Professional Jeweler Archive: I Can See Clearly Now

January 2002


I Can See Clearly Now: Transparency Is Forever

One joy of looking at a gemstone is admiring its lovely transparency. A gem’s ability to allow light to pass through is one of its most alluring features. This transparency also has kept dealers honest because it makes flaws easier to see.

Ironically, the trading of gems has been anything but transparent. It remains one of the least formal, most secretive businesses on the planet. The industry has celebrated this freedom and the trust the trading system has engendered over time. The secrecy also has made it easier for oppressed people, such as Jews fleeing from persecution, to take a small store of wealth on their journeys to freedom in other countries.

But gemstone trading is heading for restrictions like the fences that now surround England’s ancient Stonehenge. That group of giant stones sat untouched through the centuries until 20th century vandals made the fence necessary. Now fences, in the form of certification systems, written guarantees and other paper trails, are becoming a way of life for businesses that buy and sell gemstones. Though traditional gem traders may mourn this change and the lack of privacy it requires, terrorists and torturers have made it an absolute necessity in the 21st century.

“The days of secrecy are over, and it’s all going to be transparent from now on,” says Matthew Runci, president of Jewelers of America and executive director of the World Diamond Council. Runci has witnessed this transformation during the two years he has labored to represent the diamond and jewelry industry as an honorable trade invaded by predators who use gems for nefarious purposes.

But Runci hasn’t taken it personally and neither should anyone else in the gem and jewelry industry. “People in our industry often ask me, ‘Why us? Why do we need to be transparent?’” For Runci, the answer is simple. “This is what doing business in the 21st century will be like for all industries.” Runci notes the gem and jewelry industry isn’t the only one dealing with moral and ethical problems. This industry has been especially hard-hit with conflict diamonds and now, alleged terrorist exploitation of diamonds and tanzanite (see articles on pages 19 and 40), but it’s not alone. Just ask the clothing industry about its child labor problems.

To enable jewelers to be proactive concerning ethical and other issues consumers, human rights organizations and the press will challenge them on, Jewelers of America retained the services of international consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. The consultant will help JA create a Social, Ethical and Environmental Statement of Principles to help members identify and prepare for the possible social risks that may affect their businesses.

“The conflict diamonds issue proved jewelry retailers can be held responsible ... for social problems that happen at the beginning of the supply chain,” says Runci. “Our [statement] will help JA members increase their awareness of the impact of social developments on their businesses and their readiness to field inquiries from consumers and from news media.”
Yes, the industry is being fenced in. But just as honest jewelers point out flaws in a gemstone, even when they’re hidden, so too must the industry be honest about its flaws. In point of fact, it has no choice.

– Peggy Jo Donahue, e-mail

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications