Traceability and transparency—including tracking (from mine to market) and tracing (from market to mine)—of coloured stones, diamonds and pearls is an increasingly important topic in the industry, as shown by recent research and reports. The complex and fragmented nature of the global gem industry means that little information is typically available about these supply chains and how specific gem materials are mined, manufactured and sold.
Traceability is one way to provide more transparency, and it is argued that by increasing transparency, supply chain issues can be better mapped and understood, ultimately helping to improve the environmental and social impact of a supply chain.
- Consciousness and awareness among consumers are leading them to question where the gems are being mined from.
- Media and non-governmental organisations are placing the gem industry under increased scrutiny regarding the origin and sustainability footprint of various stones.
- Some companies intend to be proactive in order to mitigate the risks and understand their own supply chain and potential sustainable development impact.
- Governments want to improve the management and revenue collection from the export of gems.
- Global governing bodies keep emphasizing the issues of smuggling and money laundering in the recent years.
Gemmological origin interpretations can vary in certain cases, and such variations in origin reports may show up between different labs. As accessibility to advanced analytical instrumentation improves, and as databases of documented rough material from different mines become more robust, the scope of geographical origin determination will also expand.
Considerable research on the origin determination of diamonds was conducted at the turn of the 21st century due to the issue of ‘blood diamonds’. However, no technique has been found to conclusively identify faceted stones from various origins based on scientific means. As such, it is not possible to determine the country or mine source for a cut diamond of unknown origin through commercially available geochemical, isotopic or spectroscopic methods. The diamond industry has thus had to focus on chain of custody and other mechanisms to support origin claims on sold diamonds.
Tracking and Tracing
Tracking (from origin to market, or forward traceability) and tracing (from market to origin, or backward traceability) conceptualise the path of an item and how it can be identified within a supply chain. Whereas tracking and tracing describe path direction of goods, traceability is a more overarching term (see Glossary). Various sectors, such as the food and pharmaceutical industries, use both track and trace for different purposes. In such contexts, tracking can locate an item based on specific criteria (e.g. vital when recalling non-compliant items) whereas tracing is the basis for finding the cause of non-compliance.
- Identity Preservation or Track-and-Trace - Certified materials and products are physically separated from non-certified materials and products at each stage along the supply chain. This approach guarantees the highest level of traceability and is very expensive to implement.
Exact mine-of origin information can be tracked through the supply chain.
- Bulk Commodity or Segregation - Separates certified from non-certified materials but allows mixing of certified materials from different sources. All producers must comply with the certification standards. This approach guarantees a high level of traceability and is costly.
An aggregation of goods from one company that operates several mines may be tracked. This approach is also useful for gem regions/ countries and could be complemented by gemmological analysis.
- Mass Balance - Certified and non-certified materials can be mixed. However, the exact volume of certified material entering the supply chain must be controlled. Claims of ‘this product contains X% of certified ingredients’ can be made. This approach guarantees low traceability and involves slightly high cost.
Material from different mines (and certified and non-certified goods) can be mixed. Traceability information is lost.
- Book and Claim - Allows all actors of a supply chain to trade in certificates for certified sustainable materials. Buying certificates allows retailers and manufacturers to claim that their business supports the production of sustainable materials. Claims of ‘this product supports the sustainable sourcing and production of essential commodities’ can be made. This approach involves reasonable cost but offers low traceability.
A synthetic diamond manufacturer may buy credits and contribute to sustainable mining activities.
In 2015 the data about the diamonds was put on blockchain. A software was created to interface with the scanning, modeling, and cutting equipment used in gem manufacturing so that these highly calibrated and precision instruments could automatically generate and store data relating to the manufacturing process directly on the blockchain. In a nutshell a DNA of the diamonds are now stored on an immutable ledger that can be accessed by permissible personnel.
Information on about 1.6 million diamonds can be stored on the blockchain. They are identified with 40 metadata points as well as a high-definition image of the diamond. At each stage in the manufacturing process, the protocol allows users to enter data, such as the time and date of the process and the name of the artisan performing it. Retailers can enter information about any jewelry piece containing the diamond, such as store location and warranty details. Customers can view the entire provenance simply by logging in with their credentials.