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What Jewelry Companies Are Doing To Ensure Diamonds Are Really Conflict-Free

Can you really trust the 'conflict-free' label when it comes to diamonds? Some consumers are wary--which is why brands like Forevermark, Tiffany & Co., and Brilliant Earth say they are going above and beyond the standard process to ensure their diamonds are conflict-free.

Diamonds may be forever, but the rules regarding what makes the perfect gem are changing. Consumers are still concerned with the four C's--cut, color, clarity, and carats--but a fifth 'C' is emerging and it's becoming increasingly important: Conflict-free.

But as with those first four C's, conflict-free diamonds may come in varying degrees. Some consumers argue that the qualifications diamonds must meet to be labeled conflict-free are not nearly as stringent as they should be.

Currently, for a diamond to be labeled as 'conflict-free' it must pass through the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. Launched in 2003, the Kimberley Process is a joint initiative of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the diamond industry, which imposes certification requirements on its members aimed at ensuring that 'conflict diamonds'--those “used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments,”--do not enter the mainstream market.

However, the program's effectiveness was called into question in December 2011 when London-based NGO Global Witness, one of the architects of the Kimberley Process, pulled out. Global Witness alleged the Kimberley Process had “become an accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems," after the organization certified diamonds from the Marange fields in Zimbabwe despite reports of human rights abuse in the area. "Most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from,” Global Witness concluded.

Since then, Gillian Milovanovic , the recently-appointed U.S. Chair of the Kimberley Process, has endorsed the expansion of the organization's definition of conflict diamonds to include those “used to finance, or otherwise directly related to armed conflict or other situations of violence.” But while her endorsement is promising, it isn't an official policy change.

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In the meantime, consumers remain wary of the 'conflict-free' label. Which is why brands like Forevermark, Tiffany & Co., and Brilliant Earth say they are going above and beyond the Kimberley Process in sourcing their diamonds.

Last Friday, we were lucky enough to visit one such brand--Forevermark--at its celebrity Oscars suite at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles to take a peek at some of the diamond brand’s “responsibly-sourced” pieces.

Forevermark works with a small number of mines worldwide that are chosen based on select criteria, including the fair employment practices of the mines and their commitment to certain social standards. According to Forevermark’s diamond expert Adelaide Polk-Bauman, the brand benefits the countries it works with “through health care, education, housing, and other initiatives.” Each diamond is inscribed with a number that ensures the consumer it is a Forevermark, which is only visible through a Forevermark viewer. (We felt like we were in a very glam 8th grade science class looking through the viewer at the 7-digit inscription.)

The responsibility factor has helped to make the two-year-old brand popular with celebrity clientele. Although Forevermark was predictably tight-lipped during our suite tour about who would be wearing what to Sunday’s Oscars, we saw several pieces that showed up on both the red carpet and the telecast on Quvenzhané Wallis and Les Miserables' Samantha Barks. Perhaps still not getting the discreet memo, Best Supporting Actress nominee Silver Linings Playbook's Jacki Weaver told E! she was wearing $2 million in Stephen Webster for Forevermark "blood-free diamonds.”

We are probably a long way from Ryan Seacrest asking celebrities whether they are wearing blood diamonds on the red carpet, but as brands look for ways to distinguish themselves and clientele (both celebrity and mortal) become more educated about what goes into diamond production, we expect more big brands to push the responsibility status of their diamonds.