Do Consumers Know…Or Care?

Recently, the Associated Press asked diamond shoppers on 47th Street in New York if they cared whether their diamond purchases fuel African wars. “I want a diamond,” noted a New Jersey woman. “Where it comes from, how it got here, I don’t really care. It sounds self-serving, but it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Nevertheless, industry leaders remain worried about how the “dirty diamond” issue will affect consumer demand-especially after 60 Minutes and 20/20 air their reports this fall. One major jewelry retailer conducted focus groups and found that, when informed about the issue, consumers prefer non-conflict stones.

So far, despite the publicity, the issue does not seem to have penetrated consumers’ awareness. Matt Runci of Jewelers of America says he’s beginning to hear about consumers bringing the issue up to jewelers, but mostly in major media centers, like Washington, D.C., and New York City, where newspapers have published articles on the subject.

Complicating the picture is the fact that, for now, there’s no sure way to tell if a diamond has fueled conflict. Still, industry leaders worry that consumers soon will want to know. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, recently told the New York Times: “I hope that people buying a beautiful stone will start asking questions and be sure not to buy unless they see a certificate of origin.”

But those certificates don’t exist, and Cecilia Gardner of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee says, “We don’t want to put retailers in a position of making representations they can’t back up.” But when will jewelers be able to tell? “It’s dependent on implementation of the Antwerp resolution,” says Gardner. “We hope that passes as quickly as possible.”