Born in Antwerp, Belgium on February 24, 1947. When he turned 18 he joined his dad in his Antwerp based rough diamonds business called Orion Diamond Company. Sylvain’s dad was actually one of the very first large traders in rough diamonds to develop import to Antwerp from African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone etc… He was an extremely active businessman who gained a very wide respect within the diamond community, through his innovative business approach and acumen. At first Sylvain got to learn the business by working in the accounting department of the company. Later on he undertook trips to African countries in order to buy the rough merchandise. His forte soon emerged, a great eye for the polished diamonds that could be obtained out of large rough stones. A crucial competence in the rough diamond trade. Because being able to see the true potential of rough diamonds better than most buyers, gained Sylvain a huge competitive advantage. Knowing when to be willing to pay more than others, or when to refrain from raising your offer, is even more essential when each business decision involves a very large amount of money.
Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Orion Diamond Company
In 1968 Sylvain’s father also entrusts him with the management of his real estate portfolio and gave him even more leeway and authority than previously in buying rough diamonds in Africa. By that time the Orion Diamond Company had about 30 diamond polishers working for them in the city of Antwerp and in the Campine (an area close to Antwerp where traditionally there used to be a large number of diamond polishers).
A very rare and particular trait of Sylvain Goldberg is his ability to identify the origin of a diamond when examining it with his loupe. At heart he is adept at establishing the origin of a diamond – often up to the specific mine it was dug up in – by looking at the crystallization of the stone. Show him a rough diamond and he’ll tell you if it comes from South Africa, Angola, Russia, Sierra Leone, Australia etc….. and, as said, often adding the name of the individual mine it originated in. Time and time again an impressive feat.
Sygma Diamonds is a precursor through many of it’s facets.
In 1979 Sylvain Goldberg establishes Sygma Diamonds
In 1970 Sylvain Goldberg becomes a full fledged member of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, the oldest and most important diamond trading establishment in the city of Antwerp. Almost a decade later, in 1979, he establishes a new company called Sygma Diamonds. He does this together with his sister Gisele Goldberg and his cousin Marcel Knoll. Differently from Orion Diamond Company this business is orientated entirely towards the polished diamond trade. Immediately Sylvain specializes in serving the extremely demanding Japanese market. This market has a strong preference for diamonds with a very high brightness. In order to achieve this luster, Sygma Diamonds employs over 100 local polishers who are all mainly focused on what is called the ‘ideal make’ or ‘ideal cut’.
What is this ‘ideal make’?
A short word on this, not to bore you with technicalities, but in order to point out an important trait of Sylvain’s personality as expressed through this strategic business choice. The cut doesn’t refer to a diamond’s shape (e.g. round, oval, pear, etc.) but to it’s proportions, symmetry and it’s polish. The beauty of a diamond depends more on cut than on any other factor. Diamond cut has three primary effects on appearance: brilliance (the brightness created by the combination of all the white light reflections from the surface and the inside of a polished diamond), fire (the dispersion of light into the colors of the visible spectrum, seen as flashes of color), and scintillation (the flashes of light and dark, or sparkle, when a diamond or light source is moved). An ideal cut diamond is proportioned in such a way that nearly all the light that enters the diamond gets returned to the viewer’s eye. A seemingly minute change in any of the crucial parameters will diminish it. Obtaining this ‘ideal cut’ means sacrificing a proportion of the diamond’s weight. When a polisher aims for the ‘ideal make’ the weight of the resulting polished diamond will be lower than the maximally possible weight one could have obtained from the same rough diamond. In order to obtain the ‘ideal cut’ stones, so beloved by the Japanese customers, one always needs to cede some weight. This striving for perfection and a willingness to commit to sacrifices is a quintessential feature of Sylvain’s personality. Read the page about his karate experience and you’ll realize this is a trait that we find time and again throughout different facets of his work and of his private life.
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Marketing throughout South East Asia, rough diamond from Africa
Sylvain Goldberg also becomes a member of the ‘Vrije Diamanthandel’ in Antwerp. By now, not only is he an exceptional rough diamonds expert and very determined to aim for perfection in polishing, but on top of this he’s also aware that marketing will give him an edge in the booming economies of South East Asia such as Thailand, Vietnam etc… as well as in the USA market. The United States are still the largest diamond market in the world.
In 1994 he steps up his game once more by establishing a diamond company with the specific aim to export rough diamonds from Angola. This business rapidly becomes the single largest exporter of rough diamonds from Angola. It’s important to point out that it was established – and always ran – in close cooperation with the legitimate government of the country. You’ll grasp the relevance of this in the next paragraph.
Diamonds were first discovered in Angola in 1912. A former colony of Portugal, Angola gained independence in 1975. The country failed to find stability following independence and was thrown into several civil wars between two opposing factions – UNITA and MPLA – for the next 27 years. During the civil wars in Angola, rebel groups traded diamonds to fund armed conflict (known as conflict diamonds). In response, the UN applied sanctions to ban the rebels’ trade in conflict diamonds in 1999. Let it be very clear that Sylvain Goldberg’s dealings were always with or through the Angolan government and therefore have nothing to do with the conflict – or blood – diamonds that were such an important issue up until the time the Kimberley Process was well established in order to ban this type of merchandise from the legitimate diamond trade.
The result of Sylvain’s aiming for perfection and his active marketing, made Sygma Diamonds a preferred suppliers of high-end jewelry boutiques. If you have ever marveled at the plenitude of large diamonds in a jewelry window on the Paris Place Vendôme or on Rodeo Drive, you have probably seen diamonds from Sygma Diamonds.
Sylvain Goldberg at the age of wisdom
The first fact we need to express is that Sylvain is still fully with it. He maintains both his business acumen as well as his great physical shape (read more on the role of sport in his life here). But, as many business people about age 70 realize, it is important to have younger generations benefit from your experience and knowledge. Sylvain has nothing left to prove in the area of business. Therefore he stimulates younger generations to learn from him and set their own course in business and management. Throughout his career he has diversified his investments beyond the scope of diamonds and real estate. Next to this he is involved in several charities. While keeping an eye on the many ventures he is associated with, he tends to give more freedom and autonomy to younger managers. Asked about this he answers the following:
“My father gave me lots of responsibility when I was barely 18 years old. It would be conceited of me not to act in the same manner towards younger people I trust and believe in. I’m still perfectly able to keep up with them, which hopefully makes me a great mentor and teacher to them.”
Something tells me that we haven’t yet written the last chapter of the business biography of Sylvain Goldberg. But what we’ve learned and described till now, is already quite exceptional and reached far beyond the average business life story, don’t you agree?