent their afternoons free-diving for oysters in hopes of finding ones that contained pearls. Like most of the men from their small coastal village, they learned from a young age how to hold their breath for minutes at a time to swim the depths and explore the treasures of their breath for minutes at a time to swim the depths and explore the treasures of their native waters.


Every evening the boys would meet at the hut of the village elder, who would in quire about their success for the day. The older boy always had a sack filled with oysters to show to the elder. He also shared stories of the adventures he’d experienced during the day’s dive. Meanwhile, the younger boy would sit quietly by, having brought in only a few small oysters and never having any stories to tell.

But one day things changed. “How were your dives, today?” the elder asked the older boy, who offered only an empty sack as he hunched his shoulders.


The elder turned to the younger boy, “And how were your dives today?” The young boy stepped aside to reveal a sack filled with oysters. He turned it over and out poured some of the largest oysters ever found in those waters.


“Where did you find these?” the older boy asked. “We dive in the same waters.”
“Most days we dive in the same waters.” Said the young boy, “but today I went out farther and deeper than we have ever been.


“But how could you go deeper than me? I am older, stronger, and more experienced than you,” the older boy said.


“It is simple, “the young boy said. “Every day as you told your stories, I sat and practiced holding my breath.”


Love,

Fred

Diamond mining is not forever, SAfrica learns

By Fran Blandy (AFP)

KLEINZEE, South Africa — The glittering diamonds are almost gone and as the lustre fades on South Africa’s Diamond Coast, desperate ghost towns are left clinging to the last signs of life.

The heyday of diamond mining may be over, but the restoration of a once-pristine landscape along the country’s west coast should turn this wasteland of scarred earth into a tourist paradise.

Isolated under strict security for 80 years of mining, towering mine dumps reach hundreds of metres into the air along the coast, the site of one of the most ambitious mining restoration projects to date.

It’s hard to believe it by looking at the area now. The sole customer in a supermarket on a recent day in one of the mining towns, Kleinzee, said the industry has left it looking as if a “nuclear bomb was dropped on it.”

Since 2007 the world’s leading diamond company De Beers has drastically cut operations at its Namaqualand mines as the precious gem runs out, reducing staff from about 3,000 to 250.

Globally, known diamond reserves are expected to run out in 30 years.

Kleinzee, located about 600 kilometres (370 miles) north of Cape Town in the country’s biggest and most sparsely populated province of Northern Cape, is entirely owned by the diamond giant.

Schools, recreation centres and houses stand mostly empty.

Its mine has already shut down and residents wait desperately for officials to proclaim an end to its life as a privately owned mining town so individuals can buy homes themselves and try to breathe life back into business.

“All my friends lost their jobs. This is a mining town, what must they do here?” said local supermarket owner Ann Engelbrecht, whose sales have dropped 60 percent with only a trickle of tourists and locals sustaining her.

She took over the Spar in 2007 after working for De Beers since 1984, and says she has already had two heart attacks from the stress, making opening hours ever later and shutting down completely over weekends.

“It is just not worth it anymore. Business is so bad but I really believe if the town is proclaimed it will get better.”

De Beers, grappling with how to leave the town, is partnering with conservationists to reinvigorate the area through tourism, fish farming and other industries.

The project highlights increasing concerns about the environmental footprint left by mining and the responsibility of companies to mitigate it.

Gert Klopper, De Beers Namaqualand spokesman, says the company hopes the project will improve the image of the diamond industry, long blighted by conflict and violence.

“I think it’s the first time anywhere in the world that it (restoration) has taken place on such a large scale,” he tells AFP of the 463 million rand (56 million dollar, 40 million euro) project.

De Beers owns some 10 percent of South Africa’s 2,500-kilometre coastline, much of which has been extensively mined.

Conservation experts are now busy filling gaping holes and transplanting sensitive plant species to restore the vast plains to their former glory.

“The succulent Karoo is one of only two arid hotspots in the world with more than 4,500 plant species. The whole of Europe doesn’t have the same number of plant species,” says environmental officer Werner Nel.

