GEM TALK WITH LISA LEVINSON, DIAMOND CONNOISSEUR & FOREVERMARK COUNTRY MANAGER
The series of interviews with women and men who have personalities, story to tell and their own GEM style. They make it happen for themselves all over the world and follow GEMOLOGUE by Liza Urla.
Lisa Levinson is one of the most personable and easy-going blondes I have met in the jewellery world. She has carved an impressive career, and yet she is a romantic at heart. A few years she made a brave step to move to Africa leaving everything behind in Europe to learn the basics of the diamond trade. Ever since she started working for De Beers and Forevermark, she has had a rare unique access to diamonds every girl could dream of. After all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend! And here she tells us exactly how to get that dream job and takes us behind the scenes of diamond trade. On her very first day in the office, she dropped a 5 million dollar diamond while playing with it. At the time I was interviewing her, I thought her life would make a wonderful movie script. Read on to learn about this inspiring career woman, as well as just a beautiful and fun human being!
Name: Lisa Levinson
Alma Mater: Stockholm School of Economics & University of Cape Town
Occupation: Country Manager for Forevermark in UK and Ireland
LOCATION AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: Dinner at Chiltern Firehouse. They have some amazing cornbread with maple butter that goes well with a glass of Prosecco. I love sparkling wine, or anything that sparkles really!
IN THE BEGINNING: One day, I started reading about the diamond history in South Africa – so I can say that my interest in the diamond industry started with a book. Back then I was working as a strategy management consultant in a very corporate environment in Sweden.
My boyfriend at the time told me he wanted to give me something special from the heart of Africa as I arrived there. So I thought we were either going to go on a safari, or he would buy me a zebra carpet or giraffe pillows. However, he really surprised me by taking me to a diamond store and buying me a pair of diamond earrings!
I wanted to have an adventure, so I took a diamond course in Johannesburg. I felt attracted to the opportunity and I trusted my intuition. The whole experience turned out to be so exotic! I was based in downtown CBD and I was the only person not from South Africa. I was a completely different animal in an already a very diverse group of people. There was an old politician and freedom fighter who knew Mandela and shared his perspective on South Africa history with me, another man worked in gold mines but wanted to learn about diamonds, and another man was about to inherit a small diamond mine from his family. I got the basic knowledge of diamonds through the course and fell in love with the industry. It was wonderful to see what diamonds have done for South Africa: these precious stones are deeply intertwined with the country’s culture. Botswana’s prosperity also comes almost 100 per cent from diamonds.
CAPE TOWN: I spent more than a year in Cape Town and it has been my favourite place ever since. Cape Town’s beauty comes from its diversity. The nature ranges from rugged mountains to peaceful valleys where the Western Cape wine grapes are grown. You can spend days in Cape Town just exploring new restaurants and cafes. There are some amazing breakfast spots, such as the Loading Bay on Hudson Street, where you can do people watching whilst eating a bowl of berry bircher. Cape Town has some great sushi places that serve fresh fish from the local area. Willoughby & Co is randomly placed in the aisle of a shopping mall, but it serves arguably the best sushi in Southern Africa. Beluga is a better place when it comes to atmosphere, set in a pretty courtyard they serve sushi, wine and chocolate desserts.
SHOP THE LOOK:
DIAMONDS: Its partly the purity and beauty, it is also its complexity and craftsmanship. Its hard to explore diamonds, its hard to mine them, its the craftsmanship of cutting the diamonds to their best proportions and making them into beautiful jewellery. Diamond industry propels communities into the culture of excellence, where they constantly need to do better, learn more and become experts, refine their trade. So it is all about the mindset and way of living for diamond culture.
I liked the pioneering spirit that came along with the diamond rush in Kimberley and what happened there and the stories around the political struggle and about how De Beers was built up.
DE BEERS: After living in South Africa, I came back to London. When I was leaving Cape Town my friends asked me what I was going to do. Apparently I said my greatest dream was to work at De Beers Group, because they were the largest operators of diamonds and because of the history surrounding it! I wanted to start on the mining side of the diamond industry and to work primarily with rough diamonds.
I wanted to be classically diamond trained, and I thought De Beers Group would be the perfect place to do that. In addition, geographically De Beers had the largest presence in London. I wanted to be on the rough diamond side of the business, which is harder to do than the polished side of it.
Initially, I sent De Beers my CV, but I heard nothing. Afterwards, I looked at ASMALLWORLD, a social network, and randomly came across the sales director and I sent him my CV. The next day his secretary got in touch with me asking me to come in for an interview. The following day, I had an intense two and half hour interview in a front of five people in a historically respectful environment. I was offered the job the next day to start the following week as I was holidaying in Spain. So I was sitting at my desk exactly seven days after sending my CV to the sales director. I started in September 2011, so it’s my fifth year in the diamond world.
