Is the time finally right for a diamond chain of custody?
Andrew Bone, the executive director of Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), took some time to speak with me following his presentation at the World Diamond Council’s annual meeting earlier this month. Highlights of our conversation follow.
JCK: A while ago, there was a lot of talk of RJC developing a chain of custody. It never happened. Do you see that happening now?
Andrew Bone: Why not? [The plan] hasn’t been taken away; it’s just been put in abeyance. I think there is a movement toward it. I think when the discussion about the chain of custody was done a few years ago it wasn’t a case of, we don’t want one, full stop. It was a case of: We are not sure about this particular model, and we are not sure about the timing. I think there is going to be an opportunity in the near future to revisit that and tie all these things together. There are separate initiatives [throughout the industry] toward essentially what we were aiming for in the first place with the chain of custody.
JCK: A few years back many were resistant to the concept. Do you think the industry is more ready now?
Bone: Yes. I think it is a question of timing. A few years ago, people weren’t ready for it. There were those doubts: Do we need this kind of thing? As I mentioned in my presentation, we have moved beyond just conflict diamonds as the big risk for the industry. That is still there as one of our risks, but there are others we need to address. We need to address the culture of the consumer. It came up several times [at the meeting] about the millennials. This is a generation that is going to be putting the industry under more scrutiny. Unless we as an industry get our message across and engage with that generation, they are going to get all of their information from Google. And we know where that can lead to.
JCK: When the chain of custody was proposed, there was talk of a size cutoff. Could that happen?
Bone: That would be for debate. Things change, and technology changes. Who knows what will be there to help us in the future? That’s a detail. What we need to do first is sell the concept and get people to agree on a concept. And once we have gotten over that particular hurdle, we can move further. I don’t think anyone should be bounced into this. There has to be consensus across the industry. I think there is a case there, but I think the case has to be made that everyone sees this to their benefit.
JCK: You are now developing standards for gemstones. Some say that sector has been a little behind on these initiatives, and some are actually hostile to them.
Bone: It’s a very disparate sector. There is no De Beers. There is no formal structure around it. You have one big company, Gemfields. And when you have this dislocation within the industry, it is difficult to galvanize behind principles, behind a solution. In the year I have been in this job, I have never come across any significant opposition from that sector to gems being involved. I think people will welcome it. You are finding various opinions on how it should be done. And that will be the challenge for the RJC in how we incorporate those various opinions. I think it is possible, I think we should be doing it, and I think it will boost confidence within that sector.
JCK: Most gemstones are artisanally mined. Will that make it difficult?
Bone: It makes it very hard, but never impossible. But we will bring in expertise from all the various parts of the sector in order to come up with something that’s workable.
JCK: One of the complaints people have with the RJC is that the audits sometimes cover just one part of a company. Do you think that will be clarified?
Bone: It’s fairly straightforward. You don’t get the entire certification. You can only use it for that part that you have certified.
JCK: But when a company says they are RJC certified, people assume it covers the entire company.
Bone: That may be misleading, and if that is the perception, then we need to look at that, and we will.
JCK: How do you make the case to smaller retailers who may want to join the RJC but worry that certification is burdensome?
Bone: I can understand, they are busy. [We need to] get across the message and engage more effectively and really show them and demonstrate how they are an integral part of this bigger, wider industry.…
I [often] say we are in the insurance business, rather than looking at us as a standards organization that looks at health and safety and human rights. Which we do, but why do we that? We are insuring against the integrity of the product that we deal in.
Then there’s the whole self-assessment issue. We have just revised our self-assessment forms. We are road testing them at the moment. They are a great deal clearer and easier to use. It has never been that burdensome, but it’s much easier now.
One of the key features of RJC and other industry organizations is to mitigate the risk of mandatory legislation. If you think it might be costly to become a member, and be audited—which I don’t think it is, I think it’s very good value for money—you wait until you have mandatory legislation. It will cost you a good deal of money, you won’t have any say in it, and it is something that will be there forever.
JCK: What else do you have planned?
Bone: A lot depends on the membership. This is a membership organization. My job is to liaise and engage with the membership to ensure their needs are reflected in what we do. We are not going to have every piece of jewelry and within scope in the next three years. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep talking about what we should do.
There is quite a lot of appetite to bring in silver. That shouldn’t be too difficult logistically. When you are looking through a store window, it is made for so many different types of materials. Even acrylic. Should acrylic, in that respect, be within that scope? It’s evolutionary.
We have just completed our first decade, and it’s been a remarkable story. Now we are now looking forward to our second decade. Let’s see how it goes.
(Photo courtesy of the Responsible Jewellery Council)