Klopper notes that while some 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) have been mined, a total of 90,000 hectares were restricted from the public for decades, meaning “huge tracts of land have been pristinely preserved.”

Thick and varied vegetation which comes alive with wildflowers in spring stretches for miles to sandy white dunes and idyllic beaches ideal for surfing.

With the rest of South Africa’s coast overdeveloped, it is hoped a new tourist attraction will be created along with hundreds of jobs in the most isolated corner of the country.

Sea water pumps designed for mining are now helping fill the pits, which are being turned into oyster and abalone farms.

Already exposed bedrock is being eyed for nearly 100 wind turbines along the wind-blown coastline — to create much needed renewable energy in the power-strapped country.

Other plans are underway to create land art, a marina, seawater greenhouses and hiking trails, and even to turn one massive pit into a concert venue.

“It will take 10, 20, 30 years to get to the point that you can’t see mining happened here,” says Andre Meyer of the Nurture, Restore, Innovate project which is restoring the land for De Beers.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Click here for original article.

Vol. 8.8 Money Changes Everything

It’s August 15, 2009. I’d like to share with you a short story from Bits & Pieces’ August 2009 issue by Rick Beyer.

“When Rick Beyer was eight years old, he accompanied his mother and grandmother on a shopping trip. Afterward, they stopped by a fancy hotel for lunch. Beyer ordered Salisbury steak which was served with a side of peas.

Beyer didn’t like peas. And he never ate them whenever or wherever they were served. His grandmother noticed that he was avoiding them and said “Eat your peas.”

To which his mother responded, “Oh, leave him alone. He doesn’t like peas.”

But his grandmother wouldn’t let it go and offered her grandson a deal, “I’ll give you five dollars if you eat all of your peas.”

Now this thoroughly outraged Beyer’s mother. She never forced her son to eat things he did not like-and she probably didn’t appreciate her mother’s interference. But to a young boy-oblivious to the nuances of parenthood and usurped authority-the promise of five dollars outweighed an aversion for certain vegetables. Beyer accepted the bribe. He choked down the peas as his grandmother glared at him, and his mother glared at both of them.

Weeks later, Beyer’s grandmother left to visit with other family members and, more likely, muscle in on uncharted parental territory there. That night, Beyer’s mom fixed one of his favorite meals-meat loaf and mashed potatoes. She also served a huge, steaming bowl of peas. She spooned a generous portion of peas onto his plate and said” You ate them for money. You can eat them for love.”

There was nothing he could say to defend his dislike for peas. That five-dollar deal completely lacked any of the brilliance it had on the day it was made. The fact that the money was long gone only made matters worse.

And so the moral of this story is: Don’t do for money what you won’t do for love. But there’s another equally important lesson to be learned here and that is: Mom always wins.

Now that Beyer is grown he swears he still hates peas, but doesn’t dare say anything to his mother when she serves them.”

Love,

Fred

Vol. 8.7 Jail Bird Rocks

It’s July 2009. I’d like to share a little story that one of our clients recently shared with us. By the end of it, I think you see that sometimes a bird in the hand is NOT better than two in the bush and to what lengths the world will go through to get their hands/beaks on a Diamond Cutters International diamond.

