"Blood Diamonds" and How to Avoid Buying Illicit Gems

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In addition the diamond industry voluntarily includes a warranty on the invoice of every diamond sold stating it is conflict free, Izhakoff said.

The warranties follow the stones from the mine to the factories to the retail stores.

"Those are traceable, making it possible for retailers to give assurance the stone they're selling is conflict free," he said.

But human rights organizations are quick to point out weaknesses in the Kimberley Process that allow conflict diamonds into the international market.

Recent reports by the United Nations and the U.S. government found that an estimated 23 million U.S. dollars' worth of diamonds from Côte D'Ivoire may have been smuggled into the legitimate trade.

Evidence suggests the diamonds are taken into neighboring Ghana, where they are certified as Kimberley Process compliant, according to the Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization Global Witness.

"On the consumer side there's no way to be sure that the diamonds they're buying are conflict free," said Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness, which has campaigned against conflict diamonds since 1998.

The organization is urging the U.S. to strengthen and enforce a trade act that implements the Kimberley Process as the best way to ensure the diamond trade is 100 percent conflict free. It is also calling for independent verification of the industry warranty system.

Consumer Tips

Until industry self-policing and international law keep all illicit stones off the market, human rights and diamond- industry organizations are telling consumers to ask their jewelers a series of questions about their wares.

Suggested questions:

• Do you know where your diamonds come from?

• Can I see a copy of your company's policy on conflict diamonds?

• Can you show me a written guarantee from your diamond suppliers stating that your diamonds are conflict free?

• How can I be sure that none of your jewelry contains conflict diamonds?

If the jeweler is unable to produce the paperwork or otherwise prove the diamonds are conflict free, "the consumer shouldn't buy from that store," Izhakoff said.

A more robust system, Gilfillan noted, is to augment the paperwork with technologies such as laser engraving and optical signatures to track every stone individually, "but we are not there yet."

A Washington D.C.-based organization called the Conflict Free Diamond Council has established a set of strict guidelines to guarantee a diamond is 100 percent clean, including laser engraving and ensuring that its entire production was conducted within one country.

So far only one government's diamond certification program—that of the Northwest Territories Province in Canada—meets the organization's standards.

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