Marion Wilson, sales and marketing director at Assay Office Birmingham, gives an insight into the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) congress meeting recently held in Brazil, and what impact decisions made on the other side of the world will have on Assay Office Birmingham and the UK jewellery market.
The UK delegation to the CIBJO congress on May 4 to 6 represented key organisations, including Simon Rainer from the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA), James Riley from The Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) and John Henn and Richard Peplow from the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and The Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ).
Now that Peplow has retired from his position as vice president of CIBJO, this was his last congress after more than 40 years. The congress formally thanked Peplow and gave him a gift for his many years of service.
This year’s congress was hosted in Salvador, Brazil: a country with rich resources of a wide variety of natural minerals. Brazil started mining diamonds in 1723 and by 1866 was the world’s top diamond producer. Many of the historic buildings in Salvador were built as a result of the diamond trade back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But Brazil’s position as a major diamond supplier was overtaken as supplies became exhausted in the 20th century.
However, in 2009 a rich new source of diamonds was discovered and a whole new project began to identify diamond-bearing deposits. One new diamond mine currently being developed was stated to have a target production of 360,000 carats per year, which would drastically improve Brazil’s ranking as a diamond producer worldwide.
Brazil is also rich in coloured gemstone resources and we heard from the owner of an emerald mine, which began when his father discovered emeralds on his farmland in 1978. The mine owner was very aware of sustainability and the impact of mining on the local community. As a result, this mine provides education and training to local school children and looks after its staff, which is very much in-keeping with CIBJO’s activities to promote Corporate Social Responsibility within the jewellery supply chain.
As usual, an important part of the meeting was to ensure that the CIBJO Blue Books are relevant and appropriate; embracing the various changes going on within the industry. This included issues such as gemstone treatments and precious metal finenesses.
A key focus this year was a subject of great concern to the AnchorCert Gem Lab at Assay Office Birmingham — the continued proliferation of inconsistent and dishonest diamond grading reports.
As a lab that follows best practice in terms of stone identification and authentication, AnchorCert Gem Lab will only grade as it sees fit. This is an issue for our grading laboratory, as people regularly challenge our grades, which are on the same level as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and try to push us to be more generous — a path we will not take. Sadly, there are others around the world who will.
There was much conversation as to how to improve the situation and reduce the “deceptive practice” that is currently widespread particularly in the US. It was agreed that a priority is to educate the trade as to possible inconsistencies and the reasons for them. It was suggested that CIBJO should issue guidance documents. These can help both the labs and their customers understand what is best practice and what to expect on a report. CIBJO are also to consider auditing gemstone labs to ensure they have the correct levels of equipment and the expertise to use it in order to identify laboratories that are fit for purpose.
The subject of a gradual shift in grades was inevitably discussed. There was also a plea from the GIA that came to the Diamond Commission by e-mail, asking that, if customers wanted to use their nomenclature, then they should match their grades to GIA certificated master stones.
This is all one massive issue, which cannot be resolved by a group of people in a conference room, but CIBJO has grasped the nettle and will hopefully initiate some action to help clean up dishonest grading. The BJA has also been working on this subject in the UK and are due to begin an exercise very soon, which the AnchorCert Gem Lab welcomes.
There was also concern over the continuing difficulty in identifying country of origin for coloured gemstones. This has become increasingly difficult as deposits of minerals are found in an increasing number of places with similar geological origins, but very different geographical ones. As with discussions over what constitutes a ‘pigeon blood’ ruby or a ‘cornflower blue’ sapphire, marketing speak and traditional terminology are pushing against improved and more sophisticated technical accuracy. There are interesting decisions for the industry to take to find a balance between the two, which the pure gemmologists and the brand managers can both be comfortable with.
During the congress, I deputised for chief executive of Assay Office Birmingham, Stella Layton, who is also president of the Precious Metals Commission. I chaired a constructive meeting of the Commission, which reported on the progress of the changes to the nickel release method EN 1811, which now looks likely to be approved following action after a previous CIBJO meeting.
We also discussed the situation on the Conflict Minerals legislation that is currently progressing through the European Parliament. This legislation follows the same path as the Dodd Frank Act in the USA, which has been enforceable for two years now and has had some impact in controlling and recording the movements of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. But it has also had some unintended consequences.
The objective of the proposed new legislation is to prevent the purchase of minerals from illegitimate sources in conflict areas, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, suppliers have found it easier to bypass the Congo and surrounding areas, meaning those whose livelihoods depends upon sales of minerals from the legitimate mines in the area are also impacted. Current thinking is that the EU legislation will be mandatory for refiners and smelters, as opposed to the voluntary code that was originally suggested.
Members of the Precious Metals Commission felt strongly that this should remain as voluntary; CIBJO officials will be watching the progress of this legislation closely and lobbying as required.
The Commission also discussed the forthcoming restriction of borax under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) legislation, which will create a host of difficulties for the precious metals manufacturing industry. It was agreed this must be challenged. Guidance on heavy metal content and release from items intended for food use were also on the agenda and it was agreed that the Commission should investigate on behalf of our industry.
The CIBJO congress is an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world. Topics discussed are hugely relevant to all divisions of Assay Office Birmingham. CIBJO’s mission statement is “to consider issues which concern the trade worldwide. Foremost amongst them is to protect consumer confidence in the industry”. This aligns closely with our very own mission statement, which is to protect the consumer and serve the trade with independence and integrity.
This is a rapidly developing industry and it is essential to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and competitors from around the world to ensure we remain up to speed.
The AnchorCert Gemlab and AnchorCert analytical laboratories at Assay Office Birmingham pride themselves on being independent, ethical centres of excellence. With CIBJO’s help, we are at the heart of issues that matter to our trade and leading the way in providing expert and transparent grading and testing for precious metals and gemstones.