Jail Bird Rocks

"We were in the Dominican Republic for the wedding of my college friends. It was a lovely morning, and we decided to start the day off with a hot stone massage at the resort’s spa. Outside of the spa were two beautiful parrots, one male, one female, who attracted the local tourists with their calls of “Hola” and their spirited giggles. As we took time to observe the birds, another spectator mentioned that one of them was looking for someone’s arm to climb upon. Erica, being adventurous, decided that it was only right for her to offer her arm to one of the parrots. Little did she know what this bird really had in mind! The parrot slowly made his way up her arm. As he found a comfortable spot on her arm, a voice in the background said, “Wow, she’s the brave one!” It seemed as if the parrot became restless, because it wasn’t long before he was pacing up and down Erica’s arm. He finally made his way back down her arm and relaxed, or so we thought. Turns out, the parrot only wanted to be closer to the shiny bling on her finger… yes, he had his eyes on the diamond! Thinking that the parrot was ready to climb off her arm, everyone was laughing and enjoying the scene until seconds later when the parrot suddenly grabbed and began clutching and squeezing the diamond of Erica’s engagement ring in its beak. (Yes, that hurt!) With all the excitement, a crowd started to make its way to the action. After about 20 minutes of struggling, pleading, and attempting to trick the parrot in any way imaginable, Erica found a way to release her finger from its diamond death grip. Happy that she had finally gotten her finger away from the parrot, she was relieved… until she actually took a look at her finger. The band of her engagement ring was still there, but… the diamond was gone! Yes! The diamond was gone! Absolutely shocked, Erica let out a scream… OH MY GOD! The diamond is gone! At that time, I felt my jaws drop to the ground as I made my way towards the parrot for dissection! Freaking out, we were all trying to figure out how to get the diamond out of this parrot’s mouth before he dropped it, or heaven forbid, swallowed it. I put my hand towards the parrot’s mouth and he bit me twice! He was busy trying to chew the diamond, as if it was birdseed! At that point, I began to feel as if it was the end of the VS! By then, it was absolute panic! One of the local workers came over to assist by distracting the parrot with a stick. Needless to say, their trick didn’t work. The women inside the spa also came out to provide their assistance which only ruffled the parrot’s feathers even more. At this time, the female parrot began to become very protective of her male counterpart as he was trying to crack the diamond in his mouth. The only sign of hope was the fact that we could see the parrot rolling the diamond in his mouth around as he continued to try to crack it open. With a distractive move, someone somehow made the parrot turn his head in the opposite direction quickly causing the diamond to drop out of his mouth. Whew! Big sigh of relief! But all was not well! Satisfied that the diamond was no longer in danger of being swallowed, problem #2 was right around the corner! The diamond had fallen right into the crack of a coral reef textured water basin that the birds were sitting on. After even more mayhem with people attempting to remove the diamond with lovely objects such as screwdrivers and ink pens, the ladies from the spa provided us with tweezers to carefully retrieve the diamond out of the crevice. Finally the diamond was back in our hands, with much relief and satisfaction. And after all that stress, it was only right that we had one of the best massages ever!"

Love, Fred

Divorce hurts health even after remarriage

Study: Finding a new partner isn’t enough to reverse physical, mental toll

By Jeanna Bryner

LiveScience

updated 1:56 p.m. CT, Mon., July 27, 2009

Divorce can wreak havoc on a person’s health, even after remarriage, a new study finds.

Scientists have known that marriage can boost a man’s health and augment a women’s purse. The new study shows that divorce or losing a spouse to death can exact an immediate and long-lasting toll on those mental and physical gains.

“That period during the time that this event is taking place is extremely stressful,” said study researcher Linda Waite, a sociologist and director of the Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “People ignore their health; they’re stressed, which is itself a health risk; they’re less likely to go to the doctor; they’re less likely to exercise; they’re sleeping poorly.”

It turns out, once you have tarnished your health, it’s hard to snap back, even if you tie the knot again.

“Remarriage helps. It puts you back on a healthy trajectory,” Waite told LiveScience. “But it puts you back on a healthy trajectory from a lower point, because you didn’t take care of yourself for a year.”

Finding that divorce and spousal death had similar impacts on a person’s health suggests divorce operates like a traumatic event in one’s life, according to Waite.

Mark Hayward of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, agreed.

“The acuteness of stress surrounding a divorce could operate a lot like a trauma as opposed to years and years of low-grade stress,” said Hayward, who is also the director of the university’s Population Research Center.

The new study “suggests much of health can be altered by these major turning points in one’s life, like divorce, from which one doesn’t recover,” Hayward said.

Divorce prognosis

Waite and Mary Elizabeth Hughes of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland analyzed data collected from nearly 9,000 adults ages 51 to 61 who took part in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study.

