In the Diamond Mind: Caryl Capeci
A Conversation with Caryl Capeci, CEO, Chow Tai Fook North America & Hearts On FireBy Heidi Garnett, Writer and Co-Founder of Gem X @heidielizabethgarnett |
A self-proclaimed diamond studs kind of girl, Caryl Capeci likes to make a decisive statement – whether it’s with a piece of jewelry or with a business perspective. That should be no surprise, as the executive leads the North American business for one of the most significant jewelry players in the world. Even over Zoom, where our interview took place, Caryl brought a refreshing spunkiness, frankness and sparkle to a conversation that ran the gamut from her no-regrets philosophy on life to her passion for empowering women and ambitions for the diamond category.
What’s the story of your first diamond?
I’ve always been a diamond studs kind of girl. I purchased my first pair when I was 30 years old. I was living in New York City and very happy. I loved my job, I loved the city, and I felt complete and proud of my accomplishments. I wanted to make an investment in myself and bought sparkly round brilliant studs. I have worn diamonds studs almost every day since.
What excites you most at the moment?
The transformation of our industry. Until now, the diamond jewelry industry and jewelry retail has been reluctant to embrace change. With the events of 2020 came the acceptance, finally, that no industry is immune to the need to evolve. For the first time, I sense an enthusiasm for finding new ways to work, whether it’s using newer technologies to automate parts of the supply chain or using newer digital platforms to more personally engage consumers.
What is your intention for the year ahead?
Guiding our team to use technology in new, bold ways. Today, consumers are able to buy products like cars online, test driving them at home and never having to visit a physical dealership. I want to help our retail partners unlock this same type of behavior with diamond jewelry consumers, informing our strategies with how consumers want to shop. We need to reach outside of the jewelry store to sell and technology platforms will help us do that.
Also, personally, to slow down and appreciate the smaller joys in being present. Before the pandemic, life was moving at such a hectic pace with work, travel and family. Suddenly, 75% of normal activities disappeared, leaving the fundamentals: a focus on work and keeping family healthy and happy. This year I have probably spent more hours in my backyard than I have in total over the last decade—and it has been lovely. While a faster-paced life will surely return, I hope we will continue to find more balance in all areas of our lives.
What’s your greatest indulgence?
I have always loved going to movies alone, something that began when I lived in New York City. A really good Saturday afternoon nap or a day hiking a mountain with an incredible playlist is good too, but escaping alone to see a movie by myself feels so indulgent. And the experience is even better now that many theatres offer reclining chairs and a glass of wine!
What diamond destination is at the top of your list?
Definitely Botswana and South Africa. I haven’t been to either country in over 20 years and they have both experienced enormous change during this time. I want to see for myself the impact of the diamond industry’s investment in mining communities. I have a deep belief that natural diamonds can be a force for good and I’m excited for the day when I can get back to the source.
What inspired you to pursue a career in jewelry?
I really did fall into it. I began my career at an advertising agency, back when entry level jobs in New York City made no money and the only way to survive was having three roommates. It was great. The energy and excitement of the advertising industry on Madison Avenue was at its peak. I had the good fortune of being placed on the DeBeers advertising account and that is where it all started. I guess it was part luck, and part my commitment to give the job everything I had. I was intrigued by the category. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with diamonds.
What moment still blows your mind?
In our collaboration with the non-profit Girls Inc., which empowers and equips young women with tools to successfully navigate through the world, we bring groups of girls from the community into our offices to learn about the business of jewelry. One example was a design project to create a new collection of jewelry to benefit Girls Inc. The girls worked with us every step of the way on the collection, from the design brief to CAD, pricing and selling the jewelry in stores. It exposed them to careers they might not have considered and let them experience first-hand each role in the process. They realized that these types of jobs are not just dreams, they are attainable.
This process also reminded me how connected all girls and women are to diamonds. When they see them and try them on for the first time, the initial, innate response is always excitement and a pure appreciation of the staggering beauty of natural diamonds. This blows me away because the reaction of these 14-year-old girls in Boston is not much different than what we hear from 45-year-old women in research focus groups in markets like Ohio.
What life lesson has been the hardest earned, and taught you the most?
We lost my brother when he was 49 years old. He had melanoma and passed away very quickly. He had a family and two small children. That experience taught me that life is fleeting and the importance of appreciating every day. Each of us is only here for a period of time and we should enjoy every moment.
My family is very close and my mother still lives in the house we grew up in, which has been ground zero for our holidays over the years. In this day and age, when people move so often, I realize it is unusual and we are very fortunate. We rely quite a bit on the strength of our family and it has really helped us weather the difficult times.
What advice would you give your younger self?
This is a tough question, because I am a huge believer in the journey and that the decisions you make guide your path. If I had done life differently, taken an even slightly different approach, I would not be where I am today—and I love where I am today. For instance, I’ve considered what my journey would have looked like if I had stopped working for a few years and gone back to business school. Would I have met my husband, moved to Boston and stayed in jewelry? I would never want to change the decisions that brought me here. In short, I think part of the journey is gaining the wisdom with age and experience that only your specific path could teach you. If my younger self had behaved differently, than so would my destination.
What’s next for diamonds?
I’m excited for the future. Right now, the most important thing for the industry is to solidify how meaningful natural diamonds are for younger women. Many women get it, they all have engagement rings, but we are still proving ourselves to women under 30 years old. There is no question in my mind that we will. Decades and centuries from now, the industry will look very different, but diamonds will remain as important. I’m also excited to see how women will change the category, both as consumers who purchase their own diamond jewelry and as industry professionals. Often women, myself included, see themselves working on teams, but not leading the business. Once I took on a leadership role, I realized how much I enjoyed it. I want to continue finding ways for girls and young women to see themselves as our next business leaders.