In the Diamond Mind: Kristina Buckley

A conversation with Kristina Buckley Kayel, Natural Diamond Council

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Kristina Buckley Kayel, Managing Director, Diamond Producers Association North America

Whether speaking about extraordinary high jewelry collections or the potential of carbon-neutral diamond mining, Kristina Buckley Kayel is passionate and does not shy away from speaking her mind—even when the statements are bold. As the Managing Director of the Natural Diamond Council—which is poised to unveil a new brand and with it, in many ways, a new organization—and as a former Vice President of Marketing Communications at Van Cleef & Arpels, Kristina might be one of the few people in the diamond industry qualified to proffer strong opinions on both.

Q: What’s the story of your first diamond?
When I graduated from UCL in London, my mother gave me a delicate diamond ring that her own mother, my Oma, had given her when she left home. My mother said that it brought her protection and good luck when she entered the world by herself. Every time I look at the ring, I think of my Oma protecting me and I feel her love and strength.

That is the power of diamonds. The size of the diamond and the design of the jewel don’t matter. What matters is what the diamond means to you. Today, I keep the ring on my bedside table when I am not wearing it. I see it every morning and every night.

Q: What excites you most at the moment?
It’s important to look at the opportunity within a crisis. While this is a dark, uncertain time, I believe it will mark us positively. The appreciation for conscious consumerism will continue to grow. People will be inclined to own fewer, better things. We will think about our relationships, connections and values in new ways. We’ll have a new respect and reverence for nature and its power. All of this will further reinforce sustainability and the origin of objects will be increasingly important.

The diamond industry and modern mining are undergoing an incredible transformation. We have an opportunity to tell the world about the strides they are making in sustainability. Livia Firth of Eco-Age put it in a powerful way, when we had the opportunity to bring her out to see the diamond mines in Botswana. She said that the diamond mining industry should serve as a “blueprint” for sustainability practices in other industries. The bedrock of the diamond industry is sustainability. It works in symbiosis with local governments and local communities to ensure long-term sustainability and sector success. We have an opportunity to tell this story and bring it to the forefront for consumers who care about these issues, which is very exciting.    

Q: What is your intention for the year ahead?
My intention is to present the multi-faceted world of natural diamonds to consumers, through the new Only Natural Diamonds brand and content platform. The world is changing, and the self-purchasing woman is the biggest growth driver in diamonds, yet she is often still overlooked. For example, many mid-tier diamond retailers focus their content toward men. It tends to be predominantly transactional, not emotional or inspirational. This is the white space I want to seize, as the only consumer-facing diamond trade entity.

Q: What’s your greatest indulgence?
My birthday is around the corner, which is an annual time for indulgence. Between balancing working toward the Only Natural Diamonds launch with being mom of two little boys, I could go for a 90-minute, no make it a two-hour, massage. An indulgent tradition I started after having my boys is gifting myself a piece of jewellery or artwork each year on my birthday. Last year, I bought myself a Zoe Chicco diamond pendant and earrings. I wear the pendant every day as a reminder that everything is possible, and usually in the way you least expect. The year before, I bought myself artwork by a budding painter named Mary Ball. Jewels, art and a massage, what more to say!

Q: What diamond destination is at the top of your list?
Botswana – since joining the Natural Diamond Council just over a year ago, I have learned so much that I never imagined about the positive impact mining can have. In Botswana, in particular, the country has been transformed by the contributions of the diamond sector. Also, some of the most magnetic, strong, brilliant and gracious women that I have met, including Neo Masisi, the first lady of Botswana, Naseem Lahri, Managing Director of Lucara Botswana and Eira Thomas, CEO of Lucara Diamond speak so proudly of Botswana and the profound impact of the diamond industry.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in jewelry?
Jewelry is a vessel for so much. It is art and it is history, craft and beauty. It is a symbol of celebration, and a testament to nature’s brilliance and human ingenuity. It’s enduring poetry that moves me—almost spiritually if I dare say it. If I can bring the magic of jewelry to people through my work, then I feel fulfilled.

Q: What moment still blows your mind?   
Countless. For instance, while at Van Cleef & Arpels, I got to visit the ateliers and meet generations of craftspeople, working side by side, to create the high jewelry collections. I learned that there might only be a handful of people at an atelier who know how to create jewelry with mystery set gems. To think, it can take thousands upon thousands of hours to create a single piece of jewelry. Mind blowing.    

Then again, visiting my first diamond mine was mind-blowing. I saw first-hand the pride of the people who work there and felt the palpable sense of community. Then there is the natural process of recovering diamonds. Mind blowing.  

Q: What life lesson has been the hardest earned, and taught you the most?
My expat upbringing. Growing up, we moved every two-three years. I was born in the United States and then we moved to Sweden, Switzerland, then Spain, then Australia and then back to Switzerland. Each time, I had to start at a new school and adapt to a new culture. Around when I was settled, we would move and start all over again. While challenging, it forced me to mature and become independent quickly. Today, because of that upbringing, I feel I can travel to anywhere in the world and adapt. Travel and immersion into other cultures is a powerful education in life and humanity. I want to give my two boys a great school education, but I know half their education will be outside the schoolhouse exploring the world. 

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
Chill out. There is a quote by Wayne Dyer that says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” It’s a mantra I apply daily. Focus on what matters. Identify your values and prioritize accordingly. Then, take it easy. Everything else will fall into place and usually in a way you never would have expected, which is what makes life fun.

Q: What’s next for diamonds?
I feel confident that the future of jewellery is natural diamonds. Especially after the pandemic, people will want to celebrate connections and life’s precious moments. Natural diamonds are the ultimate expression and symbol of that. Natural diamonds are authentic about their origins. The word “natural” is a recognition of the sustainable practices and high standards in the diamond industry.

My mission is to bring the inspiration and the true story of natural diamonds to people in a way that has not been done before—in a way that is relevant, understandable and completely reimagined.