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What is a Conflict Free Diamond? 10 Questions You’ll Want Answered Before You Buy

by Willyou.net * Dec 24, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • Without the right protections and regulations in place, diamonds easily exploited during times of political unrest and civil war, since they condense a great deal of wealth into a small, lightweight, and easily concealed asset.
  •  Ever since the early 2000s, the Kimberley Process has been making major changes to the global diamond industry, and working to ensure that diamonds are no longer used as a tool to fund conflict and rebellion.
  • Now, more than 99% of diamonds produced today are conflict free.
  • In the US, it is only legal for importers to source diamonds from countries that are compliant with the rules set by the Kimberley Process.
AFRICA - What is a Conflict Free Diamond 10 Questions You’ll Want Answered Before You Buy

The issues associated with the global diamond industry can be sorted into two key – though interrelated – categories: ethics, and conflict.

Many shoppers who know very little about the ins and outs of investing in a worthwhile diamond are aware, to some extent, of their dark history – primarily as a tool for funding violence and war within their countries of origin. It is where the phrase ‘blood diamond’ stems from, and where the 2006 movie of the same name, and starring Leonardo di Caprio – what turned out to be a pretty powerful tool for spreading awareness – derives its plot.

The other half of that same story is human and environmental suffering – two crimes committed by those who were left to go unregulated by the diamond trade. That’s why the question of finding a good diamond – and, by that, we mean morally sourced – should be answered from two different perspectives: the perspective of ethical diamonds that do not leave human and environmental suffering in their wake, and conflict-free diamonds.

But what exactly is a conflict free diamond – and, more importantly, how do you make sure that you’ve found one? Here are your ten most pressing questions answered…What is a Conflict Free Diamond?

A conflict free diamond that has not been sold as a means of funding war, armed conflict, rebellions, or terror groups. In other words, conflict-free diamonds are the opposite of blood diamonds.

Many diamonds are mined from areas of political unrest – a level of unrest that puts the lives of many vulnerable citizens at risk and, as a result, makes it even more difficult for them to gain access to the most basic of human necessities.

The level of unrest found in high conflict areas means that mining areas can be subject to horrendous attacks from rebel groups, and that workers at these unregulated mines – many of them children – are constantly at risk. Throughout the 1990s, the horrors of the Sierra Leone Civil War made more and more consumers aware of the stories behind so many diamonds on the market, and prompted a sharp rise in the number of people understandably eager not to put any of their own money toward such a shocking narrative.

Much has changed, and conflict-free diamonds are now incredibly widespread, but the rough diamond trade is still ripe for exploitation in these remote and dangerous areas, unless a consistent effort is made to ensure that the sale of rough diamonds is kept away from war and conflict.

What Are Conflict Diamonds Illegally Traded For?

Military action and devastating conflict.

In countries where political unrest has given rise to threatening uprisings, diamonds represent a convenient commodity to use. They have an incredibly high value, and yet can be transported very easily. Someone could feasibly carry hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of diamonds in their pocket, for instance.

For this reason, if a rebel group seizes control of a mining area, they can easily generate the funds required for armed conflict. Not only does that exacerbate the deployable conditions miners are forced to work in – often in the heart of the danger as rival groups compete for mining areas, but it also puts entire governments at risk of civil war.

This is why the work being done to hamper efforts, and stop consumers from unwittingly supporting these practices, are so important.

What is the Difference Between Conflict-Free and Ethical Diamonds?

While conflict-free diamonds are those that meet minimum requirements for ensuring that they do not fund armed conflict and warm, ethical diamonds are those that have been mined under circumstances that protect the wellbeing of their miners.

We mentioned above that the two issues remain interrelated, and they do, since armed conflict and the constant power struggles between unregulated mines and rebel groups looking to seize control make life unimaginable for the workers hired to carry out the laborious and dangerous work of bringing those rough diamonds into the light of day.

This is not, however, the only risk posed to artisanal miners. Even if you take armed conflict out of the equation, the potential for exploiting workers – many of whom represent some of the most vulnerable groups worldwide – is incredibly high.

This is why it is important to understand the two subjects separately, as well as together – and, of course, how you can invest your money into improving both sides in equal measure…

Are All Diamonds Now Conflict Free?

Unfortunately, no, although blood diamonds are widely thought to be significantly outnumbered by the level of genuinely conflict-free diamonds circulating world-wide, and within the US market.

We’ll explore the United States’ position on blood diamond imports in more detail below but, suffice to say for now that finding a diamond that has been authentically labeled as conflict free is not an unlikely task for a US shopper.

How Do You Buy a Conflict Free Diamond?

By ensuring that the seller you are using holds a flawless reputation in ensuring that the origins of the diamonds they source are produced, exported, and imported according to standards required for conflict-free diamonds.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ‘taking someone’s word for it’. Since the Sierra Leone civil war and the release of the movie (and documentary) Blood Diamond, consumers have shown far greater interest in the origins of the diamonds they buy. Conflict-free (and ethical) diamonds are a non-negotiable requirement for the overwhelming majority of shoppers – and, with continued education and awareness, that number continues to grow.