Overall, about 20 percent of the participants were remarried, meaning they had previously been divorced or widowed, the researchers will report in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. And nearly 22 percent had previously been married but hadn’t remarried. Less than 4 percent were never married.

Results showed that those who had been divorced or widowed suffered from 20 percent more chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, compared with individuals who were currently married.

Other findings included:

People who never married reported 12 percent more mobility limitations, such as trouble walking or climbing stairs, than married individuals.


People who never married were 13 percent more likely to show signs of depression than their married counterparts.


Individuals who remarried reported an average of 12 percent more chronic conditions and 19 percent more physical limitations compared with the continuously married. No difference in depression was found between these two groups.


“Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions,” Waite said. “In contrast, conditions such as diabetes and heart disease develop slowly over a substantial period and show the impact of past experiences, which is why health is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries.”

What’s a couple to do?


The results don’t mean spouses should stick together even when the going gets really tough. But during a divorce or after the death of a spouse, people need to make sure to focus on their health, Waite said.

Hayward notes, however, that the results give averages and that some divorces may do a body good.

“If you have a high-conflict, abusive marriage, divorce can be a relief,” he said during a telephone interview. “I would never recommend that people in high-conflict, abusive marriages stay in them.”

Rather, support during divorce might be key to better health outcomes.

“I’m just suggesting that if there is any room for policy it is to make [divorce] less adversarial and provide more support for those going through the divorce process,” Hayward said.

Click here for original article.

Christie’s to sell Annenberg’s 32-carat diamond

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – A giant gem will hit the auction block in New York this autumn with the sale of the 32-carat emerald-cut Annenberg diamond, which is expected to fetch as much at $5 million, Christie’s said on Wednesday.

The flawless ring-mounted diamond, owned by philanthropist Lee Annenberg, widow of publishing magnate Walter Annenberg, leads the auction house’s magnificent jewels sale on October 21.

“Gems of this size are extremely rare, and their presence on the market is always an important event in the world of diamonds,” said Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s head of jewelry.

“This gem’s impeccable color, clarity, and polish as well as its prestigious provenance will attract jewelry collectors from all over the world.”

Annenberg, who died in March aged 91, served as chairman and president of the Annenberg Foundation after the death of her husband, a one-time U.S. ambassador to Britain who started the foundation to fund nonprofits, education and the arts.

Annenberg also served a chief of protocol during the first term of President Ronald Reagan.

The gem will go on tour ahead of the sale with stops in Geneva, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and New York.

In December the 35.6-carat Wittelsbach blue diamond smashed expectations and sold for $24.3 million, which experts said was consistent with rare and colossal diamonds fetching especially strong prices during times of economic woe.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud, editing by Michelle Nichols and Patricia Reaney)

Click here for original article.

New crackdown on Zimbabwe diamond miners

By KITSEPILE NYATHI, NATION CorrespondentPosted Wednesday, July 15 2009 at 12:41

HARARE, Wednesday

Zimbabwe is preparing to re-launch a military crackdown on illegal diamond miners in the eastern part of the country, risking an international ban on its precious stones.

Only a fortnight ago, the Kimberly Process (KP) the international diamond certification group gave the Zimbabwean government up to next week to demilitarise the area.

A KP team led by Liberian deputy mines minister Mr Kpandel Fiya dispatched to investigate reports of human rights abuses at the Chiadzwa diamond fields concluded that security forces were looting diamonds and committing atrocities against civilians.

The team, which will release its final report this month end, also recommended that the soldiers must be withdrawn immediately.

But state media reported: Operation Hakudzokwi (You don’t return) which was jointly carried by security personnel to restore sanity at Chiadzwa diamond fields is bouncing back bigger and more re-invigorated to deal once and for all with illegal diamond dealers and panners, says the governor and resident minister for Manicaland province, Cde Chris Mushowe.

Mr Mushowe who is a strong President Robert Mugabe ally was said to have given a strong warning to illegal diamond dealers and panners to stop forthwith their unlawful activities as they will have no-one but themselves to blame when the operation is reinvigorated.

