De Beers mulls launch of industry-wide blockchain to track gems

De Beers mulls launch of industry-wide blockchain to track gems

Tracking of precious stones as they go through their entire production cycle is a tedious task and while solutions are already in place, blockchain offers what no other technology can offer.

Realising how a blockchain based platform could efficiently handle such tracking, Anglo American’s diamond unit De Beers is mulling launch of an industry-wide blockchain capable of tracking gems each time they change hands starting from the moment they are dug from the ground.

According to De Beers, blockchain complements its existing methods of tracking gems and precious stones. It offers a secure way to track diamonds and can provide a digital record they are conflict-free, it says.

“It’s a huge public ledger as immutable as anything invented,” chief executive Bruce Cleaver told Reuters in reference to blockchain. “It’s a much more un-hackable system than anything on a single server.”

Blockchain is a shared database of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet that is best known as the system underpinning bitcoin.

Other industries are also looking at blockchain to enhance security or create efficiencies in business, such as financial transactions. Bankers say it could be used in trade finance or cross-border payments. But such plans have not gone beyond the pilot stage.

The diamond blockchain, which De Beers says will be the first to span the entire value chain, would be open to everyone in the industry and would offer the potential for monitoring each stone.

“It has the ability to be very significant for the industry,” Cleaver said in a telephone interview, adding it could reassure banks financing the industry and would make the mining supply chain more efficient and transparent.

Blockchain could also help guarantee the ethical origins of other minerals, such as those used in electric vehicles.

Startup firm Everledger, which uses emerging technology to eliminate fraud and other corporate risks, said it had been using blockchain to track the provenance of diamonds since 2015.

De Beers began its pilot project this month after several months of research, responding to a rising number of customers wanting guarantees diamonds had not been used to fund conflicts.

“It’s a bold step going public with a pilot, but we’re going public because we’re interested in the entire industry participating,” Cleaver said.

He declined to name those taking part in the pilot, saying only that they included De Beers sightholders, the term used for its accredited diamond buyers.

Cleaver said the problems associated with using blockchain for bitcoin, such as excessive energy use, need not impact other applications as new technology was more energy efficient.

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