If you’ve ever stopped to notice the wording on an invoice for diamonds that marks the stones out as Kimberley Process-compliant, then you’ve just read some of Brandee Dallow’s early work. She was part of the team that devised it, and it’s a legacy she’s proud of.
Dallow started her career not in diamonds but in broadcasting, where her first boss made it clear that her initial assignment was to get rid of her strong Long Island accent — a snub that continues to make her self-conscious decades later.
After realizing that the pay in that industry was as lousy as the editors were blunt, Dallow switched over to what journalists jokingly refer to as “the dark side”: public relations. Dallow’s career in PR, however, would end up leading her firmly to the light.
Beginning the journey
In the late 1990s, she was headhunted to work for New York ad agency J. Walter Thompson, specifically on its account with De Beers. It was a tricky time to represent the diamond firm, as it was dealing with antitrust cases the Department of Justice had brought against it; in 2004, the miner would plead guilty to price fixing and pay a $10 million fine to regain access to the US market, then another $295 million four years later.
Despite this, Dallow thrived and focused her efforts on promoting the company’s bridal range. It was fun, it was fashion, but when the world started talking about blood diamonds, she felt a higher calling. “I was that kid who kind of raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll do that,’” says Dallow. “I felt it mattered.”
Later, in her work with the Ethical Metalsmiths group — Dallow is on the board of directors — her role in firefighting the blood-diamond narrative would place her under scrutiny.
“Christina Miller, who [co]founded the group, said to me…, ‘Aren’t you with the bad guys? Why should we trust you?’” she remembers. “My response then, and my response now, is that some people have to be on the inside to try to make the change. It can’t be everybody on the outside who’s pushing.”
The shift from the glamorous world of PR to the trenches of corporate communications took Dallow’s career in a new direction. After De Beers, she joined diamantaire Julius Klein — she was its first female executive, spending a decade in the business — and from there, she moved to Rio Tinto.
Her career then took another turn, bringing her even closer to the ethical issues that were her passion: She accepted roles at the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA), and then the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) and sustainable-standards body SCS Global Services. During this time, she also founded her own communications agency, Fine Girl, which works with brands to help them on their sustainability journey.
Last year, she had a homecoming of sorts. In the time since her departure from Julius Klein in 2014, it had split into two companies. One of them was Grandview Klein, where she is now chief communications and sustainability officer. The business specializes in big diamonds for big players, and Dallow is responsible for making sure the trading of these stones has a positive impact.
At the time of our interview, she has just produced a book for a client who sold a “magnificent ring” with fancy-intense-purple and fancy-intense-pink diamonds from Grandview Klein. The document charts the stones’ journey, and Dallow believes this level of transparency will be standard across the industry in the future, with those dabbling in untraceable diamonds at risk of becoming obsolete.
Grandview Klein sources 90% of its diamonds directly from De Beers, and the remainder from sightholders. It then has the stones cut and polished by its teams in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, where the company takes pride in supporting its employees — many of whom are women, including cutters — and enriching the wider communities.
The right direction
Toward the end of last year, Grandview Klein Diamonds Namibia awarded two local women full scholarships to attend the Namibia University of Science and Technology, with the aim of “creating pathways for success and dismantling barriers that hinder the pursuit of knowledge,” according to Ester Hakwenye, a director of Grandview Klein Namibia.
The company also helps tackle gender inequality — a core value of Dallow’s — in smaller ways, such as providing free sanitary products to girls in Namibia so they can attend school during their periods.
This is a message Dallow hopes to get out to the wider industry: that embracing ethics and sustainability is a journey, and that steps can be big or small. Traceability is the number-one issue staring down the barrel at diamond industry Luddites, in Dallow’s opinion, but she also recognizes the complexity of the issue.
If a company can’t offer a clear view of its sourcing yet, she says, why not consider smaller, more achievable changes, like combining FedEx parcels or switching to LED lightbulbs, as she has just done at her New York office?
“I’ve always felt that you’ve got to be in it to win it,” she states. “So if I can make changes, whether they’re small, they keep growing or get larger, that’s where I found myself.” And with that, she’s off to speak to the manager of her old, very-much-not-purpose-built New York building about a review of its eco-credentials.
Main image: Brandee Dallow. (Brandee Dallow)
This article is from the January-February 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.