Interview with Francois Graff, Chief Executive Officer of Graff Diamonds
Laurence Graff was only 15 years old when his life long passion for diamonds began. He started work as an apprentice at a London-based jeweller. In 1960 he established the Graff Diamonds company, and over the years transformed into a leading, global brand. Today, there are over 45 Graff stores worldwide and the family business has corporate offices in London, New York, Hong Kong, Japan, and Geneva. The Graff family is also the main shareholder of the South African Diamond Corporation, Johannesburg-based diamond wholesaler and manufacturer and the founder of the FACET Foundation (For Africa’s Children Every Time) designed to support the education, health and well- being of the people of sub-Saharan Africa from where many of the Graff diamonds are sourced. In 1986, Laurence Graff was joined in the business by his son Francois. Father and son share the love and passion for diamonds and have gone on expanding the business together with Laurence’s brother Raymond and nephew Elliott. Francois Graff, CEO of Graff Diamonds and second-generation family business member speaks of work with his father, the diamond trade, and making an impact through charity.
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When did it become apparent that Graff Diamonds would become a family firm?
From an early age, I was intrigued by the diamond business. My father was in the process of establishing Graff Diamonds and there was an influx of new wealth in London. He used to come home and share stories with us about what he’d sold that day, which captured my imagination driving me forward and to be a part of the business. I was in awe of my father and what he was doing and captivated by the incredible clientele and famous diamonds.
What is the most important thing to bear in mind when working together as father and son?
I’m extremely proud of everything my father has achieved over the course of his career – he continues to inspire me each and every day with his passion, dedication and determination. I believe that working together as a family puts us at a considerable advantage, it changes the dynamic of our business, making every process faster and more efficient.
We are all very involved in every part of the business – my father, Laurence Graff, is our Chairman, my uncle, Raymond Graff, directs production at our London workshop and my cousin, Elliott Graff, is responsible for the design and merchandising of our jewellery.
What is the greatest challenge you face in your industry at this time?
The industry has undergone many changes, but now more than ever we continue to see an extremely strong demand for large high quality and rare coloured diamonds. This is coupled with a scarcity of exceptional examples coming onto the market. I believe that a decline in the number of new and important diamond discoveries is something that is set to continue and will inevitably lead to an increase in value of these diamonds over time.
How do you assure ethical standards along your value chain?
Our business is highly unique in that it’s involved in every stage of the jewellery making process, from the sourcing of the rough stone, through to the cutting, polishing and final setting of each jewel. We pride ourselves on paying considerable attention and applying the greatest skills to the diamonds in our care. We closely adhere to the Kimberley process, never buying or trading rough diamonds from areas where it would encourage conflict or human suffering.
What inspired you to start FACET and what is the impact you want to achieve?
In 2008, we established the FACET Foundation (For Africa’s Children Every Time) designed to support the education, health and well-being of the people of sub-Saharan Africa, from where we source many of our beautiful stones. The perseverance and energy poured in by project leaders on the ground, to run initiatives that really do change the course of young people’s futures is inspiring. FACET works to identify critical areas of need, establishing strong partnerships with local charities which include; Help Lesotho, Stepping Stones International and Pebbles Project who are working to implement charitable initiatives across the region.
Does the family-name still matter in the diamond trade? Can you explain why?
Purchasing a diamond is a very personal experience. It’s about buying a perfect gift for someone special in your life. I’m very lucky; I’m in a business where people come to us out of emotion and love. It could be a man buying something for his wife, girlfriend or daughter – or a woman celebrating the fact that she feels great that day, it’s always for wonderful reasons that our clients come into one of our stores.
I believe we are one of the last, if not the last family-owned jeweller operating at the very pinnacle of the luxury jewellery industry – and that makes us very special. The quality of stones we use and the level of craftsmanship imbued into every step of the jewellery making process, that’s what we have a worldwide reputation for and that’s what we work to uphold every day.
Does family-ownership matter to you in the future or would you consider a different scenario?
It is very important to us all. Graff has been owned and run by our family since the beginning. We will continue to work together as a family, setting goals for the future of our business, to grow, to expand and to always be the very best.
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 24, 2014