Willie Nagel – Pioneering the Kimberley Process
Now in his nineties, Willie Nagel remains active as one of the world’s leading diamond brokers who is recognized for his assistance in pioneering the Kimberley Process to combat trade in conflict diamonds.
By David Brough
By David Brough
Born in 1925, Willie Nagel grew up in Czernowitz, which is now part of Ukraine, and moved with his family as a boy to Palestine in the early days of World War II. His father Abraham David, a gifted entrepreneur, set up a variety of businesses there, including a diamond processing factory.
The young man moved to London shortly after the war, studied Law at Cambridge University and became a barrister but, as he says, “I soon realized I was not going to earn a living by practicing law." Instead, with the law courts close to the London diamond district of Hatton Garden, Willie became increasingly involved in the diamond business.
He established strong ties with the leadership at De Beers, which was then by far the world’s leading rough diamond supplier. In 1959, he was appointed one of De Beers’ official brokers. “At that time this was the highest pinnacle,” he says. Willie has acted as a leading broker for several decades, earning the accolade of the “quintessential broker” from De Beers.
Willie traveled around the world, seeking buyers for rough diamonds among manufacturers in such far-flung centers as India, Israel, Russia, Cuba and Puerto Rico. He continues to conduct his eponymous diamond business from his offices in an elegant Georgian building on the edges of Hatton Garden, near the longstanding De Beers base on Charterhouse Street, where his daughter and son joined him some years ago.
“I am always interested in and curious about people. This is why I have enjoyed being a broker,” Willie said in his office adorned with photographs of him meeting dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
With an extraordinary network of connections across the diamond and gemstone industry as well as the wider business and political worlds, he has been involved in many high-level transactions, brokering, for example, the purchase of the 545.67-carat “Golden Jubilee Diamond,” the largest cut diamond in the world, which was gifted to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in honor of his 50th coronation anniversary.
Willie is recognized for his role as a leading architect of the System of Warranties and the Kimberley Process, launched in 2003 after extensive international talks to crack down on trade in so-called “blood diamonds” or conflict diamonds. He helped persuade leading countries to sign up to the agreement providing an ethical framework for the international diamond jewelry business.
“I wanted to help, to solve the problem.” I did my best to make sure, in this imperfect world, that conflict diamonds would be banished from the trade.”
The Kimberley Process is widely seen as a successful initiative at a time when consumers are insisting upon the highest ethical standards in luxury. Willie is fascinated by politics and his close relationships with leading politicians in the UK and worldwide contributed to his success in this endeavor.
Proud of his Jewish roots and supportive of Israel, he spoke of his strong concerns over internal divisions in Britain’s opposition Labour Party in 2018.
Willie Nagel has received many awards from a number of countries over the years, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and others. He is a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), a British order of chivalry that honors individuals who have helped foster improved international relations.
Update since this article was published:
Willie Nagel passed away in London on July 26, 2021 at the age of 96.
Photos are courtesy of Willie Nagel.