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Looking Into the Craft of an Ethically-Made Diamond

By Lynette Kee

At each of the Tiffany & Co. owned workshops in Botswana, Mauritius, Belgium, Vietnam and Cambodia, craftsmen are hired from local communities with respectable living wages. As of 2019, Botswana has accumulated more than US$59 million worth of economic benefits from the brand’s initiative.
Courtesy of Tiffany & Co.
At each of the Tiffany & Co. owned workshops in Botswana, Mauritius, Belgium, Vietnam and Cambodia, craftsmen are hired from local communities with respectable living wages. As of 2019, Botswana has accumulated more than US$59 million worth of economic benefits from the brand’s initiative.

Far from the eyes of consumers, toxic waste from the mining of precious metals obliterates pristine streams and acres of land. The legacy of poisoned land and water, which indirectly affects thousands of jobs, inevitably makes the pursuit of beautiful gold, diamonds and gemstones an oxymoron, and begs the question of how much material beauty is worth the destruction of mankind and the natural world.

Today, the effects of irresponsible mining are brought closer to the consumers by smart technology. And jewellery companies have reached a realisation that the weight it carries is no longer measured in mere carats but in social and environmental responsibility. Driven by the consumers’ mandate to make more meaningful purchases, jewellery brands are slowly but surely inching towards a sustainable course. For Tiffany & Co., which sold more than US$4.4 billion worth of jewellery in 2019, it is about leveraging on its influence to re-establish the endearing appeal of jewellery buying.

Having started its ethical practices 25 years ago, way before sustainability became a buzzword within the industry, Tiffany & Co. has managed to stay ahead of the curve in conducting its business responsibly. According to its latest sustainability metrics, the luxury jewellery house has achieved 100 per cent traceability of its diamonds and raw materials (91 per cent traceable to mine and 9 per cent traceable to recycler) and 100 per cent usage of sustainable wood and paper for its marketing collaterals. Approximately 60 per cent of its jewellery is also manufactured internally. However, good intentions are not enough; these standards must be transparent.

To get both the curious and the ignorant to be more involved with the industry movement, Tiffany & Co. has launched a programme that tells customers the country of origin for each of its diamonds, and shares information on where it was cut, polished and set. In an interview with T Singapore, chief sustainability officer, and chairman and president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, Anisa Kamadoli Costa talks about the brand’s diamond craftsmanship journey, consumer purchasing behaviour and the future of Tiffany & Co.’s sustainability efforts.

Tiffany & Co. made its first ever move towards ethical production in 1995. What was the original intent that steered the brand onto the sustainability track?

Since 1837, Tiffany & Co. has believed in doing what is right. This belief guides our efforts to conserve the natural beauty that inspires us, and relentlessly advocates for the communities touched by our business. I’m proud that Tiffany & Co. has long recognised the importance of protecting our planet and people for future generations. This company truly believes it has a responsibility to influence culture and set the standards for excellence — not only in fine jewellery and craftsmanship but also in what it means to be a responsible corporate citizen. We are committed to not only minimising our impact as a business, but also using our brand to advocate for important issues that positively affect communities and protect the planet.

For more than two decades we have been making concerted efforts in sustainability. From vertically integrating our supply chain by establishing direct sourcing relationships and our own diamond cutting and polishing workshops, to establishing the Tiffany & Co. Foundation in 2000, to issuing our first sustainability report in 2011.

Where do you think the jewellery business stands in our current social, political and environmental climate?

We believe we have both a moral and business imperative to speak out about issues that matter to help drive meaningful change. In the face of uncertainty, I believe that those of us in the business community have a responsibility to keep moving forward. From taking bold action on climate change to advancing our efforts in diversity and inclusion, Tiffany & Co. will continue to use the power of our brand to bring attention to these critical issues. We take a stance on these issues because there are certain things that we believe are fundamental to our future as a company, as well as the future for all people and the planet.

Why is it important for Tiffany and Co. as a luxury jewellery brand to be accountable and responsible for its creations beyond mere beauty and quality?

At Tiffany & Co., luxury and sustainability are deeply linked. Both are about heritage, quality, and preserving beauty for generations to come. Part of our brand promise is that we lead with our values: We vow to minimise our impact on the natural landscapes that provide the raw materials and the inspiration for so many of our creations. We also focus on upholding high standards in our operations and across our supply chain to protect human rights, support local livelihoods, and create opportunities for the people who make their living in the mining and jewellery sectors.

Courtesy of Tiffany & Co.On site at one of Tiffany & Co.’s cutting and polishing workshops in Rose Belle, Mauritius, diamonds medium-sized and larger are treated by suppliers who comply with the house’s traceability, quality, social and environmental standards.
On site at one of Tiffany & Co.’s cutting and polishing workshops in Rose Belle, Mauritius, diamonds medium-sized and larger are treated by suppliers who comply with the house’s traceability, quality, social and environmental standards.

