Wouldn’t it be great if the process of buying conflict-free, environmentally sustainable and ethically produced diamonds, or diamond jewelry, was as clear as an internally flawless diamond?
That clarity is here and now, in the transparent form of a new, scientifically rigorous, multi-layered certified sustainability-rated diamond standard, called SCS-007. Offering independently verified proof of a diamond’s origin and journey through the chain of custody using evidence-based information, SCS-007 significantly upgrades diamond shopping by giving dealers, designers, retailers and customers independently verified facts about the environmental, industrial and social history of the diamonds they are considering. In other words, it is now officially harder for bad actors to sell or market conflict diamonds, high-impact, environmentally damaging diamonds, or stones that were mined or processed by people who suffered human rights abuses.
Developed by Emeryville, CA.-based SCS Global Services in collaboration with a consortium of scientists and jewelry companies, SCS-007 represents a scientific and ethical breakthrough for the diamond and jewelry industry. Embodying multilayered and evidence-based proofs of a diamond’s origin and saga as it journeys from the mine or lab all the way to the jewelry store, the SCS-007 sustainability-rated standard enables everyone from eco-conscious Gen Z shoppers to Baby Boomers to buy diamonds or diamond jewelry with greater confidence, and perhaps even pride. As Stanley Mathuram, Executive Vice-President of SCS Global Services explains, “Our standard utilizes unique scientific provenance verification techniques and chemical profiling to document a natural diamond’s or lab-grown diamond’s point of origin. Our documentation also charts the diamond’s various environmental and social impacts as it is handled by dealers, cutters, polishers, designers, manufacturers and retailers before purchase by the jewelry buyer.”
In encouraging developments, some globally influential retailers who have signed up with SCS to sell SCS-007 ‘certified sustainability rated diamonds’ include Swarovski, Brilliant Earth and Fair Trade Jewellery Co. In short, the SCS-007 standard is the jewelry industry’s analogue of the USDA certified organic label. The USDA certified organic standard applies to foods grown according to strict, environmentally friendly farming standards and practices, whereas the SCS-007 standard applies to natural or lab-grown diamonds that are sustainability rated, a.k.a. environmentally friendly. It also certifies that either type of diamond was then cut and polished or set into jewelry by employees working in safe and humane facilities who received fair wages for their labor.
As more designers, retailers and consumers know that the SCS-007 standard requires scientific third-party verification of a diamond’s origins and odyssey, it seems likely that the perceived value of certified sustainability-rated diamonds will exponentially rise among consumers in the same way that organic food has and continues to do. In any event, this standard’s existence will surely help generate consumer desire for proven environmentally friendly diamonds of verifiable origin, while making it harder for entities to “greenwash” or make deceptive claims regarding a diamond’s environmental bona fides, origins and journey through the chain of custody.
Attaining SCS-007 certification is also meaningful for producers and consumers of lab-grown diamonds, as these types of stones require epic amounts of electricity to produce. While China had a 56 percent share of global lab-grown diamond production in 2019, India produced a 15 percent share of lab-grown diamonds that year. In these two countries, electricity is generated mainly by burning coal, which is the single biggest contributor to human-caused climate change.
One of the scientific laboratories that SCS Global Services works with to administer the SCS-007 standard is Perth, Australia-based Source Certain International (SCI). This company has pioneered provenance verification and chemical profiling that scientifically addresses any challenges of credibility, trust and provenance verification for contemporary supply chains, including that of diamonds. (SCI has been analyzing diamonds from four continents since 1995.) TSW Trace® is the name of SCI’s proprietary provenance verification technology, which is its scientific process for determining the provenance, or origin, of a product. As SCI explains on its website, “Whether an item is natural or man-made, its chemical composition represents where it is from and how it may have been produced. Animals absorb these elements and molecules through the process of eating and plants absorb them through nutrient uptake. Minerals and stones develop their chemical compositions through mineralizing events.”
Here’s how the provenance verification technology works: TSW Trace® analyzes a physical sample of a product to determine its unique combination of chemicals, molecules, elements and isotopes that were imprinted on it through its geographical origin. The end product of this analysis is a chemical signature entirely unique to, and representative of, that particular product’s provenance. The product’s chemical signature is stored in a secure Provenance Database that can be cross-referenced with in-market samples to verify authenticity of the product originating from that provenance as it moves throughout the supply chain.
