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Diamonds Beyond Conflict
Jewelry Scene

With conflict diamonds—and “Blood Diamond”—safely in the rearview mirror, the World Diamond Council held its fifth annual meeting at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel on May 9 and 10.

Hosted by the Israeli diamond industry, the conference kicked off with a masterful speech by Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres on globalism and the future of worldwide industries such as the diamond. A more supply-side address greeted the closing banquet by the Likud Party’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Calling on Ramat Gan (in collaboration with a government he hopes soon to head) to put an end to Belgium as a diamond center, he vowed to bring all Antwerp dealers—“and not only Israelis,” he said, “but Indians as well”—to Ramat Gan to do business.

A comprehensive presentation on the “Blood Diamond” movie, by the Diamond Promotion Service’s Carson Glover and Nancy Orem Lyman, set the tone for much of the meeting to follow: a merging of the industry’s historical responsibilities in Africa and the proactive measures it has taken and must continue to take, both to resolve the issues and to educate the public on their full realities. WDC chairman Eli Izhakoff noted that, rather than harm the industry, the movie “gave us a wonderful opportunity to tell consumers about the great strides we’ve taken toward eliminating the trade in conflict stones.”

Conflict diamonds are now at less than half a percent, by value, of world trade. That figure was agreed to even by industry watchdog, Global Witness’s Alex Yearsley, cited by Izhakoff variously as a “partner” or as “the conscience” of the diamond industry. Yearsley did note, however, that certain productions of the Congo and DRC, while “not, technically, conflict stones, are nonetheless tainted by affiliation with, or controlled by, rebel groups.” He also cited half a dozen countries, including Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic, as potential hot-button zones where the industry “would do well to arm itself” against future taint.

He had high praise for the WDC’s mission to Ghana, headed by Charterhouse Street’s Andrew Coxon and the HRD’s Mark von Bockstael, where production and trade of diamonds that had come under the conflict headlights last year were audited extensively on three occasions. Presentations of findings by von Bockstael provided the conference’s gemological and technical highlights. It’s amazing how much the issue has taught us about rough diamonds.

Von Bockstael was one of many to note that the diamond is now the world’s most audited, controlled, and overseen commodity. “Look at timber, fisheries, cars, plasma TVs, even oil,” says Michael Rae of the Council for Responsible Jewelry Practices, “no one has taken the steps we’ve taken.” All, however, were entirely necessary, Rae adds. “In the same way that customers today expect a certificate for diamonds of value, the customer of tomorrow will expect assurances of ethical practices behind the jewelry they’re buying.” Those would extend to simulants, lab-grown diamonds, and enhancements, as well as issues of African beneficiation and the plight of alluvial miners, issues that formed a backdrop to many speakers.

Given the WDC’s success in merging 45 member nations in lockstep cooperation with the Kimberley certification schemes to establish conflict-free status for the world’s legitimate diamonds, it was widely suggested the body go forward on such issues. Will it become, in essence, the arbiter of a fractious and discoordinated industry?

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Gareth Penny
Gareth Penny, managing director of De Beers, at the World Diamond Congress.
Rough diamonds
Rough diamonds from the Diamond Trading Company.