De Beers and other jewelry industry giants create blockchains to verify gems

The world's major jewelry and gem businesses are deploying a blockchain electronic ledgers that will verify the origins of their products, all the way from the mines to the retail cases.

Blockchain diamonds jewelry
De Beers

Leading jewelry companies that have struggled with proving the authenticity of their goods have launched an online distributed ledger based on blockchain to improve global provenance in the diamond and jewelry supply chain.

De Beers announced it has succesfully tracked from mine to jeweler 100 "high-value" diamonds on its new blockchain-based electronic ledger called Tracr now being piloted; De Beers hopes to go live with Tracr later this year.

In December, De Beers, which controls about 35% of the world's diamond production, announced its intention to launch what it called an industry-wide blockchain network to track diamonds. Along with verifying a diamond's authenticity, the De Beers blockchain network will be able to prove the gems are not mined in war-torn areas where the sale of the gems could be used to finance violence.

Five leading diamond manufacturers - Diacore, Diarough, KGK Group, Rosy Blue NV and Venus Jewel - have worked with De Beers during the development of the Tracr blockchain platform De Beers hopes will span the entire diamond value chain.

The TrustChain Initiative

Last month, another jewelry industry group launched a pilot of the TrustChain Initiative, which uses IBM’s blockchain cloud service to allow jewelry buyers to verify the providence of gold and diamond necklaces, bracelets and rings by accessing an online platform that tracks them from gem mines to jewelry store cases.

The TrustChain Initiative collaboration includes Underwriter Laboratories (UL), an independent third-party verification service, together with five diamond and jewelry companies that represent the entire supply chain: Rio Tinto Diamonds (diamond supplier for Proof of Concept only), Leach Garner (precious metals supplier), Asahi Refinery (precious metal refinery), Helzberg (US jewelry retailer) and the Richline Group (global jewelry manufacturer).

Jewelry blockchain TrustChain TrustChain

The TrustChain blockchain network will track and authenticate diamonds, precious metals and jewelry at all stages of the global supply chain.

"This initiative is important for our industry as we seek to raise the collective responsibility and provenance practices to new heights," Mark Hanna, Richline Group's Chief Marketing Officer, said in a statement.

Trustchain is still working to determine the exact process by which consumers will be able to verify the provenance of the jewelry they buy, an IBM spokesperson said.

Martha Bennett, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, said that while the blockchain network is a "worthwhile initiative" and "a great start," it will need more participants to come on board for it to gain traction.

blockchain TrustChain jewelry IBM/TrustChain
The TrustChain Initiative tracks and authenticates diamonds and precious metals using the IBM Blockchain Platform.

"I don't know how many types of ring a typical jeweler stocks, but it's bound to be more than six types," Bennett said in an email, referring to the initial number of engagement ring styles the network will initially track. "I wouldn't call it a 'solid production roll-out.' It'll be interesting to see how this fits in with Everledger and De Beers' proposed diamond tracking on blockchain initiative."

In 2016, London-based Everledger Ltd. also used IBM's blockchain service to create a supply chain network to register and track diamonds.

How Tracr works

Each event or interaction registered on the Tracr chain becomes a "block" that represents unique information, data or characteristics about a diamond as it passes through the value chain. Each block must be verified by the blockchain community before it can be added to the blockchain, according to De Beers. With each new registered data entry, the network grows, and when 'chained' together the blocks create a complete digital record for each diamond.

As the diamonds travel along the value chain, a unique Global Diamond ID is automatically created on Tracr, which stores individual diamond attributes such as carat, color and clarity through integration with the participants’ existing record-keeping systems. That allows Tracr to consolidate the data into an immutable digital trail for each physical diamond, assuring its provenance and traceability from rough to polished.

“The Tracr project team has demonstrated that it can successfully track a diamond through the value chain, providing asset-traceability assurance in a way that was not possible before.“ De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver said in a statement. "We look forward to sharing the platform with more partners in the coming months and capturing their insights before ultimately making this technology available to the broader industry.”

How TrustChain works

The new TrustChain network will also provide digital verification, physical product and process verification, as well as third-party oversight (by UL) of the jewelry originating from the five entities. The collaboration's goal is to instill trust in the origin and ethical sourcing of jewelry by bringing together a community of responsible and ethical organizations across the complex and jewelry supply chain.

The global blockchain distributed ledger market accounted for $228 million in 2016, and is expected to reach $5.4 billion in value by 2023, growing at a combined annual growth rate of 57.6% over the next five years, according to a report from Allied Market Research.

Supply chain tracking is expected to be one of the first and most prominent uses of blockchain technology for business, right alongside cross-border finance.

Paul Brody, Ernst & Young's (EY) Global Innovation Leader for Blockchain Technology, said the blockchain market in the past 18 or so months has been moving from an "explain this to me" phase (PowerPoint) into the "prove it to me" phase (working conference room pilots).

"Now we're in the 'Okay, build it for me' phase," Brody said via an earlier email. "We see this in our business: clients are moving projects towards production and...we have similar conversations with others in the industry."

Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs agreed: "You can go industry by industry and you're seeing concepts proven, pilots now moving into production. Things like supply chain validation, food safety verification, consumer products companies and potentially industrial and even life sciences companies are starting to circle it."

Private or "permissioned" blockchains can be created within a company's four walls or between trusted partners and centrally administered while retaining control over who has access to information on the network.

Blockchain can also be used between business partners, such as a cloud vendor, a financial services provider and its clients or between jewelers and their suppliers.

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