Mabel Wong McCormick has two great indulgences: wine and spirits, and diamonds. Luckily, she has wound up with opportunities to work in both. With a passion for building businesses and engaging people, Mabel spent years establishing brands at the likes of LVMH Moët Hennessy before landing her current role setting up then growing the Natural Diamond Council in China. Working in both categories has not diminished her enthusiasm for either, as can be seen in the following excerpts from our conversation that include comments like: who doesn’t want to end each week at a get together with a drink in their hand and diamond on their finger? Cheers to that, Mabel.
Q: What’s the story of your first diamond? When my husband proposed we looked for an engagement ring and found my first important diamond together. We both have simple tastes and we selected a round brilliant diamond solitaire ring. We aren’t the types who want frills around our feelings. The simplicity of the ring, which allows the diamond to shine, is the perfect symbol of our love.
Q: What excites you most at the moment? In contrast to the mature market for diamonds in the US, most people in China have not been educated about the value factors of diamonds or given the opportunity to establish an emotional connection with them. I am excited to tell the story of natural diamonds in China. I believe the way to do it is through rich, relevant content that engages people humanly and naturally, talking their talk and hanging out where they are, like a sister or a friend.
Take the story of the Grand Mazarin diamond, for example. It is a famous, light pink diamond, which takes its name from Cardinal Mazarin who was the Chief Minister of France in the 1600s. Toward the end of his life, Cardinal Mazarin assembled a collection of 18 exceptional gems, including the Grand Mazarin, which eventually became part of the French Crown Jewels. The story of the Grand Mazarin is not a story about the value diamonds or about France. It is the story of a man who wants to leave a lasting legacy. That’s the kind of human story we are telling in China and that the people of China are thirsty to hear.
Q: What is your intention for the year ahead? A diamond is the oldest object most people will ever touch. That fact gives me the goosebumps. My intention is to share that story and those emotions with others in China.
Q: What’s your greatest indulgence? The first two that come to mind are wine and spirits, and jewelry. I have worked in both industries and like them for the same reasons. Both are products of nature and speak to our senses, be they sight, scent, hearing, taste or touch. Regardless of why we are drawn to them, these objects become part of our story – perhaps we are a Chardonnay drinker, or we cherish a round brilliant diamond that never leaves our finger.
Also, both bring us joy. Who doesn’t want to end each week at a get together with a drink in their hand and diamond on their finger?
Q: What diamond destination is at the top of your list? I would love to go to Botswana. The diamond industry has made tremendous contributions to sustainability in the country. It has worked with the local government to create jobs, to offer educational opportunities and to fight issues like malnutrition. I have the chills thinking about all a company can do to change the future of communities of people for the better.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in jewelry? It was chance, actually. Several years ago, I was working in wine and spirits and sitting in my office in Myanmar when my phone rang. It was a recruiter hiring for a position at the Natural Diamond Council to set up its business in China. Diamonds are one of my greatest indulgences, as you know, and I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I was excited and took the job.
Q: What moment still blows your mind? In 2018, when I first joined the Natural Diamond Council, I visited the Ekati Mine in Canada. When I stepped off the plane, I was struck by the beauty around me. The land was covered in snow, which looked like one vast sheet of white paper continuing to the end of the world. I had the opportunity to see the tremendous efforts the mine took to preserve the environment and that pure white snow. From the people who were sorting the rough diamonds to those overseeing the garbage system, each person was so proud of their work in diamonds and so careful to safeguard the natural beauty around them. It was breath-taking.
Q: What life lesson has been the hardest earned, and taught you the most? The importance of having humanity. When I moved from Hong Kong where I grew up to Shanghai 20 years ago, China was beginning to open up to foreign businesses and ideas. I was prepared to share my knowledge and expertise, yet found I learned far more from the people of China.
Throughout my career I have been an entrepreneur, frequently working with start-ups. That lesson about humanity has been essential. Believing something does not matter unless others believe it too. History is not been written by individuals. Instead, it is an evolution.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self? Ask people for help and do it by establishing a relationship with them, sharing what is in your mind fully and listening. Like many, when I was younger, I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness. Over the years, I learned that when I asked for help people encouraged me, pointed me in new, good directions and I gained new friends. I have found that the most fulfilling successes are the ones co-created, and celebrated, with others.
Q: What’s next for diamonds? Diamonds are a gift from nature. Especially after the outbreak of the pandemic and the past months of turbulence, many of us are treasuring each other and nature more than before. Diamonds stand to be a powerful part of this story. Beyond my personal experience, we have organizationally seen increasing interest in this natural diamond story across China. This interest spans gender, age, though it is strongest among young and middled-age adults, and regions, including urban and rural areas. This is a testament to the relevance of the natural diamond story across people and I’m excited to be part of telling it.