Many retail jewelry customers would be surprised to find out that
the ‘new’ diamond engagement ring they are about to purchase
isn’t actually new. Very few customers know that when they buy a
diamond ring, often the stone has actually been harvested from a
piece of jewelry that was previously owned and has simply been
repackaged as a ‘new’ product.
Some innovators in the industry have begun to ask a simple
question: How can a customer tell the difference between a new
diamond and a used diamond? Previously there hasn’t been an
effective way to answer this question, but today people are
working overtime to solve this problem and possibly creating a
whole new market in the process: a market for certified new
New processes called mine-to-market, also known as mine-to-hand
(there are several different iterations of the idea currently on
the market, which have been introduced by different
organizations) aim to certify brand new diamonds by following a
stone’s progression from a parcel of rough to a cut, polished and
Proponents say that with the advent of mine-to-market, a
diamond can be reliably certified as never having been previously
owned; some in the industry believe that mine-to-market will be a
GIA and Mine-to-Market
While several companies use the term, it was the Gemological
Institute of America (GIA) that introduced a supply chain
transparency initiative called mine-to-market early in 2017. Under
the model, manufacturers send packages of rough to GIA in
special sealed bags along with the origin documentation from the
mining company. GIA then analyzes each stone to record its
physical properties (no two diamonds are exactly alike) and then
creates a unique serial number for each stone.
These rough stones are then sent back to the manufacturer. After
the rough stones are cut and polished they can be resubmitted to
GIA for grading, and the organization can check the stone’s
properties against those it recorded from the rough. In this way,
they can track the provenance of a diamond. GIA says that the
method allows them to positively identify 90 percent of all stones
identified through the program at a later time.
To complement the process, GIA developed a customer-facing
smartphone app that provides buyers with details about a
particular stone, including where it was mined, how it was cut and
the name of the retailer that sold the finished stone.
GIA has also invested considerably in the mine-to-market
procession of colored stones, and believes that the story of a
gem will be a major selling point moving forward. Andy Lucan,
GIA’s education manager of field gemology, has pointed out how
the narrative of mine-to-market creates also supports what he
says is “the biggest growing market” and sales channel for
colored stones: jewelry television.
“The customer wants to be entertained. They come home and
turn on the television – they’ll go to the mines, see the cutting… I
think you’re going to see an expansion of this,” Lucan said in
The Quest for Transparency
The quest for supply chain transparency in the jewelry industry
certainly isn’t new. Many initiatives have been launched to
achieve this goal, with varying degrees of success. The
Responsible Jewelry Council has developed a Chain-of-Custody
standard to support responsible ethical, social and environmental
In 2016, Brilliant Earth partnered with an auditor to create a
diamond tracking protocol, but some have doubts about the
effectiveness of that program. Rio Tinto now operates its own
guarantee of origin process, thanks to a major investment in
production coming from Canada’s Diavik diamond mine.
The merits of specific initiatives aside, the current push towards
supply chain transparency seems to have real momentum and
consumer support – but not everyone in the industry supports the
idea, considering that mine-to-market cuts wholesalers,
distributors and even some retailers out of the supply chain. But
this doesn’t seem to be stopping major players from investing in
the concept of mine-to-market.
Mine-to-Market: The Players
The Dominion Diamond Corporation has partnered with the
JamesAllen.com retail portal to be the exclusive sellers of
CanadaMark certified diamonds, all of which are produced by
Canada’s Ekati and Diavik mines and come with a certificate of
origin based on a tracking identifier that accompanies the stone
during the mine-to-market process. Shortly after that partnership
was announced, Signet bought the parent company of
JamesAllen.com for $328 million, perhaps suggesting that Signet
sees the potential value of having a mine-to-market diamond
brand among the company’s subsidiaries.
The Virgin Diamond is focused exclusively on Mine-to-Market diamond sales.
The Virgin Diamond, a company focused entirely on providing
mine-to-market diamonds to customers, is one of the main
players in this emerging market. The Virgin Diamond works with
providers of rough stones and certification agencies to track and
certify diamonds before connecting customers with a cut-andpolished
stone that is guaranteed never to have been previously
Brendon Willenkamp, Chief Operating Officer for the Virgin
Diamond, explained to Polygon how the company’s mine-tomarket
process works in a phone call.
“Consumers come to our website and fill out our diamond request
form. We then send that request to our diamond manufacturers,”
said Willenkamp. If the manufacturer has a stone that meets the
customer’s criteria, they then provide the Virgin Diamond with
information about the stone, which typically includes a
certification from either GIA or AGS.
The Virgin Diamond then passes the info on to the consumer,
who can then decide if they want to buy the finished stone
directly from the manufacturer.
Louis Valentine, founder of The Virgin Diamond, pointed out that
since retail customers have never been able to know if a diamond
is new or used, mine-to-market is meeting an important need in
“[Previously] our industry has had no way to distinguish between
new and used diamonds. The diamond industry has been
immune to [transparency],” said Valentine. “Today, we have the
technology to bring that transparency.”
The financial risk of the mine-to-market model is shouldered by
the manufacturer who is transforming rough stones into cut-andpolished
diamonds, since they are essentially making a bet that a
customer will want to purchase the finished product.
I asked Valentine and Willenkamp if they believe that mine-tomarket
has the power to disrupt the current structure of the
“Absolutely,” said Willenkamp.
Valentine compares the emergence of the mine-to-market
process to the first diamond certifications that arrived in the
industry many years ago.
Recent studies suggest that younger customers see gems as investments.
“Decades ago, you could only get an uncertified diamond…
Today, you can get a diamond that’s graded. We’re taking this to
the next level by saying ‘Now you can get a diamond that’s
graded and certified as new.’” Valentine noted that currently there
is no industry standard to define “mine-to-market” processes. In
practical terms, this means that a company could call a product
‘mine-to-market’ but employ a completely different process than
other companies do to arrive at the same designation.
Valentine believes that it will take time for industry standards to
emerge, as has been the case with other certification methods.
“Eventually, there will be a standard that everyone will follow,” he
Time Will Tell
While it’s too early to say if mine-to-market will truly be a game changer
for the jewelry industry, current trends suggest it’s a
possibility. Recent studies have shown that millennial customers
see diamonds as long-term investments; mine-to-market’s ability
to provide proof of a stone’s authenticity and provenance could
add significant value to a purchased stone, which could in turn
increase the attractiveness of mine-to-market diamonds in the
eyes of younger customers.
One study showed that people aged 18-25 prefer to shop in real-world stores.
Today’s traditional jewelry retailers, wholesalers and distributors
are already struggling to compete with online-only ecommerce
companies that can afford to slash prices and deliver cuttingedge
online shopping experiences.
But a recent consumer study shows that online shopping may
have already reached its market-share peak: young people aged
18-25 (as well as with senior citizens) prefer to shop in brick-andmortar
stores as opposed to online. The uncertain future of mineto-market
stones aside, this finding should give real-world
retailers – fine jewelers included – some hope..