Mystery Shopping: What Happened When I Asked About Conflict Diamonds

Last week, JCK posted an article where our writers mystery shopped five jewelers. I went to the Tiffany flagship store in midtown Manhattan.

While the article didn’t really go into it, the conflict diamond issue is an interest of mine, so I asked all three salespeople I spoke to if the pieces I was looking at contained conflict diamonds (which I called “blood diamonds,” so I could look like a real consumer). 

These are the three answers I got:

– The first gentleman said: “We don’t sell those.… There was a thing called the Kimberley Process five, six years ago that stopped all that.… We are very careful.” (It’s 10 years old.) 

– With the second gentleman, we were looking at a gemstone piece with diamond accents. When I asked about the origin of the diamonds, the salesman said the piece is mostly gemstones so it is not an issue. But it has accents, I persisted; he then talked about the Kimberley Process, which he said can tell you what mine the stone is from. Of course, I knew that wasn’t true, and when I pressed, he corrected himself to say the KP doesn’t really tell you the origin of the mine, more the group of mines.

–  The final salesman said: “We can’t 100 percent guarantee that it doesn’t, but we’re pretty sure.” That is certainly an honest answer, but likely one that Tiffany doesn’t want out there—and again, given all the work Tiffany has done on this, it could likely provide a little more assurance. 

To be fair, none of these salespeople worked in the diamond department—though all worked with diamonds—so it’s possible this issue rarely comes up for them. In fact, judging from the answers, it doesn’t seem to come up much from consumers in general, even from customers in liberal New York City. None of the salesmen really seem prepared for it.

I am not trying to cast aspersions on any of the salespeople, who were otherwise friendly, helpful, and well-informed, and made my visit extremely pleasant—especially since I didn’t buy anything. (And I’ll reiterate what I said in the article about the lack of sales pressure; later I went to Bloomingdale’s and the salespeople were far more aggressive.) Obviously if they received more questions about blood diamonds, they would have better answers. And no one expects them to be experts on the ins and outs of industry geopolitics.

Still, shouldn’t there be some kind of corporate statement that is given to people who ask? Tiffany has made a lot of progress in this area; it has an extensive Responsible Sourcing section on its website. And it does work on diamond sourcing that goes beyond the Kimberley Process. So it’s a little surprising that’s all its salespeople are falling back on.

I’ll repeat what I said for my Fair Trade gold article—if you’re doing good work on something, you should let people know about it. Particularly those who ask.

JCK News Director