Professional Jeweler Archive: The Lessons of Tanzanite

March 2002


The Lessons of Tanzanite

When The Washington Post broke a story in November linking diamonds with the al Qaeda terrorist network, I was genuinely scared for jewelers. Here was strong evidence diamonds were part of money-laundering schemes of this targeted enemy of the United States. Our country, still in the first phase of its war on terrorism, was freezing bank accounts and other suspect assets left and right. I feared that in their zeal to stop the flow of money to al Qaeda, international investigators would call for a freeze on diamond trading.

I was wrong to fear. The World Diamond Council and Jewelers of America immediately issued a statement condemning any link between diamonds and terrorism and called for swift passage of the Clean Diamond Trade Act pending in Congress to bar illicit diamonds from entering the U.S. Shortly thereafter, the Kimberley Process, which was working internationally to complete a worldwide diamond certification system, also finalized its recommendations. Though the Congressional bill didn’t make it into law last year, the Kimberley recommendations are to be presented to the United Nations this month. There’s no question the actions of governments and industry to lessen diamonds’ vulnerability to funding illegal causes helped mitigate the impact of their link to terrorism.

What does this have to do with tanzanite? When the initial Wall Street Journal report appeared linking tanzanite to al Qaeda, I didn’t worry nearly as much as I did over the diamond story. The evidence was much flimsier, and the industry reacted smartly, issuing a statement condemning any alleged tie and pledging its full cooperation to federal investigators trying to determine whether there was a link. The industry coalition that issued the statement also drew up a form jewelers could use to ask suppliers to assure their tanzanite didn’t fund mayhem. This system, though it offered no guarantees, showed jewelers were acting responsibly in doing all they could to keep alleged “terror tanzanites” out of this country.

Then, to the relief of many, the U.S. State Department announced in February at the American Gem Trade Association’s GemFair in Tucson that U.S. investigators had found no evidence any terrorist group is currently using tanzanite to fund terror. Nevertheless, the Tanzanian government and industry organizations met and formulated a plan in Tucson for a warranty system that will better regulate the trade, from the mining arena, through the trading channels and down to the jewelry manufacturer and retailer. This is a smart move because the tanzanite business, like that of so many gems, is far too secretive and thus vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists and other illegal groups.

One of the first steps the coalition in Tucson planned to take in the U.S. was to contact QVC, Tiffany & Co. and Zale Corp. – all of which stopped selling tanzanite after the alleged links to terrorism were published – and ask them to begin offering the gemstone again. These major retailers sent an unfortunate signal to the consumer press that the industry must be guilty as hell of this unproven crime. But the solution when a gem is in trouble isn’t to bar it from stores. Retailers shouldn’t let unsubstantiated reports by overzealous journalists intimidate them. They need to trust that their leaders, such as Jewelers of America and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, will act responsibly in working to end ethical crises. They can’t change the past. But they can be trusted to work on the future.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications