Brilliant Earth Responds to Doubts About Sourcing

For a company that says it wants to increase transparency in the jewelry industry, getting answers out of Brilliant Earth about its tracking system has traditionally been frustrating. A few years back, I asked the San Francisco–based e-tailer for an interview about its tracking and was turned down. (Blue Nile also declined to speak with me about its Canadian diamond program. And that happened yesterday.) Diamond dealer Ira Weissman similarly had difficulty with his inquiries to Brilliant Earth. One mining company also told me it did not receive “satisfactory responses” to the questions it asked.

But now that Brilliant Earth’s sourcing claims have been publicly doubted—last week’s front-page-of-Reddit video was followed by a similarly skeptical article in The Next Web—Brilliant Earth agreed to make its auditor available for questions.

SCS Global Services is a 32-year-old California company that specializes in third-party certification of environmental and social responsibility claims; it is also one the auditors used by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Last year, SCS and Brilliant Earth developed a protocol for diamond tracking, which Brilliant Earth plans to eventually post on its site.

The protocol mandates the kind of steps that one expects in chains of custody; in fact, it’s based on the RJC’s work in this area. Among those steps:

– Supplier shall have a system, supported by documented due diligence, designed to ensure Brilliant Earth diamonds are sourced from Brilliant Earth–approved countries of origin (Botswana DTC, Canada, and Russia).

– The supplier shall have a standardized procurement and purchasing procedure, and shall provide a description of how diamonds are procured.

– Robust documentation shall be maintained regarding the provenance of a diamond. At a minimum, rough receipts for a sample of all diamonds purchased by Brilliant Earth must be submitted.

Last year, SCS audited Brilliant Earth’s suppliers against this protocol. “We can confirm that [the audited] suppliers have the processes in place to back up the claims of origin,” Nicole Munoz, SCS’ managing director for environmental sustainability certifications and services, tells me.

All that said, Brilliant Earth’s third-party auditing program is very much in its initial phase. So most—but not all—of its suppliers have been audited. The audits were not done on-site, but were paperwork audits. Nor were they surprise reviews.

In addition, the audit process only began in November. How did things work before then? SCS couldn’t speak to that, but “all indications were that [provenance] was something suppliers took seriously,” says Stanley Mathuram, SCS’ vice president, environmental certification services operations and corporate sales.

So, on one hand, it certainly appears that Brilliant Earth is doing more than most companies to track the origin of its diamonds. But that’s to be expected; guaranteed provenance is its main selling point. On the other hand, its third-party verification scheme is still in its infancy—though, to be fair, all these programs are built around the idea of continuous improvement.

More importantly, Brilliant Earth’s suppliers, at least judging by the answers their employees have now provided to two different interlocutors, do not appear to be fully on board with the program, to say the least. Given that supplier compliance will ultimately make or break whatever system exists, that is clearly something Brilliant Earth needs to work on if it wants to keep making its current assertions.

It might also help if Brilliant Earth provided more detail about how its diamonds are tracked to its customers. I was certainly surprised to see it only supplied a nonspecific certificate of Canadian origin with its products. Certainly now, buyers will want more backup. Consumers might even appreciate and enjoy learning about the process.

Finally, it’s possible this discussion may soon be moot. As the president of the World Diamond Council announced this week, work is progressing on technology-based solutions that will track diamonds from mine to polished stone. (SCS says it’s looking at this, too.) A major new initiative along these lines will be introduced at next month’s JCK show. That’s great news for the industry, but probably a little mixed for Brilliant Earth. A robust technology-based tracking system will eliminate the issues it’s currently grappling with. But, assuming this technology is found to be credible and is made widely available, it could hurt its main point of differentiation. If your mission is increasing transparency in sourcing, what happens if that mission is accomplished?

(Image from Yelp)

JCK News Director


  • Ken Choo

    let’s face it, up til now there’s no way of telling/tracking the diamond’s origin both scientifically and commercially on market. So.. it’s all marketing for people to pay more for the so called “feeling responsible” 🙂

    • Rob_Bates

      The linked RJC white paper gives a good breakdown of how chain-of-custody systems can (and do) work.

  • In reality there is no way to tell where the rough diamonds are coming from. I have been to Antwerp and the Indian bourses – they cannot tell where exactly the rough diamonds are from. In any case, if they want your business they can lie and make fake paperwork.. So auditors themselves cannot determine what is real and what is not. So to make a claim as they do, makes no sense. It is impossible to track where the real original rough diamond came from.

    • Rob_Bates

      Do you know how many other consumer products are tracked? There are ways to track coffee. There are ways to track bananas. Why would diamonds be any different?

      If you are buying from a manufacturer, who buys from a miner, and that manufacturer segregates the diamonds from a specific mine, and that segregation is audited and tracked, there certainly is a way. Obviously, it’s not always done, but it’s possible.

      Most of the big factories have ways to track the production of their diamonds. Otherwise, theft would be rampant.

      Please, before I get another comment along these lines, read this to understand how chain of custody works:

      http://www.responsiblejewellery.com/files/RJC_Chain_custody_discn_paper_19_04_2010.pdf

      • Thanks for the link. I know there is tracking – I was a supply chain manager. I am not saying this is widespread but there are few countries from where rough diamonds do enter the market so then one would never really know the origin. The big sight holders who have special buying contracts with Alrosa, DeBeers and such are the ones who can establish the source. So overall there majority of the diamonds are conflict free but to make a claim that yours are sort of makes everyone else look bad. From my analysis, I would say based on the production around the world – one could say over 90-95% of the diamonds are conflict free (I am not looking at lab grown which is now infesting the market) so just to market on that claim is a little self serving. I have had many folks trying to sell diamonds from Angola, Sierra Leone, etc – there are deals happening in Dubai, Antwerp, Israel all the time. Small manufacturers do not have the same access as the big guys do and this market is cornered by the big guys. We can start a long conversation on this topic – but I just wanted to make a simple point. Once a diamond is cut up and sold as a polished/cut diamond there is no way to tell where it actually originated.

        • Rob_Bates

          Right. I think because there is no way to tell a diamond’s origin gemologically, much of the industry had always insisted that diamonds can’t be tracked. It’s even been used as a bit of an excuse. My point is it there are other ways to do it, though tracking companies with short supply chains (i.e. sightholders).

  • Only going to comment on your last thought….there is now, as you mention, and will be for our sourcing models, technology, particularly blockchain, that will provide a transparent provenance process…..and it should be an industry wide, open source process so that “Verified” can be added to “Trusted”. The differentiation will not be between industry competitors, but between ethically perceived jewelry (gold and diamonds at least) versus the vast other competitors for the consumer dollar…… now going elsewhere… until there are no more “dirty” anythings in our supply chains.

  • Actually Rob is correct. There IS a solution that will very soon be available. I saw it last week from a diamond supplier out of NY called Gems One. (www.gemsone.com) They are working in conjunction with GIA and it’s pretty darn cool. Gems One has some diamond for sale which have documentation that state which diamond mine the rough came from, a picture and the weight of the rough, then it documented where the diamond was cut, then followed that diamond to GIA. And has the GIA report number. They package this in a presentation book with the jewelry stores name and story on it.

    So the diamond has a story. All the way from where it was mined up to the store that sells it, and finally the retail purchaser. It is all included.

    This is a great idea:
    1) Satisfies concerns over conflict diamonds.
    2) Tells a wonderful story that the retail client can take ownership of. Stories sell.
    3) Takes the focus off price, and allows the jewelry store to get better margins.

    I loved it.