In the future, Andy Warhol said, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. In 2017, it seems, every jewelry company will get their 15 minutes of infamy. Earlier this year, Signet dealt with sexual harassment allegations. Now Brilliant Earth has come under fire in the video above, which labels the San Francisco–based e-tailer a scam.
If you work in the diamond industry, you may have received that video. I received it four times in 24 hours. It was produced by Jacob Worth, who owns a company called I Want What It’s Worth, which buys used jewelry. Worth has also produced two other video “exposés” on gender disparities when buying and retail markups. The latter received significant media coverage.
Worth’s Brilliant Earth video has racked up over 200,000 hits at press time, thanks in part to landing a plum space on the front page of Reddit. All of which illustrates how, in this viral age, one guy armed with basic knowledge of Reddit and video editing software can cause a big company a lot of trouble.
Brilliant Earth—which, ironically, in part built its business on clever viral marketing—has responded by calling the assertions in the video false:
At Brilliant Earth, we take ethical sourcing very seriously, and supply chain integrity is of the utmost importance to us. Because transparency and ethical sourcing are so central to our mission, we conducted a third-party audit last year to independently certify the origin of our diamonds. The audit by SCS Global Services examined the diamonds we offer and found that our diamonds are traceable to their origins. To our knowledge, Brilliant Earth is the first jeweler to certify the origins of its diamonds using a third-party auditor….
It appears this video and its unfounded accusations are nothing more than a marketing ploy aimed at getting attention. We are currently exploring all legal options to ensure that misleading and false information like this will not go unchallenged.
The company also posted a letter from supplier Sauraj—featured in the video—attesting the diamond in question was Canadian. Brilliant Earth has also pointed to a December statement from SGS calling Brilliant Earth announcing the third-party audit.
My thoughts on the video:
First, I am not sure why it includes a lengthy digression about GIA, since its reports don’t say anything about origin, nor do they claim to.
Second, the video is incorrect when it states baldly, “Diamonds can’t be tracked.” It is true, there is nothing gemologically in a diamond that offers any proof of origin, as there sometimes is with colored stones. But there is no reason that diamonds can’t be tracked. Bananas are tracked. Coffee is tracked.
If a manufacturer buys directly from a specific mine, establishing a diamond’s origin should be relatively easy. All it has to do is segregate those specific goods and then make its systems open to audit. For an extra 2 to 3 percent, I can’t imagine many manufacturers would have much problem doing that. (There are probably some manufacturers that would eat the diamonds if it meant an extra 2 to 3 percent. But that’s another story.)
So just because diamonds haven’t been tracked traditionally doesn’t mean that is not possible—or that companies aren’t currently doing it. In addition to Brilliant Earth, the Forevermark, Canadamark, and Rio Tinto’s new Canadian and Australian diamond programs all make provenance claims.
Third, the video does show that Brilliant Earth, like other e-tailers, stocks virtual inventory. (Worth told me he found Brilliant Earth’s supplier by tracking the report numbers on services like RapNet.) It is also true that the stones it sells sometimes appear on other sites. And when those stones appear elsewhere, they do not carry origin claims. See here and here, for example.
“Other retailers don’t track the origin of their diamonds,” co-CEO of Brilliant Earth Beth Gerstein told me yesterday. “That is the value-add that we provide.”
I wouldn’t call any of that a smoking gun. And along those lines, I wouldn’t call a company a scam based on one supplier’s purported comments on a hidden-camera video.
That said, Brilliant Earth makes specific assertions about the origin of its diamonds. Like any company making a marketing claim, it has the responsibility and obligation to back up those claims.
Gerstein says that more detail about Brilliant Earth’s tracking systems will be coming shortly from her company as well as SCS Global Systems. Considering that origin tracking is the e-tailer’s main selling point—and given that the company’s mission is increasing transparency in the jewelry industry—it is a little surprising that it does not provide that information on its site already or give customers greater detail about its stones’ chain of custody. With questions now hanging in the air, it needs to offer that soon.