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Clean cut reputation? Tiffany’s move to sell ‘ethical’ diamonds

Has Tiffany polished away the diamond market’s sustainability problems through its recently implemented certificate to demonstrate the provenance of their diamonds?  The company has launched a new service giving buyers geographic information about their sparkler’s origin. This week saw the latest leg of Tiffany’s push to convince the public that its supply chain is as transparent as its diamonds in a big publicity tour.

The 182-year-old US jeweller is addressing a number of threats to its business model in an industry facing significant structural changes from demographics, innovation, and changing consumer behaviour.  As an annual Bain survey into the industry notes, sales are flagging, and millennials crave authenticity and responsible sourcing.

New technologies are emerging to prove provenance using blockchain technology, and there is major competition from smaller, ‘single origin’ diamonds coming from specific mines with true transparency of derivation.

And the increasing quality of lab grown diamonds – practically indistinguishable from the real bling – is undermining the value of the mined product. The laboratory gems have been likened to synthetic meat in the way they have none of the negative by-products of the real thing.

“There should be nothing opaque about Tiffany diamonds,” quipped CEO Alessandro Bogliolo, addressing the murkiness of a world where clarity is treasured. But the level of transparency in the diamond industry is historically low and the diamond supply chain is extraordinarily complex. By the time they get to consumers, stones can have changed hands many times between extraction, polishing and retail players.

For Tiffany, its supply chain has been a focus for the last 25 years, since it started integrated its own polishing and manufacturing facilities. It was an early signatory to the Kimberly Process to tackle the issue of blood diamonds. The mining and natural resources industries have been in the spotlight for human rights abuses, environmental destruction and industrial malpractice which industry bodies including the World Diamond Council have tried to address. They are aware that consumers are demanding a broader focus on the full range of human rights abuses connected with diamond production.

Against this backdrop, Tiffany says they now do all of the due diligence by ‘controlling’ the supply chain. “We know where the diamonds come from. We know the environmental and social conditions under which they came to be, and we’re ensuring all that information”, they say. But they don’t actually tell you which mine or supplier the diamond comes from, simply the country, or group of countries of origin.

Human beings have always adorned themselves and found a way of expressing their love by gifting precious objects and metal. The diamond industry has been built on massive marketing spend to justify the enormous mark-ups for what is, some could say, a completely unnecessary product.  The diamond business needs to convince each new generation that this hugely expensive purchase is a good investment and has the attributes of a product they are willing to part cash for.

Ensuring an ethical supply chain is an issue many resource industries, from fishing to palm oil, are grappling with. Such measures haven’t transformed overnight the way the mining and jewellery industries work.  But given Tiffany’s relative size it has established an example of good practice that others are likely to follow. Tiffany’s move for transparency, while dressed up in slick marketing, is a step in the right direction.

TIGger happy

Eleven Westminster MPs came together this week under a new banner of “The Independent Group (TIG)”, unveiling a set of 11 values as their opening gambit to fix our “broken politics”.

They refused to define themselves as a party or a movement, instead they put their values centre stage. It seemed that these politicians were playing catch-up with corporates, which in recent years have wrestled with ensuring their values and purpose differentiate their products and enhance their brands.

But corporates have learned that values must talk to the product, and without a clear policy platform, TIG has nothing to sell. Vague values such as “recognising the value of healthy debate” and “strengthening the multilateral, international, rules-based order” might tempt a few other disgruntled MPs to join. But TIG must quickly set out its stall to the public. There’s a gap in the market and if they can ground their values in a clearly defined product, they might just grow market share.