New Technologies Can Boost Traceability

New Technologies Can Boost Traceability

Formalized artisanal and small-scale mining: tsavorite mine in Kenya, cc Cedric Simonet

The development of specific guidelines will help achieve responsible sourcing of colored gemstones. Incorporation of technologies will be required to ensure legal and ethical practices along the supply chain, says Jean Claude Michelou, an ICA board member, gemstone expert and former ICA Vice-President.

He adds that formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining will be a vital step to protect miners’ interests while providing a legitimate environment for upstream stakeholders.

The ICA Congress will host a dedicated session and a panel discussion on the challenges facing responsible sourcing and artisanal and small-scale mining. David Brough reports.

OECD Forum Responsible Mineral Supply Chain, cc Jean Claude Michelou

What is “responsible sourcing” in the context of colored gemstones, and why is it such a vital issue for the international trade?

Jean Claude Michelou: Responsible supply of gemstones and jewelry is a concept of behavior, ethics and compliance that has developed gradually throughout the supply chain over the past decade.

The new generation of consumers is becoming more aware of environmental and social justice.

“Ethical sourcing” has become vital to the trade in colored stones since governments, civil society, designers and end consumers are calling for reasonably credible measures and procedures to ensure legal, ethical and responsible provenance of colored stones sold and mounted in jewelry.

Is “traceability” – tracking the entire journey of the gem from mine to finger — a part of responsible sourcing? What will be the key challenges for traceability? 

Medium sized mechanized tourmaline mine in Mozambique, cc Cedric Simonet

Jean Claude Michelou: Responsible sourcing is now an integral part of the marketing efforts and sales pitches aimed at the most demanding customers.

However, responsible sourcing requires greater transparency through a minimum documentation and requires significant adjustments at all levels, from extraction to retail.

The key challenge will be to find technologies, standards and procedures that allow reasonable transparency of the colored gems supply path, which are sufficiently easy, secure and affordable to encompass artisanal and small scale miners, while preserving traditional small gem trading and cutting businesses. 

Will new technologies like Blockchain make traceability of gemstones easier or add further complications?

Jean Claude Michelou: Blockchain technologies can be applied in different manners at different levels. The concept which is yet to become applicable to the colored stone sector, is still a bit “strange” for many colored gem dealers who fear unexpected and harmful consequences for their business models.

These technologies will be well received and beneficial for some — and complicated for others.

Their potential for success will depend on the business model of each stakeholder and its ability to adapt to unavoidable technological changes.

Illegal artisanal miners in Nigeria cc Jean Claude Michelou

How important is small-scale and artisanal mining in terms of the global output of colored gemstones?

Jean Claude Michelou: Artisanal and small scale mining accounts for some 65% of colored gemstone output but well over 80% of active mining operations.

It constitutes the core of the colored gemstone offering in terms of varieties, species and colors.

What difference would it make to fully declare and register artisanal and small-scale mining production, so that it is no longer part of the “informal” sector?

Jean Claude Michelou: Formalization is definitely the solution to provide artisanal and small-scale miners with a legal framework, visibility, protection, assistance, and access to open trade, as well as recognition.

Formalization provides the opportunity to develop and grow into more sustainable