We believe ethical sourcing should be a hygiene factor—something our customers should simply expect from us and not something we differentiate ourselves on alone—so we prepared a comprehensive guide to our supply chain and how it may affect your decision to shop with us.
Your ring is a token of something so intangibly wonderful and so earth shatteringly important that you chose to have it made from the most scarce and exceptional materials on earth: diamonds and precious metals. This is the simple story your ring tells—that there is no other love on earth like yours.
With this in mind, we know how important it is for you to feel confident that your ring was sourced from countries and businesses that have ethical policies and business practices, so below we share how we do things at Taylor & Hart.
Ethical wedding bands
Take a look at our sustainably crafted wedding bands, made with either fair trade or recycled metals.
We devote so much time to determining the cut, colour, clarity, and carat of our diamond… and determining where our diamond or gem came from is equally deserving of our time. This is why we’re opening up our business practices to show you how we do things at Taylor & Hart, and to ensure you have peace of mind when purchasing from us.
But why should you care about the ethical sourcing of your materials?
With the single decision to care, you win more than just the love of your life;
- You sleep soundly at night, knowing you purchased a piece of jewellery that not only averted funding violence, but you may have actually helped people in an underdeveloped country raise their own or their family’s standard of living.
- You prevent tarnishing a monumental moment in your life with a product that has not been ethically sourced or crafted.
- You vote with your dollar. You help improve the transparency and ethics in the entire industry, simply through your wallet. One of the greatest moments of your life can also serve as one small step towards a better world.
- You learn. Knowledge is power. Making the right decision, when it comes to such a high value purchase, is knowing you had all the facts about the jewellery piece before you placed your order.
What does "ethically sourced" mean?
A conflict or ‘blood’ diamond is a diamond that comes from areas—particularly in central and western Africa—controlled by rebel factions opposed to recognised governments, and these diamonds are often illegally traded and/or may be funding conflict or violence.
What does it mean to purchase a blood diamond? Leonardo DiCaprio helped bring the term to the attention of the media and general public in the 2006 Oscar-nominated film, Blood Diamond—but is this a factual representation of the diamond industry? Well, some parts are, and some are not. We would like to share with you the “real” status of conflict diamonds, both historically and their status today.
In the early 90s, civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, and thousands died in a war that spanned over a decade. Wars are expensive to maintain and sadly, this one was partly financed by the illegal trade of diamonds, the proceeds of which financed the purchase of weapons which allowed the war to continue and lead to more casualties than there may have been.
Conflict diamonds have also sustained violence in Angola, The Ivory Coast, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe.
Our CEO, Nikolay, grew up in Africa, living in both South Africa and Zimbabwe for 15 years. He reflects back on his early memories of the region:
Sierra Leone Miners Panning - Attribution: By USAID [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Growing up in South Africa, we were acutely aware of the human rights violations that were happening in neighbouring Zimbabwe, under the government of President Robert Mugabe. Millions of people were being oppressed by his regime, and thousands crossed the borders into South Africa as refugees, trying to find work illegally. When in 2008 we heard about the crackdown by the government on miners in the Marange mines, we decided to take an active position and though at the time Zimbabwean diamonds were not considered ‘conflict’ by international standards, we would ensure we no longer knowingly offered them and have not ever since.
Nikolay sheds some light on the dark, dusty corners of the industry that no one seems to want to talk about. Sure, the Sierra Leone civil war ended in 2002, but insurgent violence and injustice still continues to slip under the radar. The problems that remain today have evolved and adapted to our ever-changing world, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still unsolved.
What is the Kimberley Process?
Governments, charities, and the diamond industry united after the civil war in Sierra Leone to create the Kimberley Process (KP) in an attempt to prevent the diamond trade from directly or indirectly financing or supporting a conflict ever again. They launched the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2003 with the goal of ending and preventing the trade of conflict diamonds.