The downside? It’s not difficult for an unscrupulous seller to simply state ‘this diamond is conflict-free’. Not only that, but it’s a highly lucrative option, giving how much more interest (and money) there is in diamonds that have not been used to fund armed conflict.

Understandably, first-time shoppers are worried about inadvertently investing into diamonds with corrupt pasts. It’s impossible to trace a diamond’s history just by looking at it so, without the proper documentation, there’s no knowing what sort of diamond you’re looking at.

This is why, in the early 2000s, an international certification scheme known as the Kimberley Process was introduced – and, with it, a turning point for the international diamond industry.

What is the Kimberley Process?

Named after the capital of South Africa’s Northern Cape, the Kimberley Process is an international scheme instated to ensure the removal of blood diamonds from the global trade.

Talks first began in the city of Kimberley in the year 2000, with a view to ensuring that the governments of countries with significant rough diamond production would not be undermined by their trade. While the civil war of Sierra Leone offers a major example of the impact the rough diamond trade can have on rebel movements – and, of course, the horrors it can cause for the country’s artisanal miners – it was not the only example.

Unfortunately, the production and exportation of rough diamond represents a perfect opportunity for exploitation.

So, change occurred. By December, the United Nations General Assembly lent its support to a landslide effort to impose certain standards on diamond producing countries – and, two years later, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was created. By 2003, just three years after the first meeting in Kimberley, its standards were first implemented.

Any country was, and remains, welcome to participate in the Kimberley Process. Since it’s not an organization, much of the hard work falls onto the shoulders of the participating nations, and its aims can only be achieved with their continued diligence and effort. 

Now, the Kimberley Process has 56 participants – a total of 82 countries, with the EU members representing one single participant – around the world. While some are not producers of rough diamond, they are importers and exporters, which means they hold a massive amount of weight in determining the direction the international diamond trade takes.

Is it Illegal to Buy Conflict Diamonds?

Blood diamonds have been illegally sold into the global diamond trade. Their legal status varies depending on the country of the buyer in question. In the United States, however, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is law.

The United States represents the biggest consumer of diamonds in the world, and the fact that the Kimberley Process’s stipulations are now written within legislation means that it is significantly harder for the illegal trade of blood diamonds to continue.

That’s not to say that some unsuspecting buyers are not encountering blood diamonds. As we mentioned above, unless buyers know how to recognize a genuinely conflict free diamond (one that has been produced, exported, and imported into the United States according to the Kimberley process), then the only thing protecting them from investing into it is the KPCS’s ability to remain watertight.

Sticking to only the most reputable sellers, your chances of investing in a blood diamond are slim to none. Unfortunately, the diamond world remains pretty alien to first time shoppers – a demographic that accounts for a massive number of diamond sales across the US, as a result of their significance for engagement rings. Those looking around – particularly online – for a deal may stray onto the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, so to speak, and invest in a diamond without the right certification.

Conflict Free Diamonds: What to Look for in a Seller

First-time shoppers often feel torn between wanting to do the right thing, and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of inadvertently doing the wrong thing. It’s a well-known fact that the diamond market is not totally free from blood diamonds, despite the major steps that have been taken over the course of the last two decades to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, and that these beautiful stones are not marred by their own histories.

Even a relatively minor amount of research into the subject can make it seem as though your only options are to invest in lab grown diamonds, which hold nowhere near the same financial or sentimental value as conflict free natural diamonds, or to go against the grain and opt for a diamond alternative for your engagement ring.

Of course, this works for some people – but not for others. Fortunately, there are reliable avenues shoppers can take to ensure that they are not drawn-in by the smoke-and-mirrors approach created by some unscrupulous sellers who slip under the radar and continue to trade.

Reputable sellers are pretty easy to recognize – and, in the United States, adhering to the practices set forth by the KPCS and federal law is an integral part of operating any reputable jewelry store. While it is more difficult for consumers to ensure the validity of every diamond they encounter (unless they’re shopping exclusively from reputable businesses), jewelers can ensure that they are only sourcing their diamonds from conflict-free backgrounds. 

Why? Because every diamonds that is produced and exported according to the Kimberley Process will be accompanied by a certificate confirming its origins.

Does the GIA Only Grade Conflict Free Diamonds?

The GIA will only grade a rough diamond if it is accompanied by a Kimberley Process certificate, however a GIA report does not guarantee that the diamond you are looking at is conflict free.

Why? Because the GIA’s requirement for Kimberley Process certification is only applicable for rough diamonds – or, in other words, diamonds that have not yet been cut and polished into a sellable shape. As a result, the conflict status of only a portion of the diamonds sent into the GIA – and given certification – will have been checked.

A diamond that has already been cut will be accepted for grading by the GIA regardless of its history – something even an expert grader cannot deduce from the sight of the stone alone.

Diamond shoppers are frequently told about the importance of a GIA report. At WillYou.Net, this is something that we could write about for hours, purely because of the unparalleled value it offers to shoppers who want to make the best investment possible – and feel sure that they have made a strong choice.

