Over the past decade, Sarine has expanded significantly in Asia Pacific, and we are proud to be an active partner in the diamond industry in China, Hong Kong, Japan and throughout the region. In recent months, China and Hong Kong have been at the frontlines of the war against COVID-19. Now, just as those regions are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the rest of the world is entering the lockdown stage.
How has the diamond industry in Asia been affected? How has the Sarine APAC team managed to maintain operations during the crisis? What’s the latest news on the ground in Asia and what does the future hold for the diamond industry in the age of corona?
We sat down with Noy Elram, Managing Director APAC of Sarine Technologies in Hong Kong, to find out:
Tell us about the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong and how you were impacted.
Since I joined Sarine, there have been many changes in Asia Pacific, especially in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has been suffering since June 2019, due to the political unrest that finally ended in December 2019. During that time, we had some practice working from home, due to road closures. Little did we know what was coming.
When the corona outbreak started on January 24, 2020, I had just returned from the IJT (Tokyo) exhibition, which was a huge success. I landed on Friday, and on Saturday the government announced that schools were closing until February 17. Three weeks at home with the kids.
This is when the panic kicked in. Long queues formed in the streets as people tried to stock up on masks, toilet paper, bleach and rice.
With the schools closed and panic all round, my wife and kids flew to Israel, so It was easier for me to prepare for a long stretch of working at home. Still, it was harder because I was alone.
The mind is a tricky thing. You need to work at remaining positive, no matter what. It was very easy to fall into the panic mindset. There was not much news going on, a lot of fake news, no one knew exactly what was happening. The way to cope was by keeping busy with special projects, while maintaining a healthy routine indoors. I have my laptop (for work), yoga mattress (for the body), books (for the mind), and guitar (for the soul).
How have you coped with the new “Work from Home” reality?
So, I setup a workspace at my dining table and started to communicate with the outside world.
An important key to effectively working from home is being focused and having specific tasks to execute. Time can be very slippery when working from home, so I made sure to keep my to-do list updated and short. Another important aspect is communication. There were almost no opportunities for face-to-face contact, and even then, only wearing masks. Video conferencing is much easier and safer.
The concept of Work-Life balance takes on a completely new meaning when working from home. Suddenly, you need to find time to be alone. I made an effort to schedule my time meticulously, including meals, work time and play time. It demands discipline but it is the only way.
How has Sarine APAC been managing during the crisis?
When the corona outbreak hit, two Sarine team members who work in Hong Kong were in China visiting their families. They had no choice but to stay there. Luckily, they had both taken their laptops with them, so they could continue working from home, in China.
The COVID-19 outbreak affected Sarine in APAC in two main ways: business and operations.
Operations wise, most of our administrative work relies on digital communication channels (emails, WhatsApp, WeChat, and cloud-based systems such as Order Management and Trello). As a team dispersed in several Asian countries, we are used to managing our operations digitally, so it was not difficult to adjust.
Business wise, it has been more challenging, as face-to-face meetings with clients, partners and suppliers is no longer an option. Even though there have been a few meetings, we wear face masks and avoid shaking hands or even exchanging business cards. We have substituted much of our regular business contact with WeChat and QR code scans.
What effects have you seen on the diamond industry in APAC?
Since all retail stores are closed in China, and now of course in other parts of the world, diamond jewellery sales have dropped significantly. The global travel industry has mostly ground to a halt, so there are no tourists in Asia or elsewhere. This affects the sales numbers as well.
This has led to a domino effect along the diamond pipeline, so that manufacturing and rough diamond trading is impacted as well. We do see a start of a slow recovery in China, as people begin returning to normal routine, but it will be a slow recovery – 3 to 5 months in my opinion.
Although times are tough, what are the signs of hope that you have experienced?
It is amazing to see how this event has influenced the way people behave and communicate and how consumer habits have changed. Online channels have become the best option for consumers. Delivery services thrive as a result of increased demand for takeaway meals.
Public transportation is working smoothly and is disinfected daily. Actually, it has become the perfect spot for sellers to meet buyers. Through apps like Carousell, sellers can offer brand new merchandise, like face masks or headphones, and set up a meeting with the buyer at the MTR station. It is a common way to buy things in Hong Kong.
It is interesting to see almost everyone wearing face masks, as a courtesy to each other.
The mask prevents you from infecting others, not from others infecting you.
So people still eat, shop, and meet, but differently than before. Things are happening digitally. That’s exactly the shift that Sarine is pioneering in the diamond industry.
How does the corona crisis impact the influence of digital channels on the diamond industry?
Our Digital Diamond Report is a perfect match for online purchases. Online stores can now show all the information about the diamond in an engaging digital format, which helps to make the sale. eGrading™ is all about grading at the source, digitally, reducing the need to send diamonds back and forth between the manufacturer, gem lab and retailer. It’s all about providing more direct access to information online.
Many diamond suppliers are working with us to move the industry in that direction. In Japan for example, our Sarine Diamond Journey Report is very successful. Large wholesalers have adopted the report for several of their diamond brands and it is performing well.
I am confident in Sarine’s ability to help the diamond industry rise from the current difficult situation with a push towards digital technology.
What advice or inspiration can you give others, having lived with the new reality for a few months?
Remember: the show must go on. This situation is temporary; we must keep a positive mindset and share kindness with others. Support your families and friends; continue to do your jobs as much as you can. We have a great team in APAC and we are all working at transforming the physical isolation into togetherness in the digital world.
What is the mood like now in China and among the general population?
We are already seeing signs of recovery in China. Just recently, our team in APAC ventured out to the streets to test the mood, and as you can see in the video below, people are slowly returning to the malls, shops and cafes. While it depends on the area, many restrictions are slowly lifting, and we are seeing new signs of life and positivity. After these past months, it is very heart-warming to witness this recovery and to see the jewellery stores filling up with eager customers once again. I am certain that we will be seeing more scenes like this in the near future.
The diamond industry was already changing before the coronavirus crisis began. The outbreak has certainly intensified this change. Our team is confident in the strength of the global diamond industry, and in China and APAC. Together, we will overcome the crisis and come out stronger.