As Dr. R. John Watling, SCI’s Chief Scientist, and Cameron Scadding, SCI’s Managing Director, explained during a Zoom call with this writer, TSW Trace® can effectively detail trace concentrations of elements in a diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipe. (Formed deep within the earth’s crust, Kimberlite pipes are igneous rock masses that erupted long ago, and brought diamonds closer to the earth’s surface.) As Dr. Watling explained, as each Kimberlite pipe embodies a singular event frozen in time, distinct areas of that pipe will contain specific concentrations of trace elements unique to those areas. “There will be a geochemistry associated with that diamond pipe,” he noted, “and that single pipe, that single event,” will contain a distinct chemical signature. As TSW Trace® documents a diamond’s chemical signatures of origin, this empirical evidence is unassailable. (TSW Trace® grew out of a “gold-fingerprinting” technology pioneered by Dr. John Watling in the late 1970s and was extensively used to identify the provenance of stolen gold by linking it back to its mine of origin.)
According to Mathuram, “SCS ensures the integrity of its Chain of Custody documentation by using multiple, mutually reinforcing steps.” For starters, these include auditing the traceability and inventory controls put in place by diamond producers and handlers. As Mathuram puts it, “They must ensure that they segregate certified material from non-certified material, and take other steps to ensure the integrity of their supply.” SCS also insists that all certified cut diamonds must be graded by a third party (e.g., diamond grading laboratories such as GCAL, IGI, GIA) with publicly available information on carat weight and dimensions. “Additionally,” Mathuram continues, “SCS requires data from diamond producers and handlers to ensure that SCS can track back diamonds to their location of production. This information is then made publicly available by diamond in the online SCS Sustainability Rated Diamonds Database, which allows consumers and diamond industry stakeholders to confirm the certification status of diamonds that they purchase.”
Once all of these systems are in place, SCS, using statistical enforcement protocols, selects a sample of cut diamonds from the supply chain and sends them to SCI in Australia so that they can confirm their origin is from the stated diamond producer. While each one of these steps is essential to ensure the chain of custody of all Certified Diamonds, SCS also reviews audit findings and its tracking database to determine if there are specific diamonds that especially warrant testing. As Mathuram summarizes, “Essentially, if there are ‘high risk’ parts of supply, we identify them and ensure a higher number of random samples are taken from that source.”
An independent verification of a diamond’s origin matters so much to consumers around the world because many of them, especially jewelry lovers and eco-conscious millennials, know that 80 percent of a diamond’s environmental, social and cultural impacts occur either in the diamond mine or in its growing facility. Many people are aware of natural diamond mining’s environmental and social impacts because both the 2006 film,“Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kanye West’s Grammy award-winning, 2005 rap song,“Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” dramatize how the mining, processing and sale of natural diamonds are linked to the unholy trinity of human rights abuses, financing of civil conflicts and environmental degradation. (Final frames of West’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone video contain the written request, “Please purchase conflict-free diamonds.”)
While legitimate Kimberley Process Certificates have been used to stanch the flow of conflict diamonds and control the international trade in rough diamonds since 2002, the U.S. Department of State website has been warning for several years about scams involving fake Kimberley Process certificates. How and why can these documents be trusted when an authority like the U.S. State Department is reporting on frequent forgeries of same? “Given the problem of fake certificates, such certificates alone are not reliable for defining origin,” Mathuram asserts. Mathuram makes other strong points about the fundamental need for luxury retailers to offer verified documentation for a diamond’s origin.
“Most diamonds sold today do not come with third-party proof of origin,” he explains. “Customers should demand that their diamond’s provenance is independently verified with empirical evidence detailing its mine or lab of origin, country and date of extraction.” It’s also worth noting that even diamond grading lab reports from authorities like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) lack clarity regarding diamond origin. For example, the GIA Diamond Origin Report Program accepts parcels of mixed rough diamonds from producers that mine in Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa. Rather than disclosing the country or mine that a particular diamond emanated from, some GIA Diamond Origin Report Program grading certificates simply note that the diamond came from a producer that mines in one of those four countries. Such opacity perpetuates the mystification of diamond origin among retailers and consumers.
By offering scientifically-based documentation for all sectors of the natural and lab-grown diamond industries, and most important, consumers, the SCS-007 standard represents a meaningful advance that can add great value to all kinds of diamonds. Starting with a diamond’s source, detailing its chemical signature, noting its every step through the supply chain, and auditing stones and double checking evidence, this new standard is poised to revive the romance of diamonds by giving people of all ages and genders the chance to buy and wear gemstones that are as authentic and unique as their lives and loves.