Tiffany & Co., the celebrated high-end American jewelry chain, dropped a bombshell at the start of the new year, when it announced that it will begin providing accurate information about where diamonds larger than 0.18 carats were mined, and by 2020 also where they were cut and polished.
Speaking to Bloomberg TV, the company’s CEO Alessandro Bogliolo said that provenance is a topic that has become more relevant for newer generations of consumers. “This is our duty, as a leader in diamonds, to provide customers with this information,” he stated.
Tiffany does not intend disclosing the name of the mine at which a diamond was extracted, but will limit itself to informing its customers about its country of origin. The company currently sources stones from mines in Canada, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Stones that were sourced before the initiative launched will have their sourcing practices certified by Tiffany, the company stated.
CODE OF PRACTICE VERSUS CHAIN OF CUSTODY
Tiffany’s newly announced policy shines the spotlight once again on responsible diamond sourcing, and more specifically on companies that aim to achieve this through the strict application of codes of conduct, as opposed to those who seek to ensure fully transparent chains of custody. To be able to reliably disclose a diamond’s origin, a chain of custody is the preferred method.
But guaranteeing the chain of custody is a frustratingly hard thing to achieve in the diamond business, meaning that almost all of the most widely used responsible-sourcing compliance systems, such as those developed by the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), involve monitoring the way in which firms apply strict codes of conduct.
There are reportedly methods by which a rough diamond can be analyzed so as to determine its origin with relative accuracy, and it involves chemically analyzing a stone in order to detect molecular markers that are typical for material from a specific geographic area. But this is a timely and costly procedure, meaning that it cannot be applied to large volumes of goods, and also only a handful of geography-specific markers have been identified.
What this means is that in order to monitor a chain of custody, a company must be certain of the exact origin of the diamond from the moment that it is mined. This can be done at facilities where effective management systems are in place, but it almost impossible in areas where stock-control is more haphazard, and particularly when artisanal miners are involved.
DOES KNOWLEDGE OF ORIGIN ENSURE AN ETHICAL TRADE?
“Tiffany & Co has long been committed to diamond traceability and going above and beyond industry norms to promote the protection of the environment and human rights,” said Tiffany’s chief sustainability officer Anisa Kamadoli Costa, explaining the company’s new sourcing strategy. “A transparent journey of responsible sourcing reflects the many positive and far-reaching benefits along every step of the diamond supply chain.”
But does a transparent chain of custody ensure an ethical trade? Here, the answer is less straightforward. For while a company reasonably can declare that its gems are not ethically challenged, in that they can be shown to have not impacted negatively on the lives of those who mined them nor the environment, the company is likely to have achieved that level of transparency by limiting its purchases to mines where which chain of custody can assured. Most often, these are operated by larger players, and frequently in developed countries such as Canada and Russia.
Artisanal and small-scale miners are unlikely to make the grade. Not only are their mining operations less transparent than their larger counterparts, but they also poser the greater level of ethical risk. At the same time, these are same the diamond mining operations that have the greatest potential to change peoples’ lives for the better, providing sustainable economic opportunities where such things generally are in short supply.
When a consumer buys a diamond, is it more important to know that the stone is not ethically challenged, rather than whether it manage to provide real economic benefit to the impoverished in the area in which it was mined?
Artisanal diamond miners in Sierra Leone, who are unlikely to be unable to break into the supply chains where chain of custody is demanded.