The newer generation of consumers increasingly wants to know where their products are coming from, participants agreed in a panel on “Ethical Sourcing: Where DO Your Diamonds Come From?” held by the Women’s Jewelry Association April 4 in New York City.
“We sell a product that is all about love and emotion,” said Susan Thea Posnock, associate director of public affairs for Jewelers of America. “It should not be tainted by conflict or human rights violations.”
She added that jewelers shouldn’t just focus on how many consumers ask questions at the counter.
“We don’t always get questions because some consumers may simply decide not to buy jewelry at all,” she said. “We have already lost them.”
Rebecca Foerster, Rio Tinto Diamonds’ U.S. vice president, said there is no denying that the younger generation cares about what she calls “sustainability issues.”
“We have to embrace the interests and concerns of the younger generation,” she said. “Companies that don’t make this part of their business will suffer.”
She added that her company’s surveys show that consumers are willing to pay a premium for jewelry with a “positive story attached.”
“The product still has to look good,” she said. “We still have to have the key motivating things that the consumers want before they buy the product. But there is definitely value.”
She said that carrying “responsible” products doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the rest of the jewelers’ inventory, comparing it to “when you go to the supermarket and you see the regular food and the organic food,” she said.
She noted that Ben Bridge had success carrying both “mine of origin” stones as well other brands.
Charles Stanley, president of Forevermark U.S., the De Beers-owned brand that requires its diamonds originate in certain mines, agreed that it’s important to keep the story positive.
“We don’t train our sales staff to say the Forevermark is a non-conflict diamond,” he says. “If the consumer raises the issue, that is when you get into the story. It’s never about the negative side of the story. It’s the positive side of responsible sourcing.”
He said his company’s tracking system adds 1 to 2 percent cost to its diamonds, but many consumers prefer that assurance.
“This may not be the most prevalent issue on consumers’ minds,” he added. “But the amount of people that are concerned about ethical issues is on the rise. There will come a tipping point, where these concerns will underpin every purchase. People need a strategy in place to deal with this.”
Andrea Hansen, CEO of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, noted that her company has made sustainability part of its brand, and she only works with vendors that can vouch for the origin of their products.
“Ivanka wouldn’t get involved if it wasn’t responsible,” she said. “Our company appeals to a very young clientele base, and it’s a primary concern for most of my clients. Whenever we post something about it on social media, the page views, the engagement is greater than anything else."
She advised other companies to make responsible sourcing part of their business plan.
“It just takes simple steps to put you on the path,” she says.
The panel’s moderator, Peggy Jo Donahue, director of public affairs at MJSA, also said the industry should support the Diamond Development Initiative, which aims to find solutions to the issue of artisanal diggers, which produce an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the world’s diamonds.
She said industry members could get involved through the recently formed group, Friends of DDI.
Talking about recent events in the diamond industry, Posnock noted that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme currently defines “conflict diamonds” as diamonds sold by a rebel movement against a legitimate government.
“That narrow definition doesn’t necessarily cover the new issues that are coming up,” she said.
She added that her organization supports expanding the KP’s mandate and other efforts to reform the scheme.
“If the solutions cannot be addressed within the confines of the KP, the industry will need to find solutions to deal with them,” she said.
She also noted that Jewelers of America advises its members to take actions to avoid buying diamonds from the Marange region of Zimbabwe, since they are subject to U.S. sanctions, because of certain mines there being owned by entities linked to the Mugabe government.