Sriram Natarajan, Managing Director of GIA India

Question : The entire world is on a “reboot” mode and it is still going through the process of rebooting. As per your view, how much it will take for the normalcy of domestic and export business?
Answer : The COVID-19 pandemic has had unprecedented impact on all businesses. Over the last few months, we have seen businesses go from being fully operational to completely shutting down, and now carefully reopening. It’s still uncertain how long it will take for full recovery. While there is some bit of uncertainty, there are also some positive signs of revival – the market in China seems to be recovering well; we are also seeing online sales of jewellery pick up in some markets; manufacturers are gradually returning to work in limited capacities and continue to polish;retailers are finding new ways to connect with customers. We, at GIA India, are also grading diamonds – albeit in a limited capacity.
We are fortunate to be part of a very resilient industry. It is only a matter of time before this industry will bounce back to its original glory.
Question : Due to lack of demand and corona fear, the footfall to the retailers will be very constrained. Luxury goods including jewellery will not be in the priority list. The demand cycle will take a longtime to revive. In this situation what role GIA should play to assist Indian Gem & jewellery industry, especially in the education segment?
Answer : GIA is a pioneer in gemmological education. The Institute issued its first Graduate in Gemology diploma in 1948, and has offered online gemmology classes since 2009. Students and professionals around the world recognise the value of a GIA credential.
We believe in protecting the gem and jewellery buying public through education. During the lockdown, GIA offered its online GIA Essentials courses – including Jewelry Essentials, Colored Stone Essentials and Diamond Essentials – at no cost, and received more than 10,000 enrolments from 110 countries. In fact, enrolments from India were the second highest – demonstrating the broad interest in GIA education and credentials.

GIA Knowledge Sessions are a series of talks and seminars that engage participants in the most diverse and pressing issues in gemmology today.

GIA has also been organising weekly webinars– GIA Knowledge Sessions – that are led by GIA Ph.Ds., field gemmologists, educators and research scientists whose experience and expertise offer a treasure trove of knowledge. In the past months, we’ve covered various topics with roughly 20,000 viewers from 150 countries tuning in.In addition, GIA India organised nearly 20 webinars for members of the trade with an objective to share knowledge and help build consumer confidence;these webinars were attended by more than 1,900 participants.GIA India is also organising training programmes for the staff of several national chains, regional chains as well as independent jewellers. Despite the pandemic, we’ve been able to train more than 1,700 retail staff across India todate in 2020.
Even though the pandemic has forced us to keep some of our schools closed and many of us apart, GIA remains as committed to sharing knowledge as ever. That’s why, we have made the best use of online platforms to reach out to consumers and members of the trade. And, I believe these initiatives have been impactful in spreading knowledge and ultimately building consumer confidence.
Question : GIA’s foremost precedent is to deliver accurate grading services to the clients. Now as a M.D. of GIA India what is your further planning (Post Covid) to enhance activities at your institute to facilitate the Indian gem and jewellery industry?
Answer : Throughout the lockdown, GIA India’s diamond grading laboratories in Mumbai and Surat have been operational in a limited capacity. The focus has been on providing accurate grading reports to clients in the shortest possible time, while ensuring the safety and health of staff, clients and visitors.To deal with the pandemic, we re-engineered our processes – from employee pickup to drop and from stone intake to return – to ensure safety while delivering on client expectations. We continue to review our processes as the environment around us changes and will make necessary improvements to remain safe and operational.
The future of diamond grading at GIA is exciting. As you might be aware, GIA has joined forces with IBM Research–combining human expertise with the machine precision of artificial intelligence (AI)–to develop the GIA AI Clarity System. Diamond grading, especially of small stones, will quickly become more cost-efficient, allowing GIA to provide its expert diamond grading services at an affordable rate to the clients that need them.

The left image, captured using GIA-developed hardware, trains IBM Research’s artificial intelligence (AI) software to recognize inclusions and reflections. In the right image, the AI system has correctly identified the clarity characteristics, enabling the AI system to assign a clarity grade. © GIA

Beginning Q4 2020, GIA will report the specific 4Cs of colour and clarity grades on its new digital reports for laboratory-grown diamonds, replacing the currently-used descriptive terms and grade ranges. Our continued focus on the GIA Diamond Origin Report is a result of consumer awareness about sustainably and ethically-sourced products. As the world and the industry evolves at an ever more rapid pace, we are innovating – not only to adapt – but to stay at the vanguard of all that we do.
Question : Online marketing will be the new normal for which everybody in the Gem & Jewellery trade will have to gear up his technology and upgrade all his digital marketing skill. What type of strategy GIA would adopt to tackle the current crisis?
Answer : Technology is the only constant that has helped the gem and jewellery industry stay connected in this period. GIA India, too, is continuously evaluating various aspects of a digital world and stays committed to utilising technology to reach out to the trade. This was evident as we adopted web conference tools to organise webinars and training programmes for trade members from across the country. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we will continue to rely on technology to deliver these webinars and training programmes.
In addition to these and the GIA Knowledge Sessions, GIA has been sharing weekly emails – Knowledge Rocks – containing digestible nuggets of gem knowledge from the field, lab and library. There’s also the Gems & Gemology (G&G)Facebook Group – a forum where gemmologists and gem lovers share and discuss gemmological research, especially the findings published in G&G, GIA’s quarterly scientific journal.Such digital initiatives are in line with GIA’s mission to share knowledge and help the trade buy and sell with confidence.
Question : Last but not the least, what are your thoughts regarding the future of Indian Gem & Jewellery industry after the revival from this pandemic?
Answer : Jewellery is an integral part of our culture. The age long tradition of gifting jewellery during special occasions will prevail. Diamonds have a special place in this gifting tradition with their unique formation story – billions of years old, created under extreme conditions of pressure and heat, and travelling hundreds of miles just to reach the surface of earth.
The pandemic has disrupted the lives of many individuals. Consumers are increasingly aware of the gratitude for one’s life and the need to reinforce their love and commitment. Furthermore, consumers are spending less on travel and tourism as COVID-19 restrictions continue to exist. Both these trends represent a change in consumer behaviour that are opportunities for the gem and jewellery industry.
The industry will return to its original sparkle. The way business is conducted might go through changes. Some consumer preferences may also change. We must continue to adapt to these changes and find ways to transform our businesses to meet these changes.