Focus on

rough diamonds

Panning for alluvial diamond in the diamond field of Sierra Leone. (Photo courtesy of GemFair)



A pioneering capacity-building project launched by De Beers for artisanal miners in Sierra Leone three years ago has made history by selling its first parcel of rough diamonds at an auction in Singapore, alongside diamonds from the mining house’s regular production.

The GemFair program was developed by De Beers Group as a means of securing a transparent route to market for ethically sourced artisanal and small-scale mined (ASM) diamonds from Sierra Leone.

By providing artisanal miners with legitimate access to the global market, and by offering fair prices and training opportunities, GemFair hoped to improve not only their livelihoods, but also to foster Sierra Leone’s growth as a credible and trusted source of diamond supply worldwide.

This latter goal was clearly well served by the sale of diamonds last week.


Gem Fair was launched in 2018 in the Kono region of Sierra Leone, and immediately began providing services to registered artisanal miners at 14 demarcated sites, all of which had been certified as being compliant with ethical mining standards.

That number has grown steadily over the years. There are today more 150 GemFair compliant sites registered in the program, with each providing a livelihood to between 10 to 25 miners. The program today has about 2,250 direct participants, supporting around 13,500 dependents. 

To ensure that the goods are being ethically mined, GemFair developed a Responsible ASM Assurance Program. It requires that candidate artisanal miners must pass initial due diligence checks, which are closely aligned with the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains’ Annex II, which includes a provision that they must possess a license to operate.

Candidate miners are also screened the candidate miners through an international database.

Once a candidate is accepted, GemFair provides training program for miners and their workers to raise their standards.


But that is not all, for GemFair’s stated mission always was was create a traceable and transparent flow of rough diamonds from the artisanal mining regions. It was a challenge that demanded some creative solutions.

To achieve its goals, GemFair stook a high-tech approach. It supplies the miners in the program with a dedicated toolkit free of charge. This contains basic gemological equipment, including a loupe and scale, QR-coded sealable bags and a weatherproofed tablet computer. The last piece of equipment is a designed to operate in the less than perfect conditions at the artisanal mining sites, and it comes equipped with a solar charger.uyer.

GemFair stook a high-tech approach, supplying with a toolkit free of charge. Among the items it contains basic gemological equipment, including a loupe, and a weatherproofed tablet computer. When artisanal miners recover diamonds, they the tablet computer to register the stone. (Photo courtesy of GemFair)

When artisanal miners recover diamonds, they use an application on the tablet computer to register the stone, providing basic gemological information, and uploading photographs both of the rough diamonds and the miners holding them.

The first set of photographs are intended to assist the GemFair staff with the traceability assurance function of the digital solution, and the second set is to verify the identity of the miner. Using GPS location technology, GemFair is able to ascertain that the stone has been recovered in a certified artisanal mining site.

In the original program, miners had to deliver diamond in the QR-coded bags to the GemFair buying office, where it would be valued by a diamond buyer, and an offer to purchase.  If the miner accepted the offer, payment was prompt, but they were are not obliged to sell their merchandise to GemFair. The logic for the latter approach was that, if they choose not to sell to GemFair, they would have been provided valuable information about the market value of diamonds they were holding.

According to JCK magazine, GemFair is now piloting new payment model, whereby miners are paid in advance for what they’re expected to find. “Our goal is to create a win-win solution between the miner and GemFair, where the miner receives financing and GemFair can positively influence the improvement of working and business practices of participating miners,” said Feriel Zerouki, De Beers’ senior vice president, corporate affairs, who heads GemFair.

Rough diamonds purchased by GemFair and exported from Sierra Leone are KP-certified, and eligible to be traded legally in the major markets. 

They also can be traced individually to the artisanal mine sites at which they were recovered, and De Beers plans on fully integrating them into its Tracr blockchain, which will provide a chain of custody all the way through to the final buyer.

An artisanal miner in Sierra Leone receiving online instruction about  GemFair’s Responsible ASM Assurance Program. (Photo courtesy of GemFair)