There are still many mining companies that are opaque about their operations. Could you talk us through in detail about how Tiffany & Co. has ensured its ethical practices in sourcing?

In terms of how we operate, compliance with laws is not enough. In the absence of meaningful regulations, leading businesses are taking action and setting standards for themselves, as we have done. For example, where we feel that international standards such as the Kimberley Process do not go far enough, we have raised the bar, layering in our own expectations, values and priorities. Due to concerns over human rights abuses in the diamond mines of Zimbabwe and Angola, we refuse to purchase rough or polished diamonds from those countries, despite the fact that they comply with the Kimberley Process. We believe our customers deserve to know that a Tiffany diamond was sourced with the highest standards, not only in quality but also in social and environmental responsibility.

What are some of the efforts that the brand has undertaken to procure the tracing records of its diamonds and gems?

We have long focused on the traceability of the precious metals and diamonds in our own supply chain. While Tiffany & Co. doesn’t own or operate any mines, we source the majority of our rough diamonds from known mines and sources in Botswana, Canada, Namibia, Russia and South Africa. Our relationships with mining companies who operate mines in these countries help us build a deeper understanding of their approach to addressing social and environmental impact.

We work globally to improve the practices of both large- and small-scale mining operations. In addition to, of course, building traceability within our supply chain, we strive to create change in the mining sector through our standards-setting efforts, philanthropy and advocacy. We envision a mining sector that operates with sound governance, protects the environment, minimises its environmental impact, promotes responsible labour practices and a healthy work environment, engages with local communities and respects the rights and freedoms of all people affected by the business.

Why do you think it is important for consumers to be aware of the origins of their purchases?

It’s important for consumers to feel empowered that their purchases make a statement and have a real impact. More and more people recognise that both their buying habits and their advocacy matters. We all have a role to play. Being a responsible consumer today is more important than ever: People can look at the company’s sustainability report or website and when in doubt, they can, and should, ask the company directly about how a certain product was made and how the raw materials were sourced.

Do you think that consumers are increasingly making ethical purchases? What are some of the new habits among modern consumers that you’ve observed?

Absolutely. We are not only serving a socially conscious clientele who care deeply about where their most precious possessions came from and how they came to be. By sharing the Diamond Craft Journey with our clients, we are raising awareness among those who might not otherwise have considered the importance of diamond traceability. Choosing a diamond [involves] not only knowing its country of origin, but the conditions and care with which it was crafted.

By sharing information about the crafting process, what is the message that Tiffany & Co. is aiming to convey as a leader in the luxury industry?

By taking the unprecedented step of sharing the full craftsmanship journey of its newly sourced, individually registered diamonds (0.18 carats or larger), we are advancing our commitment to diamond traceability. We are reinforcing our brand commitment to ensuring that every step in the journey of our products contributes to the well-being of people and the planet. We hope our efforts build momentum for increased transparency in the jewellery sector, and industry-wide collaboration toward positive change.

How does the customers’ awareness of ethical or conflict-free products directly or indirectly impact the market?

For consumers, knowing the journey of the Tiffany diamond is a critical piece of information that enables an informed purchase decision, grounded in environmental and social responsibility. For Tiffany & Co., transparency and responsible sourcing have long been a fundamental part of our commitment to sustainability. My hope is that consumers will come to expect to know not only a diamond’s provenance, but where it was crafted from rough stone to polished gem, and finally set in jewellery. As more and more ask, the industry will evolve and adapt to satisfy rising demands for transparency.

How does Tiffany & Co. plan to ensure the longevity of these initiatives?

Transparency and responsible sourcing have long been a fundamental part of Tiffany’s commitment to sustainability. Tiffany & Co. has worked for over two decades to integrate sustainability into many dimensions of our business: from the social and environmental practices of the mines we source from, to selecting sustainable materials for our iconic Blue Boxes and bags, to advancing our diversity and inclusion efforts, to addressing climate change through reducing our energy use. We are proud to build on this legacy by bringing our commitment directly to the case line and to our clients through the Diamond Craft Journey.

Now that the brand has gone fully transparent on the country of origin, cutting, polishing and setting process, what is next for Tiffany & Co. in its sustainability journey?

We have recently unveiled our 2025 Sustainability Goals, a set of commitments centred around our three pillars: Product, People and Planet. Built on our past achievements, the goals help outline the company’s sustainability priorities for the coming years. These comprehensive commitments are based on the results of a robust assessment of Tiffany’s social and environmental impact and opportunities, developed in alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. I am looking forward to all we will achieve in the upcoming years guided by our goals.