Diamonds: A True Story

Two years ago we were asked to take a closer look at ethical natural diamonds, and what we learned has made us supportive of an industry that truly gives back.

2020 was a year put on ice. Weddings, holidays, birthdays…all placed on hold or dialled down to a much smaller scale. As we start to emerge, blinking over our facemasks into a post-COVID world, we’re ready to spoil ourselves again. Not with fast fashion, but with well-considered purchases that mark the occasions we will never again take for granted.

Stepping out of hibernation into national diamond month – with a host of dazzling ways to own or wear a diamond popping up all over Instagram – we shine a spotlight on the diamond industry and ask, can diamonds really give back?

The country rebuilt with diamonds

In 2019, we journeyed to Botswana, the world’s second-largest producer of diamonds, with film director Andrew Morgan to see for ourselves. What we discovered shaped our opinions of the natural diamond world forever. As sustainability experts, we had to know that 21st century diamond mining is being conducted ethically and that for every diamond sold, communities around the mines are being enriched.

For Botswana, the diamond industry has transformed the local economy. As soon as diamonds were mined in the 1960s, it started to soar – and through working in partnership with the Botswanan government, for every dollar of diamonds sold, 80.2% is invested straight back into the community. Driving through Botswana, visiting its capital city Gaborone as well as the mining townships where we stopped to walk around schools and hospitals, visiting long-term education, agriculture and conservation projects funded by the diamond industry, the lasting benefits afforded by diamonds are everywhere. “Sell a million dollars’ worth of diamonds and that’s more than eight hundred thousand dollars being reinvested back into the country,” Susanne Swaniker, CFO of De Beers Global Sightholder Sales explained as she showed us round her impressive office. It’s no wonder that over five decades, Botswana, once considered one of the poorest countries in the world, has become a shining example of developmental success.

Image: Mokubilo Farm Initiative, Lucara Diamond

A lasting legacy and a lifeline

But what of the people? What long-term career prospects does this bring, beyond immediate employment at the mines which have their own natural life-span of around 20 years? In fact, a diamond mine’s closure is planned years before mining begins to ensure that future generations will benefit long after the last diamond is mined. “We consult with communities, they understand what they are lacking,” says Naseem Lahri of Lucara Diamond in Botswana, the first female managing director of a diamond mine. When diamond producers learn what is required they take action, helping to fund initiatives with lasting impact.

Take the example of Botswana’s food scarcity challenges. Working alongside community leaders, one diamond producer has partnered with the government to fund a community garden project, providing agricultural jobs and a place to feed families with fresh produce grown on-site. The project aims to upskill residents so they can start their own businesses.

In Orapa, another mining company, Debswana, has built a school for the mining community and local residents, creating teaching jobs and, as teacher Emily Mompe explains to us, providing computer equipment and digital skills learning that are helping to narrow the skills gap for these children learning in such a remote location. Nearby, De Beers Group and its partners help fund Orapa conservation park, which spans more than 26,600 acres and exists to protect Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Eland, zebra and rhinos; in turn creating more local employment and helping to boost tourism. The schools and game park will remain, of course, after the mines have closed.

In terms of the long-term health of Botswana’s inhabitants, through building and funding hospitals and health programmes, diamonds have also helped the Botswanan government greatly reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS by contributing to free antiretroviral treatment. Significantly, 2020 marked more than 11 years of no babies being born with HIV to De Beers Group employees and their partners.

Transparency and technology

This good work doesn’t stop with Botswana. The Natural Diamond Council (NDC) members recover approximately 75% of the world’s diamond production.

Over the past few decades, their activities have brought $16 billion of socio-economic and environmental benefits every year to the countries in which they operate, with 60% of the total benefits being reinvested into local mining communities.

With this in mind, what consumers need when buying a natural diamond is greater transparency and assurance that their diamond is doing good. Jewellers need to be prepared to answer their customers’ questions on whether they are ethically sourcing their diamonds, and business owners should only partner with diamond producers that have third-party verified responsibility standards. To make this process even more straight forward, blockchain solutions from companies like HB Antwerp are bringing total transparency to diamond supply chains, boosting the confidence of buyers who want to know the story and origins of their exquisite jewel.

Image: Fashionscapes: The Diamonds of Botswana

Through taking the steps outlined above, the sale of natural diamonds can support the building of schools, free education for children, the building and staffing of hospitals, jobs for life and new infrastructure in mining communities. The ethical natural diamond trade is also helping to conserve more than 654,000 acres of wilderness, helping the world’s largest and most vulnerable wildlife to thrive, while preserving biodiversity. For those who wish to seek a career in diamond mining, then NDC members’ local employees earn 66% more than the national average salary.

So why don’t more people know about the good that natural diamonds do?

Pat Dambe, De Beers Group Head of Corporate Affairs in Botswana has one theory. “A lot of millennials assume diamonds are associated with conflict or environmental issues. That is not the case. Every single Motswana has the benefit of free education and the passport to the best medical care. That’s what diamonds have done.” From an environmental perspective, it is also reassuring to know that 83% of water used to extract diamonds from the earth’s surface is recycled. And what’s more, the environmental impact of a one-carat polished natural diamond is less than that of 2.5 smartphones, or less than half a seat on a one-way flight between New York City and Los Angeles. Not only that but kimberlite rock, the rock which contains natural diamonds, naturally absorbs and stores C02, with the potential to soak up more carbon from the atmosphere than plants and trees, locking it away for millions of years.

How will you wear yours?

Of course, every generation will seek to ‘do’ diamonds differently – whether it’s wearing them raw and unpolished like Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys and and Rihanna, having them cut or set in a certain style (check out the new trend of East West settings), or combining them with other precious gemstones. For some, that means seeking out man-made diamonds grown in labs to fit every price band.

More than ever, diamonds are more accessible and versatile, so as we step into our brave new post-lockdown world, we can certainly expect to appreciate their warmth and brilliance in ‘real life’ once again. And while it’s true that fashion will always evolve, bringing us many different ways to wear and own a diamond, we believe that natural diamonds, when sourced responsibly, should be worn with a huge amount of pride.