The Problem: Resolving The Blacklist …
- In addition to the headlines regarding Marange, Zimbabwe as listed earlier, Global Witness, in a June 2012 report, concludes with a recommendation: “Consumers should not buy diamonds originating from Zimbabwe’s Marange mines until they can be certain they will not fund the Zimbabwean secret police, military and police.”
- With widespread corruption, some of the main beneficiaries of the diamond trade being the first family, continuing allegations of human rights abuses in the Lundas and a mostly opaque path to market through tax havens and allegedly less-vigilant hubs make Angola on to my blacklist.
- What if, because of current geopolitical events, I want to avoid Russian diamonds from the partially state-owned company Alrosa?
- I would consider a diamond to have been under-invoiced and transited through Dubai at a much higher price to be undesirable as well. I do not want to contribute to these practices.
- I want to limit my exposure to allegedly less-vigilant points in the supply chain where suspect diamonds can enter the pipeline.
… And the Whitelist …
- Martin Rapaport, in his TEDx speech, encourages consumers to seek out diamonds from Sierra Leone. I would too like to procure a stone from an area of the world where development from diamonds is most needed and therefore can potentially do the most good.
- Côte d’Ivoire has recently been unsuspended for export. This comes entirely without the same outrage that accompanied Zimbabwe’s readmission to the KP in 2011, and I’ve heard nothing but good news coming from this country since. Can I be first in line for one of these stones, please?
- Ideally, if not possible to buy a stone sourced from fairly-paid artisanal miners, I want to buy a stone where the rough came from companies of any size that are currently investing in developing economies, staying out of the headlines, providing positive economic development, and exploiting natural resources an environmentally responsible manner. In addition, if it could not line the pockets of any pseudo-dicator with a poor human rights record, that would be much appreciated.
- Based on the obvious positive impact they’ve had in Botswana, I’ve found a lot to like in De Beers and would very much like to have one of their stones (My earlier self would spit to learn of my future self writing that).
…Conflicts With Supply Chain Realities
In order for a consumer to follow recommendations or act on a wishlist like these, we have to know a little bit about the origin of a stone, its provenance, or at the very least where a stone is not from, and that is something that the diamond industry cannot do given a random polished stone or even a rough. If I want assurance that my diamond purchase is doing “good”, depending on the retailer, I largely cannot be 100% guaranteed of such, and likewise if I want assurance that my diamond purchase is avoiding “harm”. If I’ve done my research and really want to direct money towards the operations of Gem, Stellar, Diamcor, Paragon, Rockwell, or Firestone, I cannot do so. How bewildering it is, that with plummeting market share, abysmal consumer confidence and challenges associated with the rise of the millennials, the diamond industry has designed a system to provide cover for the people that may introduce industry-wide reputational risk, while simultaneously offering only unsatisfying assurances to the very consumers that keep the entire industry afloat.
Related: The 5 Worst Anti-Diamond Articles on the Internet
“But De Beers is a monopoly! And they only control the price by controlling the supply and they stockpile diamonds to control the supply!” Steadfast belief in long-outdated realities is difficult to eradicate, as perfectly illustrated by this extremely stupid video by CollegeHumor.com or from any number of nauseatingly similar Huffpo/Jezebel clickbait speed reads (I’ve read them all, don’t bother forwarding). Had the writers of said extremely stupid video done any real research beyond lazy snippet mining to confirm preconceived bias and presenting history as current fact, the cocky narrator might have instead detailed that De Beers’ marketshare has been on decline since the early ’90’s, and their monopoly has long been broken. Mines in Australia and Russia have long ago exited the De Beers system, and new mines have opened in Canada outside of De Beers entirely. Larger companies such as Tiffany have become vertically integrated, buying rough directly from mines. This all results in a company a fraction of what it used to be: in 2012, their share of rough diamond production was 22% and 37% of rough diamond sales (which is far from an impossible-to-monopolize “complete monopoly on diamond mining” as the aforementioned extremely stupid video claims). Consequently, from 2000 to 2004 De Beers liquidated their stockpile, and is legally barred from stockpiling diamonds or monopolizing the world supply of rough diamonds, in accordance with their anti-trust settlements with EU and US regulators.
