Find Out Where Your Diamond Is From With Tiffany & Co’s Diamond Source Initiative
The luxury buyer of today is a tough nut to crack. Not only does she have global access to products and information that informs her every purchase, she is also a distrusting consumer who expects full transparency across the value chain. The fashion industry suffers most from this trust deficit, but the jewellery industry comes in a close second.
Most of us have been led to believe that you can’t ask a jeweller for the provenance of its jewellery. It’s a trade secret, they say. The truth is, your jeweller probably doesn’t even know the answer. When a jeweller makes an order of polished diamonds from a supplier in Antwerp, Belgium, for instance, it’s usually a mixed bag of stones that are mined from a few countries. Little accounting is done at the point of mining and that makes determining the provenance of a diamond extremely difficult. But thankfully, it is not impossible.
One of the world’s top jewellery houses is turning the situation on its head. Tiffany & Co., the American brand behind the legendary robin’s-egg-blue box, has made its boldest move yet by launching the Diamond Source Initiative that promises the consumer full transparency across its supply chain. What this means is that through a unique serial number laser‑etched onto your Tiffany diamond, you can now find out—in addition to its cut, clarity, colour and carat weight—the country your diamond originated from and where the gem was cut and polished before it landed in the boutique.
This kind of transparency and accountability is not achieved overnight, and Andrew Hart knows this only too well. The senior vice-president of diamond and jewellery supply at Tiffany recalls the moment when then CEO Michael Kowalski threw him a challenge.
“In 2002, Mike asked me to do two things: one, to take care of corporate social responsibility because he was truly visionary and concerned about our environment; and two, to find a way to vertically integrate our business. I asked him, why do it when our supply chain was working quite well? And he said, ‘Luxury consumers will one day want transparency. Because the definition of luxury is that it’s not a necessity, and when you’re buying something that’s not a necessity, isn’t it even more important to know where it came from and how the environment and people were treated along the way?’” This visionary thinking set in motion significant changes to how Tiffany operated.
First, instead of buying polished diamonds, Tiffany set out to procure diamond roughs directly from suppliers with recognised mines (namely in Botswana, Namibia, Russia and Canada), some of which Tiffany even invested in so that it could not only get access to the best diamonds, but also enforce ethical working conditions at ground zero. It is hardly common for a jeweller to name suppliers or mines it works with, which makes Tiffany’s insistence on doing so an extraordinary show of the company’s sincerity in the pursuit of geographical transparency for the consumer.
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Second, Tiffany decided to take the entire diamond‑making process—from sorting and cutting to polishing and grading—in-house. This resulted in the acquisition of diamond-polishing facilities in Vietnam, Cambodia, Belgium and Mauritius, and ultimately in the launch of Laurelton Diamonds, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tiffany that produces almost 80 per cent of all diamonds sold at its boutiques today.
It is heartwarming to know how the facility in Vietnam came to be. According to Hart, his team ventured to the country in 2004 to visit a diamond-polishing factory with hopes of working with it. While the quality of diamonds the factory produced was high, its facilities and treatment of workers were dismal.
“We left dejected,” Hart recalls. “The factory was dark, cramped and hot. Workers had no benefits and were paid below minimum wage. Tiffany has a code of conduct that we ask all our suppliers to adhere to, so it was against company policy to work with them.” That was when Hart and his team came up with what seemed like a crazy idea: “Why don’t we just buy the entire factory?”
It was a wild suggestion that became a compelling plan once the numbers were crunched and the trajectory of the facility was charted. “So, we bought it!” says Hart of the new facility that officially launched in 2007. “We brought in new equipment designed by Tiffany, renovated the premises, and paid workers decent living wages. From 280 skilled workers, we now have about 1,400 workers in the factory.”
To the modern-day consumer, this story adds as much romance to a piece of Tiffany jewellery as does the knowledge that a diamond took three billion years to form. Supply chain sustainability is what gives every piece of jewellery by Tiffany the halo of conscious consumerism, the fifth "C" that is increasingly being factored into a consumer’s buying decision. It is anyone’s guess if the company’s commitment to transparency would result in greater sales volumes, but if Impossible Foods and Tesla are anything to go by, Tiffany could soon reap the benefits of establishing market differentiation with sustainability.
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This unique selling point definitely appeals to the millennial generation that now includes those in their 30s, who have enough disposable income to make jewellery purchases. According to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, millennials and Gen Z consumers are “putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to supporting businesses that make a positive impact on society”. This bodes well for Tiffany as it aims for 100 per cent geographic transparency for newly sourced diamonds by 2020, and to unreservedly reveal the craftsmanship journey of its diamonds to buyers.
But as Hart points out, it is not just the younger consumer who might demand transparency going forward. When it comes to luxury consumption, buyers—new or seasoned—have the right to know if the products they are acquiring sit well with their conscience. Human rights lawyer Cherie Blair (also wife of ex-British prime minister Tony Blair) summed it up perfectly at a discussion last year about the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “Beautiful things need to be pure not just in carat, but also in heart. The heart of that is the people who make them and who, along the supply chain, take them on that journey.” This “consciousness quotient” looks set to be the newest measurement of a diamond’s worth going forward, and in all likelihood, it will be the one new standard luxury buyers would not compromise on.
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