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It is the long held opinion of most industry experts that the finest emeralds on earth are of Colombian origin. However, for many years it was almost impossible to ascertain with certainty the true origin of any given stone to a high degree of accuracy and this was a problem. Gübelin Gem Lab have recently announced an industry first, in what they are calling the “Emerald Paternity Test,” the first time technology has been able to trace the source of a stone back to an individual mine. This breakthrough comes as a direct result of a joint venture between Gübelin and Gemfields PLC, one of the key coloured gemstone mining companies, sometimes referred to as the ‘De Beers’ of coloured gems. The technology works by applying DNA based nanoparticles on rough emeralds at source and decoding them at any stage in the supply side of the stone’s journey from mine-to-market, pinpointing its exact place of origin. The particles have been specially engineered so that they can survive any process that may be applied to the stone, such as cutting, cleaning, polishing and setting, ensuring they are ever present as a ‘marker.’ These tiny particles are smaller than 100 nanometres in diameter so Gübelin are certain they will not affect the aesthetic appearance or beauty of the host stone in any way. They are in fact invisible to even the best optical microscope and induce no optical effect whatsoever.
(Gübelin Gem Lab have developed an unparalleled reputation for excellence in coloured gems)
Daniel Nyfeler, Gübelin Gem Lab managing director, stated: “This technology offers all stakeholders along the entire supply chain, from the miner to the final customers, proof of the exact source of emeralds, instilling confidence and creating trust. It enables a new level of transparency for the gemstone trade.” Nyfeler says he was attracted to the fact Gemfields have been at the forefront of responsibly and ethically sourcing gemstones, providing the ideal partner with which to test this new technology. In response to this Ian Harebottle, Gemfields Chief Executive Officer, said that “Embracing innovation, technology and increased transparency is at the heart of our approach. The outcome offers a multitude of benefits to the industry and the consumer.” Gübelin have announced that the paternity test is just one in a whole programme of technological projects they are planning to roll out, with the express aim of increasing accountability, transparency and ethical sourcing within the supply side of the coloured gemstone industry. Hitherto industry players that were keen to embrace the new drive towards transparency and openness faced severe headwinds when it came to identifying the exact origins of the gemstones they supplied and used in their own workshops. They were often forced to rely on trust, word of mouth and self-declaration by mine operators, without the all important 3rd party, independent validation of provenance.
(Eduard Gübelin – the father of gemmology & the first to scientifically analyze gemstone provenance)
The Emerald Paternity Test has provided a mechanism for all those involved and interested in the gemstone supply chain to have full confidence in the provenance of any given stone. Gübelin have given this raft of technology the name Provenance Proof and this will encompass the future projects in this vein. The use of this technology is strictly controlled and subject to a code of conduct, clearly stating and defining what is the acceptable use and application of this system. Recent progress in the fields of nanotechnology and DNA customisation has facilitated the invisible tagging of a wide variety of objects and materials in what has become a new branch of science and technology. Gübelin have simply customised this DNA-based, nanotechnology approach with minute particles and specifically designed it for the requirements of the gemstone and jewellery industry. Data on the exact location of the source mine, the mine operator and the precise time the stone was won from the earth is encrypted and stored within the DNA, encapsulated in a sphere of amorphous silica to protect it from cutting, polishing, downstream treatment and setting. These microscopic particles are induced to the stone by way of a carrier liquid onto the rough emerald crystals, penetrating even the smallest fissures and self adhering to their sides. The nanoparticles can be retrieved and the data contained in the DNA read and decoded at any stage in the subsequent life of the emerald.
(Key to the Emerald Paternity Test is the fact the stones are marked as soon as they are mined)
The Emerald Paternity Test begins at the mine head itself. The rough stones are ‘tagged’ with the nanoparticles prior to any sorting, cleaning or other processing. As well as adhering themselves to the fissures and internal structure of the stone, they also coat the exterior of the gem. The ethanol-based agent that is used to apply them totally evaporates within minutes and thus the tagging is complete. Despite the fact some particles will be removed by later cutting and polishing, a critical number of DNA tags will remain throughout the stone’s life. The aim is that the Provenance Proof label will give the end consumer added confidence when purchasing valuable precious gems. At any point in the stones’ life it can be tested in an authorised lab and the client can be informed as to its exact origin. The advantages of this technology go well beyond the gem mining and supply industries and retail customers. With this process NGOs and trade organisations can utilise it to scrutinise the policies, guidelines and standards set within their industries. Furthermore, governments and supranational bodies can use this technology to promote and police their domestic gem production, control exports and protect their home suppliers by guarantying their stones reach the market with proven provenance. It will also allow jewellery brands to differentiate themselves from their competition and engage with an increasingly ethically motivated consumer market.
(Lucerne, Switzerland, where the Gübelin story began)
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