There is talk in the industry over whether it’s possible to
segregate diamonds by origin—and even whether such a system is a good thing. So it’s worth noting that a pretty significant brand
is already requiring that participating manufacturers maintain a “chain of custody” for origin:
De Beers’ Forevermark.
All Forevermark goods are warranted to be conflict-free. Now,
the brand could have just required that Forevermark dealers comply with the
Kimberley Process, and left it at that. But to its credit, it aimed for a
higher standard. (It also doesn’t mandate all Forevermark goods must come from
the DTC; this is for legal reasons and to get a broader range of goods.)
Under the brand’s standard, all Forevermark diamonds must provably
come from either the DTC, or countries like Canada or Russia. Zimbabwe goods are, for now, out—and that includes Murowa, Rio Tinto’s
well-regarded mine there.
To back this up, Forevermark diamantaires must develop a
tracking system, with De Beers’ guidance. The system must be approved and
judged annually by a third party auditor, SGS, which specializes in “supply chain security.” (There is also the
possibility of “surprise” audits.)
None of this is easy—or cheap. Forevermark US president
Charles Stanley estimates the administrative costs add an extra 1 to 2
percent cost to each gem. There is also a Forevermark employee who works on
nothing but this issue.
“It has been a lot of work,” Stanley told me during this week’s spate of Forevermark events. “We want everyone to identify a very clear process where there is no way other goods could be mixed in. De Beers has put a
lot of effort into underpinning this promise.”
I have two thoughts on this:
These procedures may be possible for Forevermark diamantaires, mostly bigger players who buy direct from the mining
companies. But manufacturers that buy mixed parcels of goods secondhand will
find a program like this far tougher to implement, if not impossible. If more of these programs come into being, it could be
another blow for smaller dealers.
And speaking of hurting the little guys, diamonds from artisanal miners don’t seem to be Forevermark-worthy. Given all the problems in that sector, that is certainly understandable, but it’s also true that the diggers in the “informal” sector are probably
the neediest people in the mining industry. Hopefully, that will be rectified
if a group like the Diamond Development
Initiative develops standards and a certificate
program for those stones. But you don’t want a situation,
as with some of the rules on conflict minerals, where well-intentioned
guidelines may be hurting
people they were designed to help.
In any case, this seems to be where the industry’s going. The Responsible
Jewellery Council is already working on a program to certify chains of custody. And while the RJC isn’t mandating a “clean” supply chain for overall RJC certification, it’s possible members could require suppliers have one. The Forevermark may be the first big name to institute this kind of program. It’s not likely to be the last.