“Diamonds aren’t rare!”. Diamonds in general may be geologically common, but unlike gold, one carat is not equal to another; differences in a given rough’s color, clarity and shape determine what type of shapes and sizes a rough can be transformed into, or whether it can be cut at all. Consequently, a diamond at the right specifications and price that a consumer is looking for can indeed be rare, with supply limited “by nature and mining economics“. About 6,400 kimberlite pipes have been found across the world, but only a very small percentage of those contain diamonds, and a smaller percentage still contain enough gem-quality diamonds that can be extracted profitably. Though the world’s diamond companies are constantly prospecting for new deposits, only a relatively few number of mines are under development, established mines are aging, and new mines may take up to a decade to begin production, all while demand is increasing.
“Why not a colored gemstone like an emerald or a ruby?” How exactly does an otherwise thinking person posit that other gemstones are harvested in some kind of corruption-free, mining, human rights and environmental Shangri-La? If you’ve an emerald of Colombian origin (about 70% of the world’s supply and produced under rather unglamorous conditions), congratulations, you might own a conflict emerald. Should you own a ruby of Burmese origin (considered to be the world’s best, and 90% of global supply), congratulations, you likely own a conflict ruby (though these gems remain off-limits to U.S. buyers by presidential executive order).
“It doesn’t matter where your diamond comes from! It’s propping up the price and encouraging further abuses, links to terrorism, etc”. The capacity to do illegal acts with legally-purchased goods is hardly unique to diamonds with computers being the first easy example to come to mind. It’s as easy to turn legal diamonds into illicit diamonds and used for less-than-lovely purposes as it is with all private property, but what could possibly be better addressed is the ease at which smuggled or conflict diamonds can enter the pipeline, thus the suggestion by some that the polishing sector be included in an expanded KPCS. Additionally, at the initiative of the World Diamond Council, the 2014 KPCS Plenary “welcomed a proposal by several working groups to consider relevant recommendations from a Financial Action Task Force Report that relate to risks associated with the supply of rough diamonds” (this is not without opposition, though).
“What about child labor in artisanal alluvial mining?” There are many challenges involved in the improvement of conditions and productivity of Artisanal Small-scale Mining (ASM), none of which are unique to diamonds. ASM is also ineradicable, and a more proactive approach is needed, so I respectfully refer you to the DDI and their helpful guides regarding Sierra Leone, Guyana and Côte d’Ivoire.
“All diamonds are blood diamonds!” Sigh and no. But the hypocrisy of formulating such an argument on a device that possibly contains conflict minerals is boundless. Gold is used for coating the wiring in all your devices, tantalum is used in capacitors, tin is used as a solder on circuit boards, tungsten is used to make your phone vibrate, all while toxic e-waste piles up. The search for these minerals is currently tearing the DRC apart in ways that diamonds could never do. Better placed and more deserved outrage may therefore be found with the shrimp on your plate, the chocolate bar in your hand or the clothes on your back than the rock on her finger.
“Why can’t they keep diamonds traceable back to origin?” Rough diamonds are already categorised in to as many as 12,000 different categories based on “the 4 c’s” when sold to manufacturers, irrespective of origin. After polishing, the stones are sorted again before they are sold to a dealer where they are mixed and sorted again, and finally sorted yet again by a jeweler to fit a particular piece (additionally, the ability to source rough and polished diamonds from many sources to satisfy demand is actually a strength of the industry). While traceability to origin may be possible for larger stones (those that definitely aren’t found set in a common engagement ring), it certainly would not be practical for the 0.1-0.3 carat stones that make up the grand bulk of diamonds in the supply chain. What if that bar of traceability could be lowered to the ~0.9ct stones that make up the center stone of an engagement ring? Well, that would be assuring, indeed.
“Just Get A Canadian Diamond!”
Canada’s diamonds are sourced from mines such as DDC’s Ekati and Diavik mines in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and by De Beers’ Snap Lake and Victor mines (and in late 2016/early 2017, the Gahcho Kué mine).
I have frequently heard the suggestion of “just buy a Canadian diamond” from many well-intented individuals and one obnoxious dilettante and former-coworker that foolishly thought he knew more than me about mobile programming. Indeed, there is a lot of good news coming out of Canada from its diamond production, but encouraging an anti-Africa sentiment is hardly ethical, self-defeating and even morally questionable. Even if it were possible to avoid African or AADM diamonds (it’s not), if that is the claimed best policy, then the onus is on the accuser to demonstrate that Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Tanzania and Sierra Leone (amongst many others) are somehow not conflict-free or ethical enough for consideration (you will find extreme difficulty proving this). Try it yourself: When you next hear such a suggestion, politely ask your challenger if they can specifically detail their objection to diamonds from, say, Botswana. You are guaranteed a glimpse at a stunned and very stupid lizard. I have tried this with regularity, and have never known it to fail.
By offering consumers contrasting choices between diamonds from either the guaranteed clean, traced-to-origin Canadian lot or the alternative “who knows?” pile (as Blue Nile does), retailers may both pay compliment to and prey on the consumer’s geographic knowledge (or more commonly lack thereof), possibly encouraging a myth that “Africa” is one monolithic conflict and poverty-ridden mass and mess to be avoided at the continental level (it’s not).
Pure Grown Diamonds (formerly Gemesis) produces gem-quality diamonds in the lab which are chemically indifferent from mined diamonds, but in their comparatively small inventory, most stones are below 1 carat and of yellower color grades, owing to the difficulty of removing nitrogen impurities from the synthesis process. Moreover, the measure to which man-made diamonds can truly be called “eco-friendly” is very much in dispute.
In 2012, synthetic diamonds were inadvertently submitted to the International Gemological Institute for grading, and in 2013, diamonds of laboratory origin were discovered having been introduced into the supply chain in Surat. Ironically, the same realities that keep fake, “conflict”, laundered and smuggled stones from being traced to origin and introduced into the legit supply chain apply to laboratory stones as well. That this very vulnerability — at a time when synthetic diamonds are sneaking into the supply chain and supplies of natural diamonds are decreasing, all while demand is increasing — remains woefully unaddressed is simply bewildering to me.
Some Options (a very limited and non-exhaustive list)
De Beers / Forevermark
De Beers is no longer a monopoly, and has long ago given up mopping up diamonds from outside buying offices. De Beers is a critical element of the economic success story that is Botswana, and is also a seminally important company in the other countries that it operates (Namibia, South Africa, Canada).
As I understand it, the story of a diamond in between mining and retail is mostly an untraceable mystery. Sightholders may manufacture all of their rough themselves, or resell their box outright. Rough diamonds can be bought by institutions or private investors, locked away in a safe till their value need be realized. New parcels of rough diamonds are created from mixing and matching other parcels to satisfy customer demand, manufacturers can procure rough from many suppliers (irrespective of origin), and polished diamonds also get traded around the world, with no particular record of provenance for any one particular stone. How then do I get assurances that my diamond is doing “good”? How can I opt-out of some of this craziness? What if I want assurance that my diamond didn’t help line the pockets of anyone with the last names “Mugabe” or “Dos Santos”? (or “Putin?”) What if Peter Meeus or Lev Leviev seem like individuals I don’t want to be helping?
With Forevermark, De Beers has done something rather remarkable, which is the full segregation of responsibly-sourced diamonds from mine through to cutting and polishing and onwards toward retailing. This ensures secure, audited pathways from mine to market, with a literally 0% chance of your diamond being unethically sourced, smuggled, etc. If you want peace of mind that what ends up in front of your eyes in a jewelry case either definitely came from a De Beers mine or came from a mine of which has passed De Beers’ very Fort Knox-esque approval process, Forevermark is a truly wonderful option, if not the best available.
A full 70% of De Beers’ diamonds by carat weight come from Botswana, 16% from South Africa (one of my favourite countries in the world), 7% from Namibia and 7% from Canada. De Beers’ beneficiation initiatives in their host countries are extremely admirable, bringing skilled employment and wealth into the same countries from which their diamonds are mined.
Brilliant Earth, Blue Nile, Ritani
Brilliant Earth can offer to consumers something that nobody else in the entire industry can and many have said isn’t even possible: traceability back to a specific country of origin. Brilliant Earth sources their African stones directly from “De Beers-supported mines” in Botswana and Namibia, as well as Canada and Russia.
