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Fear of the Unknown: Thoughts From Shanghai

Updated: Mar 28

I'm scared of heights. There, I said it. It’s not an acute fear; I have no problem flying or the steady incline of a mountain hike. I’ve even braved the odd rollercoaster ride on which I notoriously summon my inner teenager with a falsetto screech begging them to stop the ride before it even began – and then shouting “again, again” when the ride is over.


It’s the steep verticals that get to me. That said, I also have a fascination with tall buildings, and force myself to the highest point whenever presented with the opportunity. I think it’s my mini-Everest as there is some unexplained rush I get at the edge of a glass building 500 meters above the ground, gazing on the Lego-like scene down below… or, more accurately standing somewhat frozen 10 meters from that edge.


Last week, while in Shanghai for the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) Presidents Meeting, our hosts, the Shanghai Diamond Exchange, took us on a tour of Shanghai’s impressive Pudong area, including to Shanghai Tower. Standing 632 meters or 128 stories high, it is the world’s third tallest building.


It boasts the world’s fastest elevator, which would transport us to the world’s highest observation deck – even higher than that of Burj Khalifa, the guide repeatedly stressed, somewhat amusingly oblivious to the Dubai delegation in our group.


So, there I was, on this rollercoaster of an elevator, ready to face the most extreme version of my odd thrilled-to-be-feared obsession. I took a breath as I stepped out, and what I saw was quite spectacular – clouds. The zero visibility left me disappointed and somewhat relieved. But the rush was gone, and my confidence was restored with the notion that there’s no fear of what you can’t see.


With nothing to see on the observation deck, we were diverted to a room where we could view the ‘turned mass damper,’ the engineering wonder that helps stabilize the building – these structures do sway, gulp. There, we were treated to a spectacular sound and light show (see image above).   


Soon enough, with our feet back firmly on the ground, we began the WFDB Presidents Meeting. Here, there were no illusions as to the reality facing the diamond industry. The cloud hovering over the industry is the G7 restrictions on diamond imports from Russia, which instead of invoking confidence to the non-Russian supply chain, has injected another layer of uncertainty to the business.


Just a few days before the conference began, the second phase of the sanctions began on March 1, banning the import of Russian-origin diamonds, including those polished in a third country. That prompted the G7 nations to each issue guidelines requiring self-certification by members of the trade when bringing goods to those markets.


Some of the respective guidelines can be read at the following links:

·        United States

·        European Union

·        Canada

·        United Kingdom

The panel discussion about the G7 sanctions demonstrated the anxiety these measures have evoked, with many issues still requiring clarification. Chief among these is the status of old inventory, and how the self-certification mechanism deals with so-called ‘grandfathered goods,’ as only the UK provided guidance relating to old stock.


As it stands, these are interim measures, while the G7 working committee prepares for the next phase, which is stirring even greater emotion and trepidation among the trade. Due to begin on September 1, the next round will introduce a traceability mechanism compelling the trade to prove the origin of their diamonds rather than make the know-your-supplier-style declaration currently required.  


It’s a question of making provenance claims versus showing traceability. While the industry has long embraced provenance, the traceability element is relatively new. There’s a sense it is not quite ready for its forced, mass adoption that is being proposed.


The WFDB meeting provided an opportunity to voice the industry’s concerns. Prior to the gathering, the organization issued a statement together with India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), the World Diamond Council (WDC), and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA), outlining 11 points of concern, and expressing that the process that has been suggested “will cause irreparable harm to the non-Russian industry.” You can put your name to that letter at the following link: Industry Call to Action.  


There is fear the sanctions will prevent a clear path to doing business, much like the cloud that blocked my view atop Shanghai Tower. However, in this case, there is no sound and light show to distract our attention. The reality, as expressed by the members of the WFDB, is that the sanctions appear to be punishing the trade that wants to follow the rules. In so doing, the G7 is preventing the industry from reaching the heights of its potential that has already proved challenging to reach.     


Sound and light show atop Shanghai Tower;

Panelists in the G7 discussion included (from right to left): Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of the Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre (DMCC), Alan Cohen,, of the London Diamond Exchange, David Block, CEO of Sarine Technologies, Anoop Mehta, president of the Bharat Diamond Bourse, together with myself in the role of as moderator on the extreme left. Joining the panel from a remote location was Feriel Zerouki, president of the World Diamond Council (WDC).

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