De Beers Not Participating in GIA Program

Yesterday, De Beers’ senior vice president of sightholder sales, Bernard Bradley, sent his company’s clients the following note:

Several [sightholders] have contacted us recently by requesting permission to confirm to supply chain partners that specific goods originate from a primary De Beers source.

Several of the discussions have been in relation to programs such as GIA’s M2M [Mine to Market (pictured)] or other…initiatives seeking to make provenance claims.

We have declined all such requests.

Bradley explains that representing goods as from De Beers has “significant potential to create consumer confusion in relation to [retail chain] De Beers Diamond Jewelers.”

Bradley notes that the sightholder license stipulates that clients need consent to “represent that any particular diamond or diamonds are sourced or originate from us or any member of the De Beers Group” and that doing so without consent is a violation of the sightholder agreement.

The letter says that sightholders currently have tools—including De Beers’ sightholder logo—to inform downstream customers (i.e. retailers) of the provenance of their goods.

Bradley concludes:

We do recognize the increased interest in provenance programs to increase consumer confidence. We are…reviewing ways for you as customers to be able see even greater benefit from your association with De Beers.

There is a lot to unpack here. For one, De Beers and GIA have traditionally been allies, but lately, De Beers has been treating GIA more like a competitor—which it is, in the lab and device business.

(De Beers spokesman David Johnson tells JCK: “[M2M was] just referenced in the communication as this was the program that nearly all of the specific requests from sightholders had been in relation to. [T]he communication [refers] to all provenance programs.”)

In any case, this letter strikes me as wrongheaded.

First, most brands that make provenance claims are geared for the American market. How many stores does De Beers have in the U.S.? Three, plus one boutique. So this new edict is mostly to protect just four stores.

Second, De Beers has long urged sightholders to get more involved with consumer brands. And many brands today make some form of provenance claim. In fact, De Beers’ own brand, the Forevermark, touts its stone as “responsibly sourced,” though it does not specify a particular mine.

If De Beers really wants clients to get involved in branding, it should give them leeway to figure out what works.

But most importantly, as De Beers notes, provenance claims are a potentially powerful tool for increasing consumer confidence. This is particularly important as synthetics continually bill themselves as “conflict-free.”

Diamonds with provenance claims are one of the few sectors of the natural industry that have caused new interest and excitement. By saying its own mines can’t participate, De Beers risks damaging a promising new segment of the industry.

At JCK Las Vegas, I emceed a panel with a De Beers executive who extolled the virtues of storytelling. As well he should; telling great stories made the industry what it is. That’s what M2M and other origin-based initiatives aim to bring back. And while I understand that De Beers would want some control over the stories told about its name, that’s a far cry from insisting those stories shouldn’t be told at all.

(Image of M2M app courtesy of GIA)

JCK News Director

8 responses to “De Beers Not Participating in GIA Program”

  1. Could it be that DeBeers can not control the M2M path and therefore can not guarantee the origin of the diamonds that they sell?

    • The M2M program does have a way to track polished through rough; their letter doesn’t include an objection to it.

    • If the source of provenance is DeBeers, and DeBeers is desired, that gives them leverage in their dealings with the various countries. If the country or the mine is identified, then those mines who are most desired will eventually make an end run around DeBeers and go directly to the public. Alternatively some member of the public might not want a DeBeers diamond from Zimbabwe which would create a different set of problems for DeBeers. IF the GIA program is successful and diamonds with authenticated provenance wholesale for higher prices than DeBeers diamonds, they will have to reconsider.

  2. Excellent piece Rob!

    As a jeweler I would love to be able to romance provenance with specifics…..”responsibly sourced” is an unsubstantiated claim which makes it hard to promote in a credible fashion. The natural diamond industry is hanging it’s hat on real is rare. While this is a great sound bite it would be immensely more powerful if you could couple that with something like your natural diamond came from xyz country. And the mine where it came from employs locals,provides clean water and is involved with healthcare and education initiatives in xyz country.

    Lab grown has thrived on being “conflict free” and it probably is way better for the environment, but is it really the answer for the conscious minded consumers if lab diamonds puts locals in poorer countries out of a job that they desperately need?

  3. Well, Rob, if De Beers can in fact tract polished back to rough…and where it came from, why don’t they do it? Sounds like a positive marketing plan to me…..but maybe they don’t want to tell everyone where their rough comes from….HHMMMMmmmmm

  4. I’m not sure I understand how the De Beers’ sight-holder logo is meant to inform downstream customers of the provenance of their goods when the sight-holder is prevented from specifying the primary source. The logo seems almost redundant.

  5. It is madness, but there’s a method to it. They don’t want source scrutiny for rough, and they can’t provide it for polished…can you say “buy-back”?

  6. I believe that Debeers’ decision to not participate in GIA’s mind to market program has more to do with the premise of the Forevermark campaign. If one of essential points of differentiation in communications is the promise of M to M, then GIA’s program removes the most important aspect of the FM brand promise. Essentially GIA has the technology to establish the same “provenance” which DeBeers brand considers to be “added value” in branding an otherwise generic diamond. GIA is the worlds most respected grading lab and the consumer appreciates the credibility of their grading reports as well as the fact that they are not a for-profit business that is catering to the commercial interests of the diamond industry. One of the challenges of the Forevermark program is the lack of proprietary qualities of a diamond sold through this program, other than their communication strategy. Forevermark provides an in-house grading report, which fails feels to meet the same standard of an independent 3rd party opinion and the authenticity a report from either GIA or AGS labs. DeBeers plays a significant supply and leadership role in our industry; however I believe their resources could have a greater commercial impact in today’s disrupted distribution channel by revising their current branding strategy.
    Just my opinion….

    Michael Pollak

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