Blue Nile and Ritani specifically exclude diamonds from Marange, Zimbabwe, a reflection of the seriousness, vigilance and pride in their sourcing policies that go beyond KPCS minimum standards, and their willingness to discuss such issues publicly. Additionally, Ritani is partially owned by Julius Klein Group, a De Beers sightholder and Forevermark diamantaire: both very difficult clubs to join.
From people I’ve contacted across the industry, journalists with no financial stake in the game and even sources at a few NGO’s, one name that kept popping up over and over again as a company with very serious sourcing policies was Tiffany. CEO Michael J. Kowalski has spoken of the need to strengthen the Kimberley Process, the company is a founding member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a supporter of the Diamond Development Initiative, and through the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, has even researched the commercial viability of sourcing diamonds from artisanal miners. The company is vertically-integrated, and procures its diamonds directly from mines in Namibia, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Botswana, as well as the Koidu mine in Sierra Leone. Tiffany is also actively engaged in beneficiation initiatives to bring more wealth into the countries from which their diamonds come.
Little known fact: Tiffany created the famous interlocking “NY” symbol that later became the New York Yankees’ logo.
“Tell me what you know”
Ask your dealer or trusted retailer what he knows about his own supply. Where and by who do his diamonds get cut and polished, and where does that manufacturer likely source rough from? The answer to this question can give you clues about the origin of your diamond. This is not an unfair question to ask, especially given the high price and limited alternative options at the disposal of the consumer. A dealer or jeweler that can tell you nothing about their supply is deserving of none of your money. Some inside the industry will call this demand naïve, unfair, impractical and doubtful to succeed. If pressure doesn’t come from the consumer, where else is it to come from?
Mrs. Sandwiches is lucky enough to wear two diamond rings, the first of which is probably 0.4 ct. That stone and simple ring was bought by my grandfather as a poor medical student right after WW2, in order to propose to my grandmother.
Stephanie’s other ring comes from me, and not unlike Sauron, everything I had went in to the forging of my One Ring. The setting comes from the best in the entire world: Ahee Jewelers in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. My mother (a jeweler) worked there while pregnant with me, and can recall how I was kicking the jewelery bench from her belly.
The center stone of Stephanie’s ring is Forevermark, and comes from Julius Klein Group, a De Beers sightholder and diamantaire with factories in New York, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The pavé diamonds come from a separate De Beers sightholder and Forevermark diamantaire, Pluczenik. In the search I deliberately excluded one specific manufacturer because of frequent appearances in articles like this, this, and this, and a Canadian manufacturer because of this. If you had told me at the beginning of this project that I’d end with De Beers, I would’ve called you a liar, but here I am not only having done so, but after having actively sought them out.
The source of the gold, which is a whole mess and larger essay unto itself? Well, I just have to take my jeweler’s word for it — and I do. I have every reason to believe that his materials are sourced with the utmost care and conscience — not just because I know and trust him, but because I know he recognises the responsibility that comes with making something so beautiful that people hold so dear, as all the best jewelers do.
I wrote this piece for the concerned consumer; to correct some incorrect assumptions, to encourage informed economic activism and to drive demand for “development diamonds” when/if they become available to consumers. I want to move consumers from the sophomoric HuffPo, collegehumor.com-style “don’t buy diamonds because De Beers and … stuff!” category to something much smarter and infinitely more helpful, and to prove to industry cynics that good sourcing is good business.
At the start of my research, I wanted to know just a bit more about something most people don’t venture in to, and now at the conclusion, I feel I know more and more about less and less. More than anything, I’ve become appreciative of the complexities and diversity of the diamond industry, and the potential to do overwhelming good in the developing world. Should concerned consumers feel safe in buying diamonds? Mostly yes, but that also depends on the seller. Should the KP be broadened and modernised or is it good enough already? I mostly lean towards the former. Are blood diamonds still a problem, and are diamonds doing good in the world or are they not? Depends where you look, how you measure and who you ask, I guess. The more I think about it, the more my head hurts. I am essentially exactly like the stones themselves — a little conflicted.