What country do most diamonds come from? Throughout history, the answer to that question has changed repeatedly. A thousand years ago, most diamonds came from India. About 250 years ago, Brazil was the largest supplier of diamonds. One hundred years ago, South Africa held the lead. Today? The largest producer of diamonds, measured by value, is Botswana.
But if you really want to understand where diamonds are from, it’s helpful to see that information visually. Here’s a pie chart showing the percentage of the diamond supply coming from each of the top diamond producing nations.
First, a caveat: the data here isn’t completely accurate. The source is the Kimberley Process (KP), the flawed international diamond certification scheme. A few small diamond-producing countries (such as Côte d’Ivoire and Venezuela) presently don’t even participate in the KP or report data. And in some countries, diamonds smuggling is so rampant that a lot of diamonds never make it into official statistics. In Zimbabwe, for example, President Robert Mugabe and his allies are believed to run a giant diamond smuggling operation.
Assuming, however, that these statistics bear some resemblance to the truth, a few points are worth mentioning. One is that Botswana, in addition to being the world’s biggest diamond producer, is a country that has managed its natural resources ethically and effectively. Botswana opened its first diamond mine in 1971. Since then, Botswana has used diamond revenues to transform itself into a middle-income country with a standard of living comparable to that of Turkey and Mexico. If diamonds were harming Botswana, its status as the world’s biggest diamond producer wouldn’t be anything to celebrate. But since diamonds are helping Botswana, it’s encouraging.
Another aspect of this chart is notable: although Botswana is the leading diamond supplier, its lead isn’t too big. A lot of other countries supply diamonds too. In 2012, Botswana supplied 23.6% of the value of the diamond supply, followed by Russia (22.8%), Canada (15.9%), Angola (8.8%), and South Africa (8.1%). Right now, the diamond supply is more diversified than it’s ever been. That’s a good thing, especially for consumers. The increasing variety of diamond sources—Russian diamonds were discovered in the 1950s and Canadian diamond mining got going in the 1990s—makes it hard for any one company to control the diamond supply. DeBeers, while powerful, is no longer the monopoly it once was.
Not everything about this chart is positive. It also provides evidence that a large percentage of the diamond supply continues to be riddled with violence and abuse. In recent years, government troops and mining company security guards have been killing and torturing unlicensed diamond miners in Angola and Zimbabwe. In addition, diamond mining in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone is characterized by dangerous and dehumanizing labor conditions, as well as the use of child labor. In the Central African Republic, diamonds recently helped rebels to overthrow the government.
All in all, the percentage of diamonds tainted by violence and serious labor and environmental abuses may make up 20 percent of the diamond supply, or more. (As noted, Zimbabwe’s production in this pie chart is probably underestimated, due to smuggling.) Also disturbing is that there’s no way for consumers to know whether they’re buying a tainted diamond. That’s because, although the KP keeps track of the general makeup of the diamond supply, it’s extremely rare for jewelers to know where a particular diamond is from. In most diamond cutting and polishing centers, gems from all over the world get mixed together.
This brings us to an important question. Brilliant Earth presently gets diamonds from Canada, Botswana, Namibia, and Russia. Together, these countries were responsible for close to 70 percent of the value of rough diamond production in 2012. Diamonds from those countries are hardly rare. So how are Brilliant Earth’s diamonds unique?
The answer is that, in addition to refusing to buy diamonds from the most unethical sources, Brilliant Earth only offers diamonds from the very, very small percentage of diamonds that are traceable to a country of origin. We estimate that less than one percent of diamonds are traceable to a country of origin by the time they reach the consumer. Brilliant Earth selects all of its Canadian, Botswanan, Namibian, and Russian diamonds from this tiny pool of gems.
By offering only traceable diamonds from beyond conflict free sources, we can assure customers that none of our diamonds is tainted by violence, by dangerous or slave-like labor conditions, or by environmental devastation. In addition, our sourcing methods give our socially-conscious customers the chance to consider the source when buying a diamond. Our diamond database lists a country of origin for every gem, right along with the cut, carat, color, and clarity.
Our sourcing methods also foster change by placing a spotlight on those countries that don’t meet our standards. And our approach encourages other jewelers to follow our lead and offer only ethical diamonds that are fully traceable.