Awareness is quickly growing that all diamonds, jewels, and gemstones have the possibility of coming from a cruel, tarnished past. As this consciousness grows internationally, professional gem buyers look at their diamonds with more scrutiny, especially in Westernized and cultured countries, and many are digging deeper to find out if their gems are conflict free before checking the cut, clarity, color, and carat.
Also known as blood diamonds, conflict diamonds- or gemstones- are pieces that are sold to fund conflict and civil war; wars that human rights organizations have found over four million deaths linked to according to a report from 2006. Because of these horrific events and illicit activity, lives are being torn apart and as consumers- we can do our part in making certain that the jewels we purchase do not support these appalling and ghastly actions. In the movie Blood Diamond, where Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the lead character, the main focus is on the illegal diamond trade during the 1990s civil war in Sierra Leone, a nation in Africa. These blood diamonds also funded armies in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. Now, conflict gemstones and diamonds are believed to back terrorist groups and beyond.
While jewelers are becoming more and more understanding that a statement must be clearly made that their diamonds and gems are conflict free, consumers are also becoming more wary of their purchases knowing that their newest jewel may have a bloody past. Eli Izhakoff, Chairman and CEO of the World Diamond Council based in New York does say that “99.9 percent of all diamonds coming into the market are conflict free, everybody agrees on that percentage”, yet there is still the one percent left that makes savvy and human rights aware consumers wary. The Kimberley Process, a certification plan implemented in 2003, requires all diamonds that come across the US borders to be accompanied by a certificate showing that it is indeed conflict free has helped in these figures and country members of the Kimberly Process are banned from trading with nonmembers. These certificates follow each stone from the mine to the factory to retail, a difficult procedure, yet worth it. This documentation is traced allowing retailers assurance that the piece they are buying is conflict free. However, there are gaps in the Kimberley Process which would allow conflict diamonds to make their way into the US market- not to mention all the countries where the Kimberley Process is not implemented, such as Cambodia.
The United Nations recently reported that $23 million USD worth of diamonds from Cóte D’Ivoire has been smuggled into the trade as legitimate items. The organization, Global Witness, hopes to strengthen the bonds in the United States that keep out blood diamonds, but Corinna Gilfillan-who has been with the organization for over twenty years says “On the consumer side there’s no way to be sure that the diamonds they’re buying are conflict free.”
These organizations and facts are only focusing on the United States, and the amount of conflict jewels and gemstones that make their way around the rest of the world are surely startling if not shocking. If you are in the market to purchase a high value piece and want to shop conflict-free, there are some things you can ask your retailer beforehand. Some questions that may be of assistance when purchasing gemstones, diamonds, or jewels- especially at a high price- are:
- Where are your diamonds from?
- Are you aware of the problem with blood/conflict diamonds?
- Do you have a policy on conflict/blood diamonds?
- Can you show me a written guarantee from your supplier saying that your diamonds are indeed conflict free?
If the jeweler you are buying from cannot show you any paperwork or answer your questions, it is recommended not to buy from that retailer and find another who can prove that their items are fairly found and produced.
In the future, there are hopes that laser technology and engraving will become part of the diamond and gemstone trading process to track each stone with a different number or code, but at the current time this is not an available or viable option on a large scale. There is one establishment, the Conflict Free Diamond Council in Washington D.C. that laser engrave their diamonds to ensure that production was performed in one country but is yet to be the only to go about this method.
If we as consumers are more aware of the items we are purchasing, we may be able to positively affect things on a larger stance than we could even imagine. Simply finding where your products are manufactured, produced, and found and by whom may be the difference between buying a blood diamond or a clean diamond- and wearing a gorgeous gem without a stained and soiled history is so much more beautiful than literally buying into the war trade, even without knowing it.