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Industry Pioneer, Roland Naftule, 1937 - 2023 April 03, 2023 (0 comments)


San Diego, CA--Roland Naftule, has died at age 85 on April 1 surrounded by his loving family.

The World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) was first to pay tribute to the person who was guiding light in the jewelry and gemstone industry, but many tributes followed from organizations that he helped found and from individuals whom he mentored over the years.

Mr. Naftule was born in Switzerland in 1937, into a family that was cutting and polishing gemstones for high-end watch makers in Geneva. His grandfather, Leon Naftule, a jeweler, established a lapidary in 1926 after becoming fascinated with colored gemstones. He was joined by his three sons, and the family business, Naftule Fils, became a mainstay of the Swiss industry, CIBJO said in its obit.

[photo credit: CIBJO]

In 1952, the eldest of Leon’s sons, Jean, expanded the business to the United States, opening NAFCO Gems in New York. He was joined by his 19-year-old son, Mr. Naftule, who began his career selling gemstones, traveling around the city’s boroughs and nearby towns. Ten years later, the family expanded into rough production, becoming involved in mining ventures in Tanzania, producing an array of different gems.

By 1968 Mr. Naftule had grown NAFCO Gems into a nationwide operation, traveling abroad to purchase rough and loose gemstones for sale in both the American and European markets. A cutting factory was opened in Shannon, Ireland, in 1969, and in 1976 he transferred the company headquarters to Scottsdale, AZ, opening an additional lapidary in Phoenix.

With the business flourishing and his daughters joining the enterprise, Mr. Naftule began a life of service to the gemstone and jewelry industry. He was one of the founding organizers of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and served as its president from 1983 through 1985. He was chairman of AGTA’s Industry Rules Committee for 12 years, and for two years served on the Board of Governors of the AGTA Gemological Testing Center.

In 1984, Roland was a founding organizer of the International Coloured Stone Association (ICA), first serving as chairman of its organizing committee and then as its founding president from 1985 through 1989.

In 1989 he was the founding organizer and first chairman of the Gemstone Industry & Laboratory Conference (GILC), which is dedicated to harmonizing terminology provided on reports by leading gemological laboratories.

Mr. Naftule was elected to the Board of Governors of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 2001 and served the body for 12 years. He was also chairman of the GIA’s colored gemstone advisory and museum committees.

Joining CIBJO as a U.S. representative, Mr. Naftule held a variety of roles over a period of about a quarter of a century, among them vice president, Sector A president, member of the board of directors, executive committee and president’s council, and president and vice president of CIBJO’s Coloured Stone Commission.

The CIBJO tribute says the following:

“His presence on every CIBJO body was substantial, but it was possibly as Sector A president where his mark on the gem and jewelry industry will be the most indelible. Expanding the sector’s scope of activity from diamonds, colored gemstones and pearls, to include precious corals and gemological laboratories, he oversaw a continuously growing and working enterprise that brings together gemmologists, gem professionals, academics and industry leaders. Its work forms the basis of standards adopted across the globe, and are ensconced into various national laws and regulations, and are accepted by courts that adjudicate disputes in a variety of countries. During his term in office, two ISO standards related to jewellery were adopted by the International Organisation for Standardisation, largely based on work done within the CIBJO Diamond Commission, under Roland’s supervision and leadership.”

CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri, said: “The term ‘an industry giant’ is often over-used, but in Roland’s case it is an understatement. His contribution to our community is immense, beginning with colored gemstones, his first love, but spreading to every facet and corner of what we do. He stood at my side for every year of my presidency, and what has been achieved over the entire period is to his credit as well. I mourn the loss not only of a mentor, advisor and confidant, but of a close personal friend, who was more of a brother.

“But it’s difficult to relate to Roland in sadness,” the CIBJO president continued. “For not only was he the personification of industry professionalism and integrity, but he also represented the joy for life and beauty that is inherent in our community. For many of us, the most long-lasting memories will not be the many hours we spent in discussion and deliberation, but rather from the end of the day, when we relaxed and the band started playing. Then, Roland was first on the dance floor, and definitely the most talented of us all. Year in year out, he was ‘forever young.’”

Damien Cody, ICA president wrote, “With the sad news of the passing of Roland, we have lost a highly respected icon of the industry. He was a friend and mentor to many, but he was like family to me. I will miss his warm embrace, his charismatic smile and wise counsel. The ICA family will always cherish the many wonderful memories we have of Roland.”

Personal tributes came in as well.

“During the past four decades, we enjoyed a friendship that is now history, too,” wrote Israel (Eli) Eliezri. “Roland is gone but not lost. We can pay tribute to him by living up to his standards by seeing, doing, and enjoying the good things in life.”

Gemologist, Rui Galopim de Carvalho, said in a LinkedIn post: “I was inspired by his selfless commitment to integrity, rigor and professionalism and for putting the focus on the protection of the industry and of the consumers' confidence. His interventions at the congresses were always very wise, valuing the big picture and not the smaller disputes. I then had the privilege to serve has his vice-president on Sector A of CIBJO and I witnessed his amazing leadership qualities and working energy, not only in managing the loads of work of the Commissions’, but specially in getting the pivotal ‘CIBJO Retailers Reference Guide’ ready to benefit, for free, everyone in the industry, a project that was very dear to him personally. I also tried over the years to compete with him on the dance floor at every party, but it was hard to overshadow the elegance and cuteness of Roland and his loving wife Fabienne, always the firsts to step in.”

Mr. Naftule is survived by his wife Fabienne, his daughters Myriam and Stephanie, and their families.

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