Two experts on their adventures with natural diamonds
Formed deep in the Earth over millions of millennia, natural diamonds are among the world’s most precious treasures. We talk to two people about their own journeys with this amazing jewelry.
From their creation over billions of years to their extraction, cutting, polishing, trade and setting – and sometimes repeatedly – the diamonds that adorn our precious jewelry have come a remarkable journey. As these odysseys also involve human connections, we spoke to two Hong Kong residents about their own experiences with these natural treasures.
Vincent Guy Raffin’s journey with diamonds began in Paris, the city where he was born – and where he was exposed to jewelry from an early age. Now marketing director of the fourth-generation family-owned jewelry house Hemmerle, Raffin’s passion stems from the historic connection to his hometown. “The soul of the city’s luxury is in the little neighborhood boutiques,” he says. “On my way home from school, I often stopped in front of antique store windows and looked at their glittering displays. I was fascinated by the stories expressed through the drawings.
At 19, Raffin began working for a couture designer whom he assisted with the launch of a collection presented alongside fine jewelry. “I recognized all the stones, admiring their color and the perfection that emanated from the jewelry. From that moment, I knew that I would never leave this world and that I belonged to it. In a way, jewelry chose me.
Eager to express his love for fine jewelry, he penned a letter to talented (and extremely elusive) jewelry designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, or JAR as he is affectionately known. “He invited me to his office,” recalls Raffin. “I told him that I was thinking of leaving university to dive into this industry. He told me to finish my studies and that he would reward me with a gift, provided that I passed my final exams. Fueled by renewed energy, I passed with honors, and he was the first person I called to celebrate. He congratulated me and, waiting for me in his office, was his book, which he autographed with the words, ‘Dear Vincent, welcome.’
Subsequently, Raffin’s unique background culminated in over 15 years of fine jewelry and fine jewelry experience in Europe, Asia and the United States, involving his own creative input and artistic designs. Of the most spectacular diamond he has ever encountered, he says: “One of the benefits of my job is being able to see many spectacular things that remain hidden from the outside world. A few weeks ago, I showed a historic diamond to a private collector in Hong Kong. You learn the importance of keeping secrets safe as you achieve dreams.
The profession of high jewelry is by nature a traditional profession insofar as the pieces must be tried on and worn. However, Raffin explains that due to the pandemic “there is a growing audience that is increasingly comfortable online.” This has forced a move towards online sales and digital connections. “Today, with buyers’ increasing focus on sustainability and authenticity, the luxury industry is also prioritizing human connections,” he said. “Having a strong cultural heritage reinforces legitimacy. We always remember emotions and stories better than facts or data.
On what he believes makes a natural diamond beautiful, Raffin draws parallels between the way we connect with a diamond and with people. “We connect with what reflects our sense of personal identity in an ever-changing world,” he says. “The ideals of perfection influence our choices and our tastes. It can also change when we accept our flaws as attributes of charm and spiritual significance. It’s the same with diamonds. Nature is perfectly imperfect. It’s what makes anything natural valuable – and to cross paths with something as valuable as a natural diamond is a gift.
Sean Lin, vice president of the DeBeers Group, started his own journey with diamonds after hearing the stories behind them. “At first it was a bit mysterious to me,” Lin said. “Diamonds are part of historical events and part of the global economy, so I was interested in learning more.” Crossing industries to join De Beers, Lin arrived with a fresh mind to bring new thoughts and ideas into the organization – and, seven years later, he continues to do so.
During this time, he had the rare opportunity to see diamonds in the rough. “We deal with a lot of exceptional diamonds – and for me the most spectacular was a flawless D-color diamond over 200 carats. It’s the biggest I’ve handled and touched with my own hands. I think the most amazing thing is when you see the polished diamond coming out of this piece, and that in itself is an amazing experience.
Lin, who has spent time in Israel, mainland China and Botswana, has made connections in the countries he visits. “I always traveled to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, which is a very peaceful city where people live a simple life.” After making many connections in this part of Africa, Lin says, “I join my friends for a family meal and go to church with them.
De Beers holds sales events in Botswana, where customers from around the world can view the rough diamonds. Commenting on the positive impact diamonds have had on the country, Lin said: “Botswana was once one of the poorest countries in the world. Today it is a middle-income country. In terms of democracy, social equity and the rule of law, Botswana is doing well. Revenues from diamond exports are very important and play a big role in the economic development of the country.
In addition, De Beers supports education and health programs, key aspects of Botswana’s development that encourage others to build factories and facilities, which in turn create employment opportunities. “Within De Beers there is a lot of local talent and the company helps to give them visibility in an international environment,” says Lin. “It’s the ripple effect that diamonds bring.”
As for her connections elsewhere, Lin says, “New Zealand is my dream destination. When asked why, he explains, “Connection can mean different things to different places in your heart. For me, wherever you have relationships, you have connections. The landscape in New Zealand is beautiful and I have lots of friends there, just as Botswana is not just a place to work. I have friends there and I keep in touch with them, even during the pandemic when I couldn’t travel. I also have connections in Tel Aviv, where we have clients and where we reunite families. Beijing also has a special place in my heart, because I spent so much time there and my children were born there.
Unable to travel for the past two and a half years, Lin reveals that he was able to explore Hong Kong. “I’ve done a lot of hiking and kayaking, and spending time on the beach, spending time with the kids and family. Now I also feel connected to Hong Kong.
On how diamonds can symbolize these bonds, Lin says, “People these days have different understandings of marriage, relationships, and love. But I’ve always believed that humans yearn for eternity. They want relationships to last. And I think that’s where diamonds come in. They symbolize an everlasting relationship between a couple, between parents and children, or between friends. It is a symbol of eternity in these relationships and the true bonds that unite them.
PHOTOGRAPHY ALISON KWAN