Tracing supply chains from source to product is perhaps one of the most transparent means through which a brand can communicate ethical production. Open-source technology, otherwise known as blockchain, is allowing the luxury industry to do just that. According to McKinsey, Blockchain technology has the ability to publicly validate, record and distribute transactions and so provides a platform to record each and every stage along the supply chain. For the diamond industry, the implementation of such technology can ensure that each step from mine to finger is carried out with consideration for both the planet, workers and local communities. Leading this movement is HB Antwerp, a technology company with the aim to create a new, sustainable ecosystem for the natural diamond trade.
Earlier this month, HB Antwerp announced a long-term partnership with Lucara Diamond Corp that sees the support of Lucara’s Karowe mine in Botswana, purchasing all rough stones over 10.8ct. We spoke to the diamond technology company to understand how tracing technology can bring transparency to an often misunderstood industry.
Can you tell us about HB Antwerp, how was it founded, what inspired the launch, and what is the company’s mission?
HB Antwerp was founded at the beginning of 2020 by five partners with a great deal of experience in the diamond and branding sectors. Starting from the pain points of this traditional industry – in particular its reputation for opacity and secrecy – HB Antwerp offers a solution that introduces simplicity and clarity into a historically complex supply chain.
From the very beginning, our founding partners recognised that achieving the type of transparency needed to restore consumer confidence in the diamond industry and the product would require a new, ambitious strategy. We knew that only by focusing on technology, innovation and traceability would we obtain the desired transparency.
Further, it was clear that the only way to guarantee that the vision could not be compromised was to acquire rough diamonds directly from the mine and execute the manufacturing process entirely in Antwerp. In doing so, we found a way to succeed where many companies have failed: creating the conditions for realising a diamond’s journey from mine to finger in a 100% traceable way, resulting in the most transparent diamond in the world: a HB Diamond.
How is HB Antwerp using Blockchain technology and AI to build a more sustainable future for the jewellery trade?
The raison d’être of HB Antwerp is bringing simplicity and transparency to the diamond supply chain. We do this by taking full control of the supply chain, from mine to market. Every stage of the process is tracked with blockchain technology, following the diamond from the source up until the jeweller and this to ensure complete transparency in every diamond’s lifecycle.
All the data and information that is gathered throughout the process, will be shared with the jeweller and thus the end consumer. This leads to a new sort of diamond, whereby the data on the journey of a diamond becomes as involving and important as the diamond itself.
Why is transparency in the jewellery trade so important? What are the issues in the industry that HB Antwerp is working to overcome?
Diamonds are a fantastic product – the most beautiful product ever made by nature. Therefore, it is crucial to get rid of the mystery in the supply chain, so we can focus again on the magic of this product. Today, it is totally unclear for a consumer where their diamond comes from, where it was discovered, under what labour conditions, where it was manufactured, if intermediaries didn’t lose out on the process, etc.
Transparency is extremely important for luxury consumers and especially for Millennials and Gen Z. They don’t just accept the information they receive; they demand facts and ask for proof. Blockchain technology can help us to deliver this proof, but we go a step further. Consumers will be able to identify the source, the intermediaries, but also the labour conditions, the ecological footprint. In short, blockchain enables consumers to know the complete lifecycle of a diamond.
That is why HB Antwerp will completely immerse consumers in the magical journey from rough to polished. Every consumer that will buy a HB diamond, will not only be part of the process from mine to masterpiece but also own the data that are created during this process.
What shifts to more sustainable and ethical practices have you witnessed in the jewellery industry in recent years, and how have these shifts responded to consumer demand?
In the last few years, we have seen several transparency and traceability initiatives in the luxury industry, including in the diamond industry. Platforms using blockchain technology to create more transparency in the typically complex diamond supply chain. This as an answer to the clarity Millennials and Gen Z are asking.
However, the impact of these initiatives so far is limited because, with blockchain, it is crucial that it is done in the right way. A blockchain is only as strong as the weakest link. If false information is inserted on the blockchain, all along the way, the false data will keep on circulating. As these platforms highly depend on the input of different stakeholders, it makes it complicated to vouch for the final result. Nobody completely owns the data and thus can take full responsibility on these data. This is why at HB Antwerp, we take full ownership of all our data, from mine to masterpiece, so we can be held accountable, by all those who want to check if the information is correct.
What challenges do brands and traders face in ensuring transparency in their diamonds?
The biggest challenge in the diamond industry and thus also for traceability platforms is the fact that you can have up too many intermediaries in the supply-chain from mine to consumer. Often a diamond changes hand without adding value or actually doing something with this diamond. This creates a lot of unnecessary intermediaries and extra complexities when you want to follow the lifecycle of a particular stone.
At HB Antwerp, we therefore decided to keep our supply chain as short and as clean as possible. By sourcing directly from the Karowe mine in Botswana, we are able to track and trace our diamonds throughout the entire process, enabling us to know the exact carbon footprint of every stone. One flight from Botswana to Antwerp represents 1,4 kg CO2 emission. In a traditional diamond supply chain, this number will be at least 15 times as high, as 15 times as many intermediaries, all over the world, are involved in the process.
In 2020, HB Antwerp announced a ground-breaking partnership with Lucara Diamond. Can you tell us about the partnership and why this is an important step towards a more sustainable jewellery industry?
More than a supply agreement, cutting out all unnecessary intermediaries, this deal structurally embeds a more transparent and sustainable way of working in the diamond value chain. For the first time, there is no conflict of interest between us and the mine, different partners of the supply chain are fully aligned, sharing profits, complete data and information and this throughout the process from mine to consumer. No more secrets in the value-chain equates to true transparency being delivered to the consumer.
This has an enormous impact on the consumer, who will be able – for the first time in the history of diamonds – to not only receive information on the origin of its stone, but also on the manufacturing process and will even have a say in the outcome of this process.
Our goal is to involve consumers in the magical journey from rough to polished, only manufacturing on demand, instead of wasting these precious gems by creating unsellable goods.
What is your vision for HB Antwerp in next five to ten years?
We want to revolutionise the market! To create a new standard and new methodology for this industry. In our vision, consumers will have a completely different view on diamonds. The defensive perception we have today while buying a diamond, will shift to complete trust!
We want to involve the consumer in the process, let them be part of the decision making. Instead of going to a jeweller and being limited to make a choice between whatever goods in the counter, consumers will be able to decide on what needs to happen with a rough diamond, how and where it will happen and when it will happen. Consumers will go home with the end result, but also all the data that have been produced throughout the entire process, because also these data will have a value.