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Yes We Can! How Diamonds Overcame Failure To Establish ISO Standards

Consumer confidence is something of a buzzword nowadays. Every industry and every product segment spouts mantras about it all the time. Yet defining it clearly and getting the consumer to actually buy into the idea that a particular product or segment has value, can be trusted, is worthwhile or is dependable is not a simple, one-dimensional process. Consumer confidence is made of dozens of different things.

Established, internationally accepted and verified standards are among the essential elements that go towards building consumer confidence. The diamond industry launched an effort to establish an ISO standard for diamond grading in the 1990s — and failed miserably.

Nothing further was done for a long while after that. Some seven years ago, however, with undisclosed synthetics posing a major threat to consumer confidence in the diamond industry in general, another effort was launched. A group of diamond trade organisations, diamond producers, traders and gemological experts got together in Antwerp to create a standard set of diamond nomenclatures and terminologies, aimed at the members of the trade and the general public — the consumer — to avoid any ambiguity in understanding the differences between natural and synthetic diamonds.

This time, the determined effort was successful. Earlier this year, the ISO released a new standard — ISO 18323 — Consumer confidence in the diamond industry.

ISO-LogoThe founding meeting was organised by the leading diamond mining group, De Beers.  A number of follow-up meetings were held and it was decided to form a panel of experts to bring the project to fruition. This process started about three years ago, when a working group was formed and DIN, the German Institute for standardisation, was appointed to act as a secretariat to guide the process.

Harry Levy, a long-time serving officer of International Diamond Council (IDC), and a former president of the Diamond Commission of CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation , was asked to chair the working group. Levy put together his team from the CIBJO Diamond Commission and the IDC and also engaged a number of renowned experts working in gemological laboratories, as well as a few other experts in the field. They included Dieter Hahn, Gerard Grospiron, Rudolf Biehler, Elfriede Schwarzer, Yves Kerremans, Héja Garcia-Guillermanet, Laurent Duizend, Edwige Soton, Jeanette Fiedler, Thilo Brückner and Jean-Pierre Chalain, Peter de Jong and Jack Ogden. Without exception, they were all familiar with how the diamond trade operates at different levels of the distribution chain. Some of them have been involved with the issue of diamond nomenclature for over 40 years.

CIBJO, IDC, a number of gemological laboratories and the diamond producers involved all threw their weight behind the process. To begin with, the team used guidelines given through CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, to produce a European standard that would be  suitable for consumers as well as for the trade.

The broad-based support for the initiative and the fact that it used already established standard benchmarks as its guideline, resulted in a short, but successful time-frame before success was achieved. In under three years, with regular meetings in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Antwerp, a final draft standard was agreed upon. The final draft was distributed by DIN to all the countries involved, for a vote of approval. And so it came about that within a relatively short period, a European Standard for diamond nomenclature and terminology was made a reality.

However, with the final draft consensus, CEN decided that the document was also suitable to serve as an international standard and not merely just for Europe. Again, with already established benchmarks as its basis, an ISO standard was released in the middle of this year.

What is remarkable about the whole process is that companies, people, groups and laboratories involved all gave their time and effort for free, even picking up their own travel expenses. Their determination not to repeat the miserable failure of the past led them to develop and establish norms that would satisfy organisations like DIN, CEN and of course, the ISO. In many instances, CIBJO’s Diamond Book and the IDC’s IDC Rules, two comprehensive compendia of diamond standards and nomenclature, which have served as the accepted standards in national and international legal disputes, were used as the basis for setting the ISO standard.

cen-logoFortunately for CEN, most of the working group members had worked on these projects for many years. It therefore comes as no surprise that there is an almost compete overlap between the content of the ISO Standard 18323, the IDC Rules and the CIBJO Diamond Book. The standards these industry organisations set were high enough to win the acknowledgement of the world’s arbiter of standards.

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