Mr. Mark Gershburg in an exclusive interview with Rough & Polished – Team Asia and Russia.
With more than 30 years of experience in the gem lab sector under his belt, Mark Gershburg is an industry veteran widely popular in the global gem and jewelry industry. He began his career in 1980 as a grader but his professionalism, creativity, and commitment were rewarded with increasing levels of responsibility until he became the director and CEO.
In early 2005, Mark launched Gemological Science International (GSI) with a vision of creating unprecedented innovation in new technologies. His goal was to improve trade efficiencies, enhance the consumer experience and meet the rapidly changing needs of the jewelry industry in the new millennium.
Currently, Gershburg is actively involved in multiple jewelry industry organizations including the Jewelers Vigilance Committee and the Responsible Jewelry Council, besides steering GSI to become a laboratory equipped with sophisticated technologies.
Here, in an interview with Rough&Polished, Mark Gershburg traces the company he founded, from its inception till date; and also touches upon some points that the industry can focus on like transparency, best practices, etc.
Was establishing GSI a conscientious decision on your part given that there were already numerous laboratories vying for a piece of the global business?
At GSI we work one-on-one with our Customers to offer them services that they need – we have sometimes gone back to the drawing board and come up with solutions to their problems that work in today’s economy and not just trying to resell the same things that worked in yesterday’s economy. To address the question regarding our competitors – there is plenty of space in the market for everyone but our reason for establishing GSI was in part due to our commitment to working one-on-one with customers rather than trying to have a one size fits all approach.
Or, was it your background in the laboratory services that gave you a clearer picture of the opportunity for growth in this field? Your story, please?
My background in laboratory services taught me an important lesson and which is that Diamond grading is subjective – While others can try to replicate the cutting-edge technology that we are using – they would find it extremely difficult to mimic the expertise of our Senior Gemologists and Senior Graders due to our rigorous processes and our insistence on adhering to International Standards. The opportunity for growth is available to anyone but the future belongs to those who have higher standards
Can you walk us through GSI from the time it was launched till date; details about your presence globally; some info on your entry into India; and future plans?
We started our first office in New York, 2005. And since then it was no looking back. Today GSI has eleven offices in seven different countries on four continents. We are an independent gemological laboratory with a global footprint with offices in USA, India, Israel, Belgium, Botswana, UAE, and China. While numbers are important, quality is much more so, that’s why we put more efforts in our people, our instruments, processes, and training. Our goal in future is to emerge as thought leaders in industry and to be known for bringing transparency in the industry by bringing in best practices from other industries.
Why would a client choose GSI for services when he is spoilt for choice with umpteen other laboratories around? What’s your USP? Is offering of customized solutions a norm by all laboratories or is it your company’s specialized service?
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of wealth belongs to 20% of the population. When you extend that principle to customers – you realize that the Top 20% of customers give you 80% of your business. Our focus has always been to wow the Top 20% of customers in every market that we enter into. Now bear in mind that the top customers want the best service they can get – so our USP is all about challenging ourselves to provide the best service that we can. To answer your question about customized solutions – anyone can claim to offer customized solutions but delivering those customized solutions in a consistent manner is a different matter altogether. At GSI we work one-on-one with our Customers to offer them services that they need and not just try to sell them cookie-cutter services.
In terms of technology, how advanced is GSI by today’s standards? How often is technology updated at GSI to meet the industry’s requirements, especially with numerous challenges cropping up ever so often?
GSI was the first in the world to begin the testing of smaller size diamonds in a bulk and since then it has been never looking back. At GSI, we have always maintained international standards for Diamond Detection by Grading the 4’c. We utilize other instruments used by many industries besides gemology, FTR spectrometer, FTIR spectrometer, Bruker FTIR spectrometers, EDXRF, and Raman spectrometer and others.
Having developed its technology for grading systems in 21st Century, GSI has been able to incorporate the very latest and best in technology with Experts in Research & Development team. At GSI, application of technology right at the very beginning of our diamond grading process. Spectroscopy plays a very important role in gemology.
Besides lab services, what other services do you offer to the gem and jewelry industry? Are the training and research, etc., offered in every branch? And how is it customized in different countries?
We also have services such as Metal Engraving, Gemstone Laser Inscription and Virtual Vault. Some of our services have been driven by the demands of the marketplace which is why it has been customized to different countries for Example we have mobile labs in India and Virtual Vaults are only provided in the USA.
Can you brief us on the RJIF initiative of your company? How will it add value to the industry members’ business on the whole?
Given the fragmented nature of the industry and the high concentration of service providers in the metro cities, it is often difficult if not tedious for retail jewellers to identify the best resource for a particular service. RJIF 2016 filled this void by picking companies that have strong, demonstrated synergies with jewelry retail requirements, and bringing them together on a single platform.
This is more for the Individual retailer and it would give him access to the same tools that the bigger retailers have access to.
Differences in the grading of precious stones from different labs have been seen quite often worldwide. When standard rules and specifications are used by all labs, how does this difference arise? Your comments, please.
As mentioned earlier my background in laboratory services taught me an important lesson which is that Diamond grading is subjective. While standard rules like the 4C’s are used by all labs – it is impossible to eliminate subjectivity which is why it is expertise and commitment to excellence which differentiates the leaders from the rest.
What’s your opinion on synthetic diamonds being mixed with natural that happens often worldwide? What according to you is the right way to tackle this problem, given that customer confidence is at stake here?
I think it is a scourge of the diamond industry. While there is no magic bullet I recently read about a company called Everledger, which is using the blockchain technology (the same technology that bitcoin uses) to track diamonds across the entire value chain from mines to the market. This technology would need to be run in tandem with 3 other mechanisms such as Regulatory, Commercial and Process-based Initiatives for it to be considered a success.
1. Regulatory: The ‘Regulatory’ system would target greater traceability of goods in the value chain and would inflict penalties on those found to be indulging in undisclosed mixing. All trade bodies and associations have been advised to adopt amendments to their Articles and Constitutions to clearly outline undisclosed mixing as an unfair practice and to outline and implement strict penal measures against players found to be indulging in such activities. By organizing symposiums, seminars and interactions with Industry Leaders on individual and group levels to rapidly drive forward scalable and affordable solutions for the industry.
2. Commercial: ‘Commercial’ solutions have been crafted to ensure greater accountability and trust within the trade. Standard declarations to accompany trade invoices globally, which would provide clarity to buyers on the nature of the goods being purchased.
3. Process: Process measures can be supported by putting in place adequate machines for testing and systems for tracking and storing all transaction data – including test logs and invoices – and accompanying declarations and segregation of diamonds.
As an active member of the Vigilance Committee and RJC, what are your views on the global gems and jewelry industry on the whole? Are the governing organizations losing their grip on the industry, which is plagued by challenges galore?
While I would not be able to comment on specific challenges – I could tell you that the days of Cartels and Oligopolies are over. Since the business of Global Gems and Jewelers operated on Governing principles rather than regulation – it was just a matter of time before bad actors entered the scene. Does the solution require us to become a regulated industry? I strongly believe the answer to that is no! Regulation is not the solution for everything – however it is time for Industry Leaders to step up and Lead by eliminating Middlemen and by focusing on what is working today and not on what used to work in the past. The need for control can be seen in both a negative as well as a positive light – However we need to understand that Higher Standards are the need of the hour not the need for control in itself.