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Tracing the Source: Is it Possible to Avoid Conflict Diamonds at Christmas time?

With the spectre of Autumn on the horizon, we will soon find ourselves surrounded by the frenzy of the festive season. Shop widows will soon fill with festive décor, and the jewellery shops will all be clambering for our attention, each with a deal more enticing than the next. It is easy to see how tracing the origin of a single, spectacular-looking gemstone might seem overly fussy to some, and for others yet it may threaten to take the fun out of the whole gift-giving experience. However, there are a few very compelling reasons for potential buyers to have a solid understanding about more than just the cut, colour, clarity, and carat weight (known as the four c’s) of diamond shopping before ever entering the shop.

Most people have heard the term conflict diamond before, or perhaps even seen the blockbuster movie titled Blood Diamond (another name for a conflict diamond), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. By definition, a conflict diamond is a diamond that has been mined in a war zone, and when sold, the funds will support a war effort or insurgency. More often than not, the working conditions under which these conflict diamonds are mined (most often by hand) are considered to be sub-standard, if not downright appalling. Conflict diamond mining has historically taken place most frequently on the African continent, with countries like Angola, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, and the Cote D’Ivoire being the most notable participants. In the late 1990s, an organisation called Global Witness, whose mission is dedicated to eliminating poverty, corruption, human rights abuses, and the exploitation of natural resources, first made the connection between the conflict in Africa and the diamond trade. In the year 2000, a meeting was held in Kimberly, South Africa, in which the Kimberly Process was born. The Kimberly Process was a tracking process that was aimed at stemming the flow of conflict diamonds, thus ensuring that the material that makes it to market comes from non-conflict areas. Countries wanting to send their diamond rough to market had to keep transparent records about the amount of diamonds they were exporting and how much they were worth. It was hoped that the Kimberly Process, in addition to promoting accountability would stabilize some of the more fragile developing African countries, and aid in supporting them as they developed.

While the Kimberly Process certainly slowed the flow of conflict diamonds into the marketplace, it by no means stopped it outright. The main contributing factor for this disappointing performance of the Kimberly Process is the widespread corruption within government that are in power in the leading diamond-producing countries. These corrupt officials soon learned exactly what they had to do to circumvent the Kimberly Process, and in no time, they were doing just that, and these same officials for whom the Kimberly Process was written were accepting bribes upwards of $100 per day in exchange for paperwork declaring their rough diamonds Kimberly Process certified. Also contributing to the what the Wall Street Journal called the “disarray” (in a June, 2011 article) of the Kimberly Process, was the fact that there is disagreement within the ranks. Amongst the 45 countries (including the European Union) that represent the committee for the Kimberly Process panel, there appears to be a lack of consensus as to how the process should be applied. Some members feel that the emphasis of the Kimberly Process should be led by a human rights agenda, whereas others have turned the process into a debate about foreign policy and its effect on the right to trade freely to support the developing diamond-rich nations.

The Kimberly Process is said to have reduced the amount of conflict diamonds in circulation in the marketplace from 15% to about 1%, although this may be an inaccurate number, because this only accounts for the diamonds coming in and out of the countries currently being tracked by the Kimberly Process. Venezuela, for instance, another large source of diamonds that has been under the microscope lately for its under-the-table exporting (read: smuggling) practices and human rights violations (children as young as 11 regularly work in the mines, is not a member participant of the Kimberly Process, and all efforts to approach the government on this matter have thus far been declined.

It would seem that the business of conflict diamonds is an insurmountable problem, without a solution. While some consumers may find this unsettling, others take it in stride. Only you can decide how you feel about the possibility of accidentally purchasing a conflict diamond. For those that want to avoid it altogether, there are three3 important actions that you can take as a consumer that will decrease your chance of unintentionally purchasing a conflict diamond.

1. Buy vintage

Diamonds that are 50 years old or greater are generally too old to be from a current conflict diamond area of operation. True, you should still be sure of your source, but a reputable jeweller should be able to show you a statement of guarantee from the supplier.

2. Widen your search area

Although a jeweller may be able to prove that the diamond has passed through the Kimberly Process, there is still a chance that this diamond may be a conflict diamond if you cannot identify the source country. Buying a diamond from a conflict-free area. There are many diamonds that are sourced and mined from areas of the globe that are conflict-free (without the presence of civil war or human rights violations in the mining process). Canadian and Australian diamonds are a perfect example of such a diamond.

3. Buy a lab-created diamond

Despite everyone’s best intentions, there is always the possibility that a conflict diamond may slip into your local jewellery store under the radar. The only way to avoid this full-stop is to purchase a lab-created diamond. Although the idea of owning a lab-created diamond is somewhat off-putting to many customers, in many ways, the hardness, and clarity of a lab-created gem is superior to that of a natural stone. Used quite a bit in cutting devices for their superior hardness, lab-created diamonds are durable, beautiful, and come in the same spectrum of colours as natural diamonds.