INTERVIEW – New RJC standard for lab-grown materials and gemstones to drive industry best practices and consumer confidence

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The Responsible Jewellery Council has announced that it will develop the ‘Laboratory Grown Materials Standard’ unifying the industry’s efforts to ensure disclosure requirements. Executive Director Iris Van der Veken explains the significance of the new standard to Jewellery Outlook Editor David Brough.

The announcement to develop the “Laboratory Grown Materials Standard” is a big milestone. Why now?

Firstly it’s important to note that this decision isn’t focused on laboratory grown diamonds only, but also incorporates laboratory grown gemstones, as both products are manufactured products that provide a different jewellery offering to consumers.

RJC standards are kept under constant review. A revised Code of Practices is issued every 5 years.  The most recent (2019) revision extended the Code of Practices (COP) materials scope to include silver and coloured gemstones – ruby, sapphire and emerald.

We are now working on revisions for the next cycle and, as always, look at emerging risks and member needs. The decision to develop laboratory grown diamonds and gemstones standards was taken in recognition of the fact that over the last few years many of our members that have become active in both product categories are asking the RJC for a credible standard to certify their LGM business. With our ISEAL accreditation and strong membership need, it was the right thing to do. (ISEAL is  the global membership organisation for credible sustainability standards.)

Why has the RJC taken this decision?

The RJC was founded to promote global best practices for the jewellery and watch industry. With the growth in demand from responsible companies, members and non members, to support supply chain claims and their sustainability commitments in their LGMs offering, as is already done by the natural gems businesses within the RJC scope, it became clear that the RJC would be best placed to develop a solution that would create efficiencies for our existing members and also provide credible assurance and certification for companies that are manufacturing, sourcing, cutting and polishing and selling laboratory-grown diamonds and gemstones to trade and consumers. It is all about consumer confidence and we have the responsibility to drive best practices for all jewellery.

Iris Van der Veken

Iris Van der Veken

What will the RJC standard include?

The LGM standard will provide a clear framework for the LGM supply chain, from manufacturing through to retail, and will be based on addressing the specific risk profile of the LGM industry. The standard will be comprehensive and will include social, environmental and business integrity requirements. It will be developed transparently, with full public stakeholder consultation and in compliance with ISEAL requirements. We encourage organisations to take part in the development and review of the standard.

There are other standards covering LG materials, so why do we need another one?

There are other standards either in development or already in the market and this has created confusion with many of our stakeholders as they navigate through the different offerings. We believe that this is why many companies have directly contacted the RJC to request a credible offering. From a member’s perspective, it stems from the trust in our standards and their need to create efficiencies across their operations. We have over 15 years of maturity and expertise in creating standards in compliance with ISEAL best practice. For non-members, it was important for them to certify their practices and claims through a credible and internationally recognized certification system like ours.

The RJC is a non-profit standards organization, so we have no commercial interests. We are interested only in providing best practice guidance across the supply chain, developed with wide consultation, and thoroughly tested by experts in full transparency.

How will the new standard be developed? How will the new standard work?

The RJC will follow a transparent public consultation procedure with all stakeholders, following the ISEAL Standard-Setting Code of Good Practice.  We will be reaching out to the LGM community, and we will welcome their input. The process will be managed by the RJC’s multi-stakeholder Standards Committee. The Committee will ensure that all submissions are fully accounted, and the new standard receives the most robust review before it is finalised.  The RJC laboratory-grown materials standard will be separate from the RJC Code of Practices in recognition that manufactured products have a different risk and regulatory profile than natural minerals.

Will RJC develop standards for traceability of LGMs?

The RJC COP already includes a provenance claim provision under which a member may make claims about their materials, which are verified during audit.  The RJC is also currently testing a Chain of Custody standard for natural diamonds. We will consider the viability of a traceability standard for LGMs.

What s next?

For me, success is always contingent on purpose-driven collective team effort. I attribute our success to the deepening of the sustainability agenda by a strong and focused leadership of our 1,500 members and my wonderful and highly engaged team. Each new day brings unique challenges and great opportunities for me. I feel energised by our members and our stakeholders. They have expectations and we are here to find credible solutions to make this world a better place for future generations. For me, human dignity is at the forefront of what truly drives me. And yes, I can be a tough cookie too – I expect excellence from my team in how we support our members. It is our purpose to accelerate sustainability efforts by helping members contribute to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I am grateful for the guidance and support of the Chair David Bouffard and our Board that has truly enabled radically positive change, constant innovation and growth in the area of our membership. I am also deeply grateful to our members. They are the leaders of Purpose, and their organisations make a difference in the jewellery supply chains. It is not an easy journey getting RJC certified, and we are here to support our members to bring sustainability at the heart and core of their business strategy. I love this industry and I strongly believe the RJC has never been more relevant to help shape the sustainability agenda for the global jewellery and watch industry. This is the decade of action and we have a clear responsibility to leave no one behind. We are also very privileged to work in an industry of beauty and emotions. We need to see that the beauty we create brings true development on the ground and within communities. The road ahead is long and a lot more work needs to be done still.  We at the RJC are ready to provide the required leadership and a sustainable business eco-system to be able to drive consumer confidence in this era of trust and transparency. It goes without saying that no one can do this alone – we will continue to focus on partnerships and collaborations with the World Diamond Council, CIBJO, WJA, NDC, JLF, JA, and Diamonds Do Good to lead the sustainability agenda forward. The time to act is now!