At the height of the operation that began in August last year and claimed hundreds of lives according to human rights groups, Mr Mugabe’s spokesman Mr George Charamba said the troops were employing shock therapy.

Last month, the New York based Human Rights Watch said 800 soldiers were deployed and villagers were forced to reclaim gullies with their bare hands. The injured were denied medical care and victims were reportedly buried in mass graves.

The government said there was no evidence to back the claims. Mr Fiya told Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister, Mr Obert Mpofu at the end of the KPs mission that villagers recounted tales of senseless violence.

Our team was able to interview and document the stories of victims, observe their wounds, scars from dog bites and batons, tears and on going psychological trauma, Mr Fiya said.

“I am from Liberia Sir, I was in Liberia through out the 15 years of civil war and I have experienced too much senseless violence in my lifetime, especially connected to diamonds.

“In speaking with some of these people, Minister, I had to leave the room. This has to be acknowledged and it has to stop.”

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Mr Eldred Masunungure said the military was not likely to leave the diamond fields because influential people from Mr Mugabe’s previous administration were benefiting from the disorder.

It is a political minefield because there are powerful forces that are being touched, he said.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe says if properly the Chiadzwa diamonds can generate up to US$200 million a month for the bankrupt government.

Click here for the original article.

‘Organic’ label’s integrity under fire

By Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton

The Washington Post

updated 4:20 a.m. CT, Fri., July 3, 2009

WASHINGTON – Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

The government’s turnaround, from prohibition to permission, came after a USDA program manager was lobbied by the formula makers and overruled her staff. That decision and others by a handful of USDA employees, along with an advisory board’s approval of a growing list of non-organic ingredients, have helped numerous companies win a coveted green-and-white “USDA Organic” seal on an array of products.

Grated organic cheese, for example, contains wood starch to prevent clumping. Organic beer can be made from non-organic hops. Organic mock duck contains a synthetic ingredient that gives it an authentic, stringy texture.

Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country’s adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Expanding market

But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

The market’s expansion is fueling tension over whether the federal program should be governed by a strict interpretation of “organic” or broadened to include more products by allowing trace elements of non-organic substances. The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to protect the label, even as he acknowledged the pressure to lower standards to let more products in.

In response to complaints, the USDA inspector general’s office has widened an investigation of whether products carrying the label meet national standards. The probe is also looking into the department’s oversight of private certifiers who are hired by farmers and food producers and inspect products to determine whether they can use the label.

Some consumer groups and members of Congress say they worry that the program’s lax standards are undermining the federal program and the law itself.

“It will unravel everything we’ve done if the standards can no longer be trusted,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who sponsored the federal organics legislation. “If we don’t protect the brand, the organic label, the program is finished. It could disappear overnight.”

Organic advocates and food marketing experts said the introduction this month of new “natural” products by an organics division of Dean Foods is the latest sign that the value of the USDA label has eroded. The yogurt and milk products will be distributed under the Horizon label and marketed as a lower-priced alternative to organic products.

Congress adopted the organics law after farmers and consumers demanded uniform standards for produce, dairy and meat. The law banned synthetics, pesticides and genetic engineering from foods that would bear a federal organic label. It also required annual testing for pesticides. And it was aimed at preventing producers from falsely claiming their foods were organic.

Corporate firepower

The USDA created the National Organic Program in 2002 to implement the law. By then, major food companies had bought up most small, independent organic companies. Kraft Foods, for example, owns Boca Foods. Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms, and Coca-Cola owns 40 percent of Honest Tea, maker of the organic beverage favored by President Obama.

That corporate firepower has added to pressure on the government to expand the definition of what is organic, in part because processed foods offered by big industry often require ingredients, additives or processing agents that either do not exist in organic form or are not available in large enough quantities for mass production.

Under the original organics law, 5 percent of a USDA-certified organic product can consist of non-organic substances, provided they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. That list has grown from 77 to 245 substances since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far.

The original law’s mandate for annual pesticide testing was also never implemented — the agency left that optional.