The Kimberley Process has 54 members representing 81 participating countries and it has successfully reduced the conflict trade to less than 1% in the global diamond industry. However, it is not perfect, and it does have its loopholes.
Wait… is the Kimberley Process enough?
In short, no. It helps, but more can be done.
There is no doubt that the Kimberley Process drastically improved the industry, so we’re all grateful to have it. Below we’ve listed some of the challenges still to be overcome.
Because no one can force the countries in conflict to join the Kimberley Process. Some have politely declined that invitation.
Plus, conflict diamonds continue to enter the trade even from participating countries due to the lack of regular, independent monitoring. As in many industries, there are unethical people working in the diamond trade who see these loopholes as opportunities to slip conflict diamonds into the lawful trade—and they score immense profits by doing so. Without regular monitoring—meaning expert, unbiased, review of a country’s national control systems at pre-established intervals—the Kimberley Process isn’t going to be enough.
A part of the issue is the lack of technology in how the Kimberley Process is run. The certificates are all paper-based, and thus liable to tampering, loss or imitation. We’re working with a company called Everledger that is going to transform how the Kimberley Process works with its innovative Blockchain technology, but more on this later…
How about lab-grown diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds, also known as synthetic diamonds or cultured diamonds, are made in labs using a range of techniques. These laboratories either replicate the high pressure and temperature found in the Earth’s mantle where natural diamonds are formed or they use superheated gas to grow the diamond. Many of our customers come to us requesting lab grown diamonds, because of their reputation of affordability and sustainability. As this is a new but fast growing industry, we are developing relationships with reputable, sustainable lab-grown diamond suppliers, both in the US and India. You can find out more about our lab-grown diamond offering and their pros and cons here.
Like mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are made from carbon, and have an identical diamond crystal structure, exactly the same as a mined diamond. Physically, they are identical to mined diamonds, and should not be confused with a diamond stimulant. They are not fake diamonds, but completely real diamonds that are grown in a lab.
At Taylor & Hart, we believe that both mined and lab grown diamonds carry their own pros and cons. Because lab grown diamonds are produced in a lab, they don’t produce the same amount of waste or damage to the environment that natural diamonds do. However, while some laboratories use solar energy to produce the diamonds, some labs burn an incredible amount of carbon to create the diamonds. This practice renders a lab grown diamond just as wasteful as a mined diamond, if not more. A lab grown diamond produced with solar energy is the best and most sustainable option.
Mined diamonds are also a source for good in most countries that make up the supply chain. There’s a chance that destroying the natural diamond industry would be detrimental to the incomes of many people all around the world, from the people who work in the mines, to the polishers and cutters who transform the rough diamonds into the ones we find in our jewels.
Natural diamond mining should, of course, be more regulated to protect and develop the communities where the mines are located. We think the solution is complete transparency. We think that a healthy balance lies somewhere between the two, similar to the public-private partnership in Botswana. We’ll leave the decision on which is better with our customer–what matters for us is that you have all the facts.
One of the most influential people in the fight against conflict-diamonds, Martin Rapaport, shares his opinions on this topic in the video below. Though a controversial topic within our industry, we think it’s important to hear both sides of the story.
A brief case study on ethical sourcing of earth-grown diamonds in Botswana
De Beers, a diamond mining company and one of the largest companies in our industry, has a public-private partnership with the Republic of Botswana Government, giving them partial ownership of their mines.
De Beers then brought in the expertise to train locals in the surrounding communities, creating a secondary industry around the mining industry. They taught skills including diamond cutting, polishing, sorting, and grading. They also ensured that these locals included women, which paved the way for equality in an industry traditionally male-dominated.
Thanks to the partnership, Botswana has gone from being one of the poorest countries in Africa to one of its biggest modern economic success stories. The diamond industry accounted for 35% of Botswana’s economy in 2016. And it’s no coincidence that people in Botswana are living longer than ever before—64.43 years (there’s still room for improvement), or that their literacy rate is higher than ever at 88.5%.
