Behind The Scenes at CARAT+ with Director Filip Van Laere

18/04/2018 09:36

The second edition of CARAT+, ‘The World's Premier Diamond Event’, is ready to get underway on Sunday, May 6. Today the organization reported that pre-show registrations have climbed 50% compared to the 3,000 people that attended the first edition last year, with individuals from more than 51 countries having registered to attend. Additionally in Antwerp, tomorrow, May 4, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre's inaugural Hack4Diamonds event also gets underway at the Antwerp Expo (read our write-up here). The three day event, runing continuously from Friday to Sunday, May 6, aims to generate innovative ideas and tackle contemporary challenges in the diamond industry by bringing together young innovators, students and start-ups with expertise in computer science, marketing, business management expertise, blockchain, artificial intelligence and more.

In short, the perfect occasion to highight our earlier interview with the CARAT+ founder and event director, Filip Van Laere, as he discusses the vision behind the show and his expectations for the upcoming event in Antwerp, from May 6 - 8.

The Diamond Loupe: CARAT+ held its first edition last year. Why did you believe there was a need for a show like CARAT+ in Antwerp, and what do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

Filip Van Laere: The diamond business has experienced many challenges and changes in the last two decades. When we first began visualizing CARAT+ in 2016, it was my strong belief that our sector needed a new focal point and destination to assert and express itself with confidence. This idea lent itself to creating both an opportunity for business, buying and networking, but also entertainment and glamour. After all, diamonds are still the most glamorous luxury item in the world.

We also noticed that, at traditional trade events, diamonds always appear to be an ‘add-on’ category, side-lined to halls that are further away and given little attention. We have created an event where loose diamonds, diamond jewelry and diamond services are an absolute priority and focus. Therefore, we have positioned CARAT+ as ‘The World’s Premier Diamond Event’. I am pleased to say this focus has already attracted leading international diamond businesses, which is what gives me confidence that CARAT+ is here to stay.

Looking ahead to the next three years, we aim to build on the momentum CARAT+ already has by sharing our core concept with as many diamond professionals, businesses and buyers as possible. We want to get everyone with a focus on diamonds through the door of Antwerp Expo to discover exactly what we have to offer. They will find ample buying opportunities, of course, but also the chance to make new connections and enjoy CARAT+ Night and our line-up of seminar speakers.

DL: Why did you select Antwerp from among the all the possible locations?

FVL: Antwerp is undoubtedly the world’s capital of diamonds. Not only does it have a rich history and long association with the diamond industry, it is also home to a number of key players and the world’s largest diamond bourse. It was an obvious choice for our event and fits nicely with our ambition to become an annual destination for excellence in diamonds.

Antwerp also has practical benefits, especially its location at the heart of Europe, making it accessible for the majority of Europe-based businesses, press and buyers. We hope the lure of Antwerp and CARAT+ will tempt professionals from broader international markets as well, particularly China, Hong Kong, the United States, India and many more.

DL: What makes CARAT+ different from all the other international shows?

FVL: Our focus on diamonds is unique and is something we are determined to preserve as the event evolves in the coming years. Many trade events try to appeal to hundreds of different customers and exhibitors, but cannot give sufficient focus to all categories. This inevitably means someone has to be sidelined. At CARAT+, our spotlight on diamonds means we are able to tailor-make a show that suits our industry. This doesn’t mean we are standing still or singularly focused. In fact, we have announced the launch of the Coloured Gemstones Sector at CARAT+ 2018. This curated selection of exhibitors was created in response to visitor feedback, which made it clear that buyers would like high-quality coloured gemstones to complement their diamond buying.

We also place an emphasis on fun and glamour, as we want our visitors to enjoy their time with us. Trade shows can be long, busy, tiring and require time away from your business, which is why we focus on making the experience as interesting and engaging as possible. This includes CARAT+ Night, an evening party and networking event that welcomed 1,800 people in 2017, and a range of seminars and show features.

DL: The CARAT+ debut show welcomed 130 international exhibitors and over 3,000 visitors, winning the praise of exhibitors and visitors alike. How many exhibitors and attendees are you expecting in 2018?

FVL: Our objective is crystal clear: we are aiming for substantially more visitors for roughly the same number of exhibitors. We want to maximize the return-on-investment for our returning exhibitors and partners, who took the plunge with us during our first edition. We understand that ‘visitor experience’ is the keyword for the continued success of the show, and we have been rolling out various activities and partnerships over the past weeks and months to boost the second edition. To date, we already feel visitor-interest in the second edition of CARAT+ rising, which is a very positive sign.

DL:  What is the percentage of returning exhibitors and how many new spaces are available? Will the show be larger this year?

FVL: To date, we have an exhibitor rebooking rate of more than 90%, which is very significant for this type of show. It reveals the levels of satisfaction with the first show and a commitment to continue to build CARAT+ together. But, as indicated, we do not aim to significantly increase the number of exhibitors, and there will be a cap at 150. This includes a number of interesting service-providers who require larger spaces, which we have regrouped in HALL 1 of the Antwerp Expo buildings. The rest of the action, however, remains concentrated in Hall 4, where the CARAT+ journey started.

DL: An event such as CARAT+ is a significant undertaking – what are the key challenges involved, and how did you overcome them?

