The holy grail of the conflict-diamond debate—a scientific method to determine a diamond’s origin—is one step closer to reality.
After three years of research, a team of scientists at the University of Ghent in Belgium, working in conjunction with Antwerp promotional group HRD, says they can establish a diamond’s origin by analyzing its mineral patterns. However, according to HRD chief of staff Youri Steverlynck, the method is not yet suitable for commercial application.
“It is still experimental and very expensive,” he says. “We need to fine-tune it to make it commercially usable.”
For now, the method has been tested on only four mines—one each in Canada, Botswana, South Africa, and Russia. Among the challenges the team faces is persuading every mine in the world to send them samples.
Another problem: The test is destructive. The mine elements are extracted by a laser that makes what Steverlynck calls “a small crater” in the stone. No one knows if this will affect the stone’s grade.
But most importantly, there is the problem of alluvial production. This is particularly important for conflict diamonds, most of which are alluvial. “With alluvial production, you have diamonds found 100 miles away from their geographic origin,” Steverlynck says. This means that a stone could show up as Namibian even if it was mined in a conflict zone. “For these diamonds, this is still not a solution,” he says.
Still, Steverlynck is heartened by a discovery that many doubted was even possible.
“It will take at least five years before we come up with a full solution,” he says, “but we are already ahead of schedule, so we shall see.”