The public-private partnership between De Beers and the Government of Botswana is a model for the diamond industry and how it can play a role in the success of underdeveloped countries by making a natural resource work for the people who live there.
Where do we stand on ethical diamond sourcing at Taylor & Hart?
In case you couldn’t tell… everyone at Taylor & Hart is emotionally invested in solving and openly discussing the lingering problems in the diamond industry. Sure, things are better than they were back in 2002, but we can’t afford to settle for just “better” when we know more can still be done.
So to be as transparent as possible, we are sharing as much as we can on where our diamonds (and diamonds in general) come from and what the supply chain looks like, in terms of the flow of both diamonds and coloured gemstones around the world.
Let’s talk about our supply chain
Each ring we deliver is crafted as a made-to-order custom piece therefore each ring requires different components and often is delivered to a different country, at a different manufacturing speed. As such our supply chain process varies from ring-to-ring depending on the requirements.
The standard process is to prepare the 3D design file in London, ready for 3D printing later in the process. We then send the file to a reputable production partner in China, which completes part of our process, as well as producing jewellery and rings for a number of famous brands–we’ll leave it up to those brands to share if they’d like to.
The 3D printing is done there and the 3D wax is cast into metal. They may also do some of the initial work on the ring preparing it for our craftsmen.
All rings are then sent for completion by hand to our state-of-the-art London workshop where setting, polishing, engraving and quality control happens. The Assay office also checks the metal fineness and stamps the ring with our hallmark.
You can see some of the locations we use for producing rings and sourcing gems in the image on the right.
We have worked with suppliers around the world including companies in India, the UK, Italy, South Africa, Portugal, Thailand and China, and we have found that our current partners produce the best quality for custom-made pieces, which is why they have already helped us craft and deliver over 2,500 pieces.
What about the diamonds?
Let’s start with a brief history lesson…
A diamond begins its journey into a piece of jewellery when it comes out of the mine.
During the 20th century, as demand for diamonds grew around the world, original reserves were matched by a growing demand now the diamond supply chain looks rather different from what it once was in the 20th century. In Blood Diamond, De Beers was depicted as a monopolistic organisation seeking to limit the flow of diamonds into the market to keep their prices high.
Whilst De Beers have led most of the diamond industry in the early 20th century, discoveries in Russia, Canada, and Australia led to the rise of several other diamond mining companies. Diamonds are now more of an oligopoly (like oil) than a monopoly, but importantly, they do not collude to fix pricing in the same way.
With demand rising around the world, and fewer and fewer new diamond reserves being discovered, the value of diamonds continues to steadily increase. This seems to be the case with most commodities, in part due to globalisation and in part due to some countries, like China, experiencing a rapid growth in their demand for fine jewellery.
The image on the right features the world’s top ten diamond-producing mines.
We’re sure you were surprised to see some of the countries on this list, like Australia and Russia.
Next, the rough diamonds are grouped and auctioned off to large diamond polishing companies, many of which are in India but they are also in Botswana, China, South Africa, the Middle East, and Israel, among others.
As these diamonds travel the world, the Kimberley Process, and now Blockchain companies like Everledger, aim to track their progress through sealed parcels—the goal being to ensure conflict diamonds do not enter the supply chain.
From here, the supply chain would traditionally fragment into smaller wholesalers who purchase from the polishing firms. Often these middlemen form a series of connections between polishing firms and the final jewellery retailers—each one making a profit on the sale to the next company down the chain.
As you can imagine, this would mean that the price the final customer pays may be higher than if the customer were able to access these diamonds further up the supply chain.
Enter the internet. E-commerce companies like ours purchase directly from the polishing firms. Because we do not hold stock—instead connecting directly to the stock of our partners—we are able to pass on the cost savings to you, our customers.
Here is where we ensure we only work with the most reputable suppliers. Not only are they compliant with the Kimberley Process, but they have healthy reputations to maintain when it comes to sourcing processes and transparency. We continue to nurture our relationships with them to ensure our ethical values are upheld.