FIRST DAY AT DE BEERS: Dropping a five million dollar diamond was quite traumatic. It was on my first day at De Beers. I got this large diamond in my hand and started playing with it. It was about 300 carat fancy coloured yellow diamond. I played and played with it, and then I just dropped it… At the time, I didn’t realise it was actually a real diamond. The gentleman, who is now in charge of valuing large stones at De Beers Group, asked me, ‘ How much do you think that stone is?’ I said I didn’t know. He told me its five million dollars. I was really shocked and I have never cold sweated that much. Afterwards, I learnt to be very careful with large stones and not be so touchy feely with them! It is not my grandmother’s necklace anymore…
BOSTWANA: In Botswana, I stood out like a giraffe – I was practically the tallest girl in Botswana! I was very comfortable in my De Beers role there, as I had done it for two years. I knew since I got the De Beers job that the role would move to Botswana after a while, so I was completely okay with that. Living in Botswana you learn patience, persistence. It was very peaceful; the nature beautiful and wild. One of my favourite things to do was to go out on a safari, where you see no one, you are completely alone, at one with Nature. One night we slept in a tent on top of a car. The next morning, I woke up and I went to dip my toes in the pond, and an hour later in the morning there were five lions lying nearby drinking from the pond! The Botswana people are very protective of the environment, so it seems completely untouched and a unique experience when you are out there. I have this need to be close to nature. That’s why nowadays I live by Hampstead Heath – I need to see the horizon to think clearly. I feel hindered if I cannot…
FOREVERMARK: I love my job! It’s an amazing honour to launch Forevermark in the British Isles. After Botswana, I wanted to go back to Europe to be closer to my family and that’s when I got approached for the job at Forevermark. My job is to create a diamond dream – I need to build the appreciation for diamond’s value and rarity. Whilst working on the rough diamond side of the industry, I saw how rare diamonds are – less that a midsize wardrobe is produced in the entire world in a year. In fact, I have literally seen the third of the world production go through the room next to my desk. From first-hand experience I know how rare diamonds are and how much good the mining companies do by contributing to the community. I wanted to spread the awareness – with Forevermark it is the core of the brand – that diamonds are rare, beautiful and are also responsibly sourced. It is important to share why diamonds are precious, that they are not just the symbol of your love for you partner, but also about the love for the community that brought you this diamond.
The more value attributed to the diamond jewellery from the buyer, the more value goes back to the producer country, and it makes tangible difference to people’s lives. Diamonds are creating emotional value here, and economical value in Southern Africa.
POWER COMES FROM: Compassion and purpose.
TOPSHOP OR CHANEL: I like timeless clothing that can be worn a lifetime.
FIRST JEWELLERY: I was sitting in my grandmother’s lap and playing with her necklace of semi precious stones, which looked like tiger’s eyes: green, dark purple. She passed away when I was 10 and I received the necklace with special instructions form her. To me these stones looked like candy, I just wanted to consume it! My mother is really passionate about jewellery too. She used to scratch me by accident by her jewellery.
MY EVERYDAY JEWELLERY: Forevermark diamonds set in yellow gold.
PERFECT ENGAGEMENT RING: I would love a beautiful an oval Forevermark diamond, or collection of smaller Forevermark diamonds, set in a simple yellow gold setting.
ROLEX OR CARTIER: I have never worn a watch, yet.
MEN JEWELLERY: The market for male jewellery is quite small and consists of some key pieces – cufflinks, watches, signet rings and wedding bands. I like timeless pieces that can be worn a lifetime.
FINE JEWELLERY: I love jewellery that combines timeless design with beautiful diamonds.
JEWELLERY AS AN INVESTMENT: The long chain of activities to put an exceptional diamond on the market makes beautiful diamonds incredibly rare. The supply/demand fundamentals of the diamond industry are very attractive. My belief is that we will see a continued growth in the value of diamonds: Diamonds are a great investment!
Each year about 130 million carats are mined, which is around 26,000 kilograms. It sounds like a large amount, but converted into volume it barely fills up a midsized wardrobe. In addition, only a very small number of these diamonds are of gemstone quality.
VINTAGE JEWELLERY: All diamonds have a beautiful story to tell – how the diamond was mined, cut, polished and designed into a piece of jewellery. Vintage jewellery has the added layer of holding the story of its previous wearers. My grandmother always wore the same necklace, a selection of different coloured semiprecious gemstones set on a white gold chain. Sort of like a chunky version of diamonds by the yard. Just before she passed away she gave it to me. It is a symbol for all the good memories we created together. The necklace is now being worn by my childhood teddy bear.
FASHION JEWELLERY: There are brilliant fashion jewellery designers innovating new jewellery designs. Fashion jewellery and fine jewellery work in parallel to further the jewellery trade. I’m all about craftsmanship and it can be found in both fine jewellery and fashion jewellery.
PERFECT GETAWAY: The best travels the past year both involved small propeller plane to remote places. At the end of last year I visited the freezing cold Victor diamond mine in Canada. Earlier this year I flew into the hot Namib Desert in Namibia. Next week I’m flying to South Africa. It seems like I’m only travelling to diamond countries at the moment.
I am going to Ethiopia in November. The landscapes are supposed to be fantastic and vast, with lots of my favourite horizons. I am going to trek through the country and run a 10K, which my boyfriend initiated.
At some point, I would absolutely love to go to India, and go up to Darjeeling and tea plantations. If I didn’t sell diamonds, I would sell tea or books.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: Notepad, pen and a book.
CULTURE FIX: The African art in the Sainsbury Galleries in the British Museum.
COACHELLA OR BURNING MAN: Coachella is brilliant fun.
MY WEAPON OF CHOICE: Compassion.
WILD WISH: I’d love to see the Eureka diamond.
GEMOLOGUE by Liza Urla features exquisite global discoveries, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews – a celebration of fine jewellery, fashion jewellery and vintage jewellery.
*Photographed by Flit Photography. Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla
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