However, a diamond’s GIA report focuses on its physical characteristics – the famous Four Cs of cut, color, clarity, and carat weight, as well as other distinguishing features like laser inscription, fluorescence, and proportion. Unfortunately, while it would make things infinitely simpler, a diamond does not take on any physical characteristics as a result of its journey from the mine to your partner’s finger.

 So, a diamond being sold by a seller you cannot put 100% faith into – even if it is accompanied by a valid GIA certificate – is not a safe investment for anyone who does not wish to support blood diamonds, or wear a diamond that originates from some of the most deplorable conditions imaginable.

Are Vintage Diamonds Conflict Free?

It’s possible, and purchasing a diamond secondhand means that the funds are not sent back down the pipeline, but definitely not a guarantee – or even anywhere close.

Blood diamonds are, unfortunately, a pretty common occurrence in the history books. From Angola to the Ivory Coast, so many diamonds exported and sold to consumers during the second half of the 20th century sadly find their roots in war zones.

If you purchase a blood diamond secondhand, then the ramifications for contributing to the practices associated with conflict diamonds are totally different. It may even be the case that the country the diamond originated from is no longer in the throes of civil war, and has already made major progress in eradicating its production of blood diamonds.

Nevertheless, many shoppers are understandably reluctant to own a diamond with such a sad and disturbing history behind it – and this is why so many prefer to buy a new diamond, rather than one that is secondhand.

In the 1980s, the ratio of conflict free diamonds to blood diamonds was dauntingly high. By some estimates, almost a fifth of the total diamond production could be fairly termed as conflict diamonds.

That number is significantly lower now. While there is some disagreement on the exact number, the World Diamond Council has reported that more than 99% of the diamonds being produced today come from a legal background. And, thanks to the greater level of transparency offered by reputable sellers and jewelers over the course of the past two decades, it is easier to know for sure where the diamond you’re looking at came from.

So, while there is a benefit to purchasing a secondhand diamond, this benefit is greatly offset by the fact that modern diamonds are subject to far more rigorous checks – and, in the case of the United States, robust legislation against anyone attempting to import them into the country.

Conflict Diamond Facts You Need to Know

  • Blockchain May Further the Industry’s Efforts in the Future

Blockchain technology is widely recognized for the value it brings to cryptocurrencies and other digital resources and assets, but its use is not limited solely to the virtual world. It can – and, in some cases already is – offering a watertight ledger designed to track the movement diamonds make from the mine to the jewelry store. Reputable jewelers already keep an incredibly close eye on the sources of their diamonds, but blockchain will make it even more difficult for smugglers to ‘slip under the radar’, since this technology cannot be faked or tampered with.

  • Diamonds Are Not the Only Conflict Resource

They are, however, small and lightweight, and they are also relatively cheap to mine for – particularly in the case of alluvial deposits, which are diamond deposits found on riverbeds rather than underground. Very few tools are required, making it far easier for groups to seize control over an area and begin work.

  • The Kimberley Process is Not an Organization, and Employs No Permanent Staff

Its effectiveness relies on the relevant policy makers of participating countries and, of course, on the entirety of the jewelry and diamond industries themselves to consistently reinforce the minimum requirements of the scheme – and to build upon them in order to prevent any level of complacency from creeping into countries responsible for even a small percentage of production, exportation, or importation.

And, of course, it relies on consumers understanding the importance of giving their money to businesses that will never stray onto the wrong side of the tracks for the sake of profit or greed. Research and awareness are absolutely key here.

  • The Diamond Industry Can Have a Positive Impact

According to the Kimberley Process, around 10% of the population of Sierra Leone now relies on the diamond industry to make a living – and, since 2002, legal exports have increased one hundred times over. This isn’t the only instance of countries being able to get a handle on their production and trade of rough diamonds, but it offers a great window into the positive impact an industry as big, as in-demand and as profitable can have for everyone along the pipeline – not just those with the right amount of force to seize control.

Our Summary: What Does it Mean for Diamonds to be Conflict Free?

It means that, as a consumer, your money is not being filtered down into a world of turmoil, violence, conflict, and unrest – or the exploitation of men, women, and children for the purpose of furthering that violence indefinitely.

It means that your partner can take pride in their engagement ring, and value it as a symbol of love and commitment, rather than a negative symbol of a part of the world still being brought to its knees by cruelty and corruption.

It is, of course, very important that you remember conflict free diamonds are not necessarily the same thing as ethical diamonds, although there is some overlap between the two subjects. It’s important to research both sides of this same coin to ensure that you’re not inadvertently purchasing a diamond that has been produced via the exploitation of vulnerable communities, or through child labor.

At WillYou.Net, we are committed to offering transparency on all subjects – including ethicality and conflict. We understand the daunting task faced by shoppers who have no idea how or where to begin – only what they don’t wish to support or entangle themselves in. We are highly selective in our approach to recommending jewelers to our readers, and you can start your search on the right foot by using our Jewelry Store Locator to find a reputable and trustworthy establishment in your area.