In addition to our standard metal selection, we’re able to offer fair trade gold and recycled gold and platinum engagement rings to those who request it. As an industry, there’s a growing desire for the jewellery supply chain to be Fairtrade certified at each stage, to ensure ethical standards are upheld industry-wide.
Fairtrade gold and platinum
Fairtrade is a global agreement between producers and exporters in developing countries with developed countries. The movement aims to promote greater equality and fairness in the exchange of commodities, to ensure that people in developing countries aren’t exploited for their goods. The agreement has high standards for multiple aspects of trading, not only securing the rights of marginalised producers and workers, but also high environmental standards too. Overall, the movement’s long term goal is to reduce the disparity of wealth between nations.
While some of us might recognise fairtrade from our bananas and coffee packets, gold is a commodity that the fairtrade movement covers quite extensively. 90% of all gold miners work in artisanal and small scale mines (ASM), so the regulation of fairtrade helps make a huge difference in standards to the industry. Across the globe, an estimated 100 million people worldwide rely on small scale mining to make a living and provide for their families. Fairtrade works to make sure that working conditions, health and safety, chemical handling, the protection of the enviornment and child labour laws are all up to standard in the mines.
The fairtrade movement ensures that the worker is guaranteed a fairtrade minimum price for their labour. Fairtrade certified mines are evaluated by FLOCERT, a leading certifier for fair trade organisations globally. For every kilogram of gold bought globally, $2000 is given to mining projects to reinvest into their communities.
Recycled gold and platinum
Long before the current environmental crisis, gold and platinum was always recycled due to its high value and physical properties. It’s said that within every yellow gold engagement ring, there are traces of ancient gold. Gold and platinum has been recycled ever since we discovered the metals thousands of years ago. Recycling precious metals is relatively easy, as gold and platinum are non-ferrous metals, meaning that during the refinement process they don’t lose any of their physical or chemical properties. This is what makes fine jewellery truly sustainable, as your ring can actually stand the test of time.
Our recycled metal supplier, based in Leicestershire works with 100% pre owned or used metal, which goes through a fascinating process of refinement. The metal is separated back to its pure form and then re-alloyed before use. The recycled metal has the exact same chemical properties as “fresh metal” however it contains no newly mined material.
Our supplier sources the metal from consumer goods and industrial waste. This scrap metal can come from sources ranging from the jewellery industry to industrial residues, used electronic scrap, automotive and industrial catalysts and fuel cells.
During the scrap purchasing process they verify where the material has come from and what it has been used for to ensure that they’re not buying from conflict areas and that the material isn’t newly mined. The material can come from any country, as long as they adhere to the standards mentioned.
Ethically sourced gemstones
We source our gemstones from across the world, procuring the brightest, intensely coloured gemstones from many different countries. Our aim is to work with ethical and sustainable suppliers only. We develop close relationships with local suppliers and artisans to ensure our gemstones are conflict free and non exploitative.
In the Taylor and Hart team, we have our own in house Senior Gemstone Buyer, Maneesha. Maneesha lives in Sri Lanka, where she started her own female only gemstone exporting business back in 2015. As one of the only female gemstone dealers in Sri Lanka, Maneesha has worked hard to carve a path in the industry, building up her confidence, experience and skills over the years in an industry dominated by men.
Maneesha works in the heart of the gemstone market in Sri Lanka, the famous Ratnapura region. Sri Lanka is known as the “Jewel box” of the Indian Ocean, with over 25% of total land mass filled with precious gemstones. Ratnapura is a Sanskrit word for “the city of gems”, and throughout history has been an established city to trade gemstones.
In Ratnapura, sapphire mining is very traditional and sustainable. In Sri Lankan culture, gemstones are seen as gifts from the gods and mining areas are considered sacred. Labourers perform prayers and rituals before beginning work, as a way of paying their respects to the environment.