From the beginning, farmers and consumer advocates were concerned about safeguarding the organic label. In 2003, Arthur Harvey, who grows organic blueberries in Maine, successfully sued the USDA, arguing that the fledgling National Organic Program had violated federal law by allowing synthetic additives.

“The big boys like Kraft realized they could really cash in by filling the shelves with products with the organics seal,” Harvey said. “But they were sort of inhibited by the original law that said no synthetic ingredients.”

His victory was short-lived. The Organic Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole and Dean Foods, lobbied for and received language in a 2006 appropriations bill allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing and packaging of organic foods, creating conditions for a flood of processed organic foods.

Tom Harding, a Pennsylvania-based consultant for small local farmers and big producers, including Kraft, said that broadening the law has helped meet demand by multiplying the number of organic products and greatly expanded the amount of agricultural land that is being managed organically.

“We don’t want to eliminate anyone who wants to be a part of the organic community,” Harding said. “The growth we’ve seen has helped the entire organic food chain.”

Today, labels on organic infant formula boast that they include DHA and ARA, synthetic fatty acids that some studies suggest can help neural development. But according to agency records, when the issue came before the USDA in 2006, agency staff members concluded that the fatty acids could not be added to organic baby formula because they are synthetics that are not on the standards board’s approved list.

The fatty acids in formula are often produced using a potential neurotoxin known as hexane, prompting many organics advocates to conclude that the board would not approve their use if it took up the matter.

In a rare move, Barbara Robinson, who administers the organics program and is a deputy USDA administrator, overruled the staff decision after a telephone call and an e-mail exchange with William J. Friedman, a lawyer who represents the formula makers.

“I called [Robinson] up,” Friedman said. “I wrote an e-mail. It was a simple matter.” The back-and-forth, he said, was nothing more than part of the routine process that sets policy in Washington.

In an interview, Robinson said she agreed with Friedman’s argument that fatty acids were not permitted because of an oversight. Vitamins and minerals are allowed, but “accessory nutrients” — the category that describes fatty acids — are not specifically named.

As for hexane, Robinson said the law bans its use in processing organic food, but she does not believe the ban extends to the processing of synthetic additives.

“We don’t attempt to say how synthetic products can be produced,” she said.

Manufacturers say the fatty acids are safe and provide health benefits to infants.

“We test every lot that comes out for hexane, and there is no residue,” said David Abramson, president of Maryland-based Martek Biosciences, which produces the fatty acids used by formula companies.

‘Illegal rulemaking’

Several groups have filed complaints with the USDA saying they think that the inclusion of the fatty acids in organic products violates federal rules and laws. And they say that Robinson did not have the authority to make the decision on her own.

“This is illegal rulemaking — a complete violation of the process that is supposed to protect the public,” said Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Cornucopia Institute, an organics advocacy group.

Cox and others make the same argument about other decisions by Robinson and several members of her staff.

In 2004, Robinson issued a directive allowing farmers and certifiers to use pesticides on organic crops if “after a reasonable effort” they could not determine whether the pesticide contained chemicals prohibited by the organics law.

The same year, Robinson determined that farmers could feed organic livestock non-organic fish meal, which can contain mercury and PCBs. The law requires that animals that produce organic meat be raised entirely on organic feed.

After sharp protests from Leahy, Consumers Union and other groups, Ann Veneman, then agriculture secretary, rescinded these and two other directives issued by Robinson.

The orders were signed by a staff member, but Robinson took responsibility, saying she had made the decisions unwisely without consulting organics experts, certifiers or the standards board.

“I failed, and take this as a learning experience and do not want it to happen again,” she told board members in 2004.

Directives

Earlier this year, however, Robinson issued a series of directives without consulting experts, certifiers or the board. She said that because the issues were urgent, including one on food safety, she had to act quickly.

In an interview, Robinson said she believes the federal program’s main purpose is to “grow the industry,” and she dismissed controversies over synthetics in organic foods as “mostly ridiculous.”

Joe Smillie, a board member, said he thinks that advocates for the most restrictive standards are unrealistic and are inhibiting the growth of organics.

