Diamond expert Ronnie Mervis explains why diamonds are a lot more than just a girl’s best friend.
By Sarah Valerio
His is one of the most distinctive voices in Washington, immediately recognizable from his ads; a smooth, South African dialect with the simultaneously gentle yet excited tone of a storyteller. And his accent is as genuine as his passion for his trade. Ronnie Mervis, owner of Mervis Diamond Importers, hails from South Africa, the land of diamonds, and diamonds are in his blood.
For Ronnie, the diamond business is a family business, and he grew up in it. He and his brother Zed were trained by their father, Morris, who started the business as a young man in the early 1900s.
“I grew up as a kid hearing all about diamonds,” said Ronnie. “That’s all we used to speak about in my house. When my father would come home, he would bring these diamonds and scatter them across the kitchen table and all of us kids would dive into them. We’d guess the carat. We used to play with them, not in the spoiled sense, but we acquired a love of them.”
Ronnie went to law school and became a practicing attorney before deciding he would rather take his talents into the family business. He immigrated and came to the United States where he says he “carried on doing what [his] family knew best, and that’s diamonds.”
Here, he turned the Mervis Brothers Company, founded in South Africa, into Mervis Diamond Importers, with its headquarters and flagship showroom in Tysons Corner and additional stores in Rockville and Washington, D.C. Ronnie has grown the business into one of the leading diamond distributors in the District.
One of their biggest annual events,the Mervis Diamond Importers Trunk Show, kicked off Friday, December 5 at the Tysons Corner location and ran through Sunday, December 7.
The trunk show has been running since the turn of the century, with a break in 2001 after 9/11. “We felt people weren’t in the mood,” said Ronnie. But since then, “It has become quite a tradition. It’s part of the Washington institution. People wait the whole year for our event. We bring in designers from around the world and tons of diamonds of all colors and sizes. It’s an extravaganza.”
The scene he lays for the trunk show is reminiscent of the excitement with which Ronnie and his siblings dove into the diamonds his father scattered across their kitchen table.
Worth noting is that Mervis Diamond Importers has a zero tolerance policy on conflict diamonds or “blood diamonds” (diamonds mined in areas of conflict, or those diamonds illegally traded to fund such conflicts).
“Conflict diamonds are abhorrent,” said Ronnie. “We can’t live with the fact that some diamonds are mined at the expense of human suffering.”
Ronnie noted, however, that even in their hay day, conflict diamonds constituted less than one half of one percent of all diamonds brought into the United States. Mervis diamonds come primarily from South Africa, and conflict diamonds tend to come from central Africa.
Mervis Diamonds abides by the Kimberly Process – a resolution adopted by the United Nations establishing a series of protocols which pertain to the diamond industry in an attempt to stem the flow of conflict diamonds. While the system is one of voluntary compliance, it provides certifying documents from countries stating that their diamonds are mined with certain ethical considerations.
Ronnie visits South Africa at least once a year and visits the mines, which he describes as “totally exhilarating.” He detailed the laborious process from which the diamonds get from the Earth and into his stores and trunk show: “They aren’t found in streams and rivers and ocean beds. You aren’t just going to find a diamond lying around,” said Ronnie. “That is the Hollywood version. Real diamond mines are deep level mining, about two miles down into the center of the Earth in these ancient volcanic throats.”
He says the diamonds are encased in huge rocks which must be crushed in the ground and then carried to the surface on a series of conveyor belts. He says one must crush about 20 tons of rock to find one karat of diamonds.
When Ronnie isn’t down in the diamond mines of Africa, he is in his stores on a near daily basis with his sales consultants, all graduates of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). There, he says he works to assure the quality of the diamonds. Guests who visit Mervis Diamond Importers are taken into appointed showrooms for individual private consultations where they are educated on diamonds before the sale. While his stores deal in all sizes, shapes, and colors of diamonds, Mervis says his preference is still white, colorless.
As for the question of whether diamonds really are a girl’s best friend, according to Ronnie, “Yes!”
“Diamonds are a thrilling business because it’s all about love, desire, and emotion,” said Ronnie. “Of course, diamonds are my best friend too!”