FVL: The initial challenge was creating the ideal template for the show, or the blueprint that would determine the direction of the CARAT+ brand. We knew we wanted a professional and sophisticated event where diamonds would be the leading category, which is why we set minimum stand sizes and high-requirements for visual merchandising and design. The next challenge was finding like-minded sponsors who understood exactly what we are trying to do. In 2016, we were happy to discover a broad range of businesses that wanted to exhibit. I believe they were also looking for an opportunity to showcase their products in an environment more attuned to their needs. CARAT+ is very fortunate with an operator like Easyfairs – a seasoned event organizer that operates more than 218 events in 17 countries. Their experience ensures CARAT+ is a fantastic experience for our visitors and exhibitors.

DL: Are there any major changes in store for this year’s event?

FVL: As well as the Coloured Gemstones Sector, we are thrilled to host CARAT+ Night, an IGI MiniLab and an exclusive Bonas polished diamond tender. We have also doubled our focus on original content this year. We continue to interview exhibitors and share their stories on the CARAT+ website, as well as hone our efforts on social media. We have also increased our show content, which will now include more speakers, more ‘added extras’ and some interesting trade show firsts.

DL: We heard about the CARAT+ Club initiative. Can you explain what it is, and describe the profile of the ideal candidate?

FVL: We are incredibly excited about this new initiative, not just for those who have been selected, but for our exhibitors too. The CARAT+ Club was designed to ensure that the most prominent and influential buyers, retailers and diamond professionals attend our event. They will receive a number of show perks, including accommodation, transportation and guest list access to our CARAT+ Night event and VIP show area. Not only will this aide their attendance, but it will also ensure that our leading exhibitors get access to these decision-makers on the show floor. We are thrilled to say that the CARAT+ Club is now at capacity for 2018! This year, numbers were limited to 200, but we will be looking at expanding the scheme to 500 individuals over the next three years.

The ideal CARAT+ Club candidate is responsible for the purchase of loose diamonds, diamond jewellery or diamond related services at their business, or has influence over the buying process. An ideal candidate can also be a e-tail or retail business owner with one or more stores. We also invited thought leaders and influencers, including diamond industry analysts, fine jewellery directors at international auction houses and technology innovators, to apply. The CARAT+ Club is all about building a community of professionals who can network with each other and fuel interesting conversations.

DL: Last year several side events were organized, such as seminars by industry veterans. Is this something you will continue and perhaps expand on?

FVL: Last year was all about establishing the template of the show, and we have expanded the list of speakers and leading organizations scheduled to participate during the event. Kicking off the seminars will be Jonathan Chippindale, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of augmented retail solutions and software provider, Holition, who will give a talk entitled, ‘Digital Storytelling: How Brands Use Technology to Innovate’. Holition is an award-winning creative studio specializing in premium digital experiences, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. It is affiliated with the longest established diamond broking and consultancy firm in the world, Bonas Group, which will also be exceptionally holding a polished diamond tender during the show, which is not only exciting but raises the profile of CARAT+.

We will also hear from GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Executive Vice President and Chief Laboratory and Research Officer, Tom Moses, who will speak at a GIA GemFest. The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) will offer an update on its activities and address current issues and challenges in the diamond trade, led by Director of Business Development, Edward Johnson. Avi Krawitz, Senior Analyst and News Editor at Rapaport, will host a talk focusing on the squeeze on the diamond trade and how to “navigate a market where the only constant is change”. Finally, Ans Anthonis, Chief Officer of HRD Antwerp’s Diamond Lab & Research, will discuss new solutions for the identification of synthetic diamonds, including the company’s new ‘D-Tect’ device, which will be launched at CARAT+. She will be accompanied by HRD Antwerp Chief Officer of Education & Industry, Katrien De Corte, who will discuss ‘Diamonds under Black Light’ – a detailed study of the fluorescence grades of one million diamonds analyzed by HRD Antwerp. 
We were also extremely pleased to add the AWDC (Antwerp World Diamond Centre) as a Main Partner. AWDC and innovation strategy and business consultancy firm, Junction, are organizing the inaugural Hack4Diamonds event just before the opening of CARAT+, and we will give six teams - composed of pioneering minds specializing in computer science, marketing, business management, blockchain and artificial intelligence, who will get together to hatch ideas to combat challenges in the diamond sector - the chance to present their forward-thinking ideas to CARAT+ exhibitors and visitors.

DL: Finally, tell us about your selection of Elizabeth Hurley as show ambassador and special guest for CARAT+ 2018.

FVL: Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Hurley has long been associated with some of the world most glamorous and creative industries, including TV, film, modelling, cosmetics and fashion design. She is currently in her twenty third year of representing Estée Lauder as a spokesmodel, making hers one of the world’s longest running beauty contracts. She has appeared in more than two dozen movies, starred in hugely-successful TV shows, created her own eponymous beachwear collection and appeared on the cover of British Vogue three times.

We are thrilled to have Elizabeth Hurley as the face of CARAT+ 2018. Her iconic beauty, glamorous sense of style and talents reflect the sparkle of the diamond and diamond jewelry industries, making her the perfect choice to be the face of our event. Just as Caterina Murino wowed the attendees of CARAT+ Night in 2017, we are confident that Elizabeth will do the same in May. We look forward to hosting a similarly dazzling event this year, so prepare for a fun opening evening on Sunday May 6!