“People are really hung up on regulations,” said Smillie, who is also vice president of the certifying firm Quality Assurance International, which is involved in certifying 65 percent of organic products found on supermarket shelves. “I say, ‘Let’s find a way to bend that one, because it’s not important.’ . . . What are we selling? Are we selling health food? No. Consumers, they expect organic food to be growing in a greenhouse on Pluto. Hello? We live in a polluted world. It isn’t pure. We are doing the best we can.”

Under Robinson, the National Organic Program has repeatedly opted not to issue standards spelling out how organic food must be grown, treated or produced. In 65 instances since 2002, the standards board has made recommendations that have not been acted upon, creating a haphazard system in which the private certifiers have set their own standards for what products can carry the federal label.

The agency has not acted, for example, on a 2002 board recommendation that would answer a critical question for organic dairy farmers: how to interpret the law requiring that their cows have “access to pasture,” rather than be crowded onto feedlots. The result has been that some dairy farms have been selling milk as organic from cows that spend little if any time grazing in open spaces.

“This is really a case of ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ ” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, national political director for the Organic Consumers Association. “The truly organic dairy farmers, who have their cows out in the pasture all year round, are at a huge competitive disadvantage compared to the big confinement dairies.”

Robinson has blamed the delays on the program’s small staff, saying that “we have to prioritize.”

Without specific standards, the wide discretion given to certifiers has invited producers and farmers to shop around for the certifiers most likely to approve their product, consumer groups say.

Liquid fertilizers

Sam Welsch, president of the Nebraska-based OneCert, said his company this year has lost as many as a dozen fruit and vegetable farmers seeking other certifiers that allow the use of certain liquid fertilizers, which most organics experts believe are prohibited by organics laws because they are unnaturally spiked with high levels of nitrogen.

“The rules should be clear enough that there is just one right answer,” Welsch said.

Consumer groups and organics advocates are hopeful that the Obama administration will bolster the program. In his proposed budget, the president has doubled resources devoted to organics and installed USDA leaders who support change.

Vilsack’s deputy, organics expert Kathleen A. Merrigan, told consumer groups three weeks ago that she intends to heighten enforcement. Merrigan helped write the original organics law and get the federal program off the ground in 2002.

And Vilsack said he wants to protect the organic label. “That term, ‘organic,’ needs to be pure,” he said in an interview. “You can’t allow the definition to be eroded to where it means nothing. . . . We have to fight against that kind of pressure.”

Still, at the standards board’s meeting last month, Chairman Jeff Moyer noted the growing tension. “As the organic industry matures, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a balance between the integrity of the word ‘organic’ and the desire for the industry to grow.”

Click here for original article.

Who Am I, Really?

Remove everything you think you know about me, because that’s not who I am underneath it all.

Take away all the labels and jargon, and all the things that I do. Take away what I look like and all my physical attributes, and what is left?  ME.  The ‘me’ of my soul. My spirit. The part of me that was, before I physically became all those labels and jargon and things that I do. The part of me that had a physical beginning, but will know no spiritual end.

 

But how do I find and recognize that?

 

First I must get myself alone and simply observe. No labels or physical attributes allowed. No jargon, no likes or dislikes, no attitudes or pre-conceived notions. No expectations or societal demands.

 

Then I have to keep removing layer upon layer of descriptors and explanations and experiences that have covered up the core of my non-physical identity.

 

What is at the core? ME

 

But… Who am I?

 

I am love, and energy, and creativity. I am pure, blinding, compulsive joy that knows no bounds and spreads far and wide.

 

Simultaneously infinitesimally small, and beyond comprehensibly vast, who I am has no container if you remove my physical, societal confines.

 

And when “I” meets “You”

and love meets love

and energy meets energy

and creativity meets creativity

and joy meets joy

 

in that chemistry

ME becomes WE

 

So who are WE?  

 

WE are an explosive force to be reckoned with, and the more WE pool together, our influence sets off such a cacophony of incredibly positive energy that its chain reaction reaches farther than we will likely ever know.

 

~Donna R. Carter