August 5, 2021 – Last week, we lost an industry icon: Willie Nagel. Generations of diamond manufacturers in all major diamond centers crossed paths with Willie Nagel at some point in their careers. His stature, influence, help, and humanity will be cherished and remembered fondly by the global diamond industry.
Below, we pay tribute to Nagel on behalf of the IDMA membership.
Willie Nagel, the global diamond industry and trade’s most icon rough diamond broker of De Beers, died on July 14 in London. Since his death, countless tributes to his contribution to the global diamond industry and world politics have come in from all over the world.
Moshe Berger, who represented Nagel’s firm for many years in Israel, said that Nagel had lived his very long life to the fullest and had been fully active to his very last days. In that sense, he noted, Nagel’s death at 96 came too soon.
Nagel rarely spoke out in public. A quick search online shows only a few interviews with the diamond trade and general business press. Ya’akov Almor, IDMA’s Communications Director, in his capacity as Editor in Chief of the World Diamond Magazine, interviewed Nagel in 2016.
Commenting on his activities toward creating the Kimberley Process Certification System (KPCS), Nagel said he had convinced the US government to make the trade itself responsible and ensure that governments had an oversight role and the power to impose sanctions.
“It was a simple concept: make the producers responsible, let them create a credible paper trail, and have sanctions put in place when fraud is detected. I believe that the system has proven itself to work quite well. Conflict diamonds are nominally a thing of the past.” he said.
Speaking about his role as a rough diamonds broker, he said: “Any broker who is worth his name can make significant changes with determination and conviction and get his clients results. This is our forte and is still the case today. Of course, the system has changed and continues to change, but the various new services we and other brokers provide do not replace the more traditional role of the broker that is still valuable. I have been the sightholder’s political lobbyist, advisor, confidante, and sometimes even psychologist. Of course, the client’s trust in the broker is essential. I have even found myself, believe it or not, mediating in marital affairs…fortunately not too often!“
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Jeff Fischer, Honorary President of the International Diamond (IDMA), eulogized Nagel as follows:
“I met Willie Nagel in 1973 on my first trip to London weeks after entering the diamond business upon graduating from college. As our broker, Willie represented our firm – Fischer Diamonds – at the De Beers sights. The force of his personality was quite intimidating to this shy young newcomer.
However, once I got to know him, I learned to appreciate Willie for who he was: exceptionally smart with a sharp wit, always challenging, and most meaningfully, a friend and confidant who could always be trusted and relied upon. I grew to consider him and his family my dear friends.
Willie could be relentless and unabashedly assertive, yet somehow simultaneously a skillful diplomat. His diplomatic skills were so highly valued that even De Beers and the British government turned to him to get the impossible done when nobody else could. Behind the scenes or otherwise, Willie has always been a powerful friend to our industry.
Willie Nagel has been a lion of our industry for as long as we can remember. He will be missed by so many and certainly by me.“