Sri Lanka has strong policies that protect their labourers, and there’s a healthy cultural belief that if the worker is happy, the trader or exporter will be reciprocated with good work. The country also has strong child labour laws–children must remain in school until the age of 18 and are strictly prohibited to work at mines if they’re underage.
The government also ensures that the community benefits from the gemstone industry. They do this by never actually selling the land, and allowing miners and investors to rent it, to ensure that the land and precious resources do not become monopolised. Only sustainable, traditional mining techniques are allowed, ensuring that the environment remains intact. Once a miner is finished with the land, he simply fills in the excavated area with earth again, and waits for the flora to regenerate itself.
So, do certified ethically sourced diamonds exist?
Yes! While the industry as a whole continues to develop and introduce more processes that allow suppliers to fully trace their diamonds from source, we have a couple of options that do just that.
We offer CanadaMark diamonds for those who are passionate about knowing the exact origin and history of their diamond.
CanadaMark diamonds are mined in Canada and receive an additional certificate and laser inscription from the CanadaMark organisation which assures the integrity of the supply chain of Canadian diamonds from mine to retailer.
The program supports local communities by investing in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and training for their employees. You can browse our range of CanadaMark diamonds here.
Diamond Time Lapse diamonds
We also offer Diamond Time Lapse diamonds where each diamond has a detailed report exploring its journey and provenance, as well as who has planned, cut and polished it. You can search Diamond Time Lapse diamonds with a full provenance report here.
So can conflict diamonds or materials enter this supply chain? Yes, they can, but they very rarely do. This happens as little as any material or commodity, including the metals used to manufacture mobile phones and other electronic products. Since the beginning of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2003, the number of conflict diamonds in circulation has been reported to be as low as 1%. But can we do more? Yes…
Here is our action plan:
1. We’re working with the very best suppliers—companies who buy diamonds only from countries compliant with the Kimberley Process. This is just a start, but we do rely on our partners having healthy reputations to maintain, and in part, we trust their systems, processes, sourcing policies and transparency.
2. We’re actively making an effort to not purchase Zimbabwean diamonds, even though they are now deemed Kimberley Process compliant. We’re using the Kimberley Process only as a benchmark – but we’re actually more discerning than the process itself.
3. One of our investors and partners is Everledger. They’re working to transform the tracking of diamonds to the source. They’re using the innovative new Blockchain system (upon which Bitcoin is built) to securely track and store the data tracking diamonds through the supply chain, making that data available to customers and retailers. This system would also eliminate the demand for paper-based reporting using smart digital contracts instead—simultaneously eliminating the risk of tampering. As a relatively new company they have a long way to go, but we’re working closely with them to add further levels of transparency in our own sourcing policies.
We acknowledge openly that this is not enough and that the definition of “ethically sourced” now spans beyond just blood diamonds and is applicable to all materials used, manufacturing methods, and even the policies and actions of the government regimes in every country that is a part of our supply chain.
This acknowledgement is what transparency is. We’re doing everything we can right now, admitting that we’re not happy with the state of the industry at the moment, and chomping at the bit to do more at every opportunity we get.
What YOU could and should be doing…
- Know the facts. You’ve already taken the first step. You read this article! Bravo! But don’t stop here. Stay tuned into our sources, the news, and share what you’ve learned with friends, family, and colleagues. Knowledge is power!
- Ask for source certification. Sadly, there are plenty of companies who won’t be able to provide you with this information. We can and we will. Each diamond search for our customers is bespoke and asking for source certification is something we can include in our search criteria, by working with suppliers who can inform us of the country your diamond was mined from.
We’re on the front lines of the transparency revolution in the diamond trade because we understand the unique power a diamond can have—for someone like you looking for a beautiful jewellery piece or engagement ring with a clear conscience, but also for the family in western Africa whose livelihood depends on an honest diamond industry. We have faith that you’ll choose to care. And we promise you can have faith in us to always do the right thing—never sacrificing our core value of transparency.