Developing Tanzania's gem and jewellery industry

Susie Kennedy
ICA Director and Jewelry Designer
Interview with Susie Kennedy, ICA Director and Jewellery Designer
A native of Kenya, Susie Kennedy teamed up with her husband in the 1990s to establish their place in the gem industry. With Mrs Kennedy specialising in tanzanite and her husband in tsavorite garnet, they started out dealing in rough, then moved to gem cutting. Their business expanded into jewellery manufacturing when clients started to demand more than just unset gemstones. They opened their first jewellery shop, The Kennedy’s International, in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1997.

The pair eventually opened another jewellery shop and a gallery. Their enterprises became popular stopping places for organised tours from all over the world.

Mrs. Kennedy happily relates a highlight of her career so far: creating a beautiful pair of tanzanite earrings for Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. Secretary of State. Mrs. Kennedy and her team created the earrings under a tight deadline, just in time for Secretary Clinton’s meeting with Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete. Mrs. Kennedy says that she was proud and happy to see her earrings take a prominent place in press coverage of the day’s events.

In a discussion of the growth of the mining industry in Tanzania, she cites the arrival of foreign investment in gold and gem mining as well as gem sorting and cutting. She also says that both Kenya and Tanzania are reviewing their mining legislation in order to maximise the benefits to the local population. She expresses concern as well as optimism about the developing benefits to her people and the environment.

While it’s in short supply at the moment, she predicts that tsavorite supplies will rise as investment increases and local laws make tsavorite mining more beneficial for miners and landowners. And although tanzanite supply is generally low, she is able to keep up her supply by taking advantage of her good long-term relationships with local sources and by buying gems when demand is low.

Mrs. Kennedy’s advice to students was simple: “This business is based on trust”. If people know you to be trustworthy and that you keep your word, they will pass on your good name to others. “Let the customer be the king”: Find a source that you can trust rather than a chain of middlemen, which will raise your costs (and prices) while cutting your profit. She finishes up by saying, “Buy good, you sell good. That’s my philosophy”.

Mrs. Kennedy has been involved in all aspects of the coloured stone industry. With her husband, she has truly been involved in the entire mine-to-market value chain. In her interviews, Mrs. Kennedy discusses gemstone production and the industry in East Africa and the future of mining in Africa. She also describes her early days in the gem industry and gives perhaps the best advice around on building a career and creating a networking system in the gem business. Mrs. Kennedy also describes how she met a tight deadline to provide then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a magnificent pair of tanzanite earrings for a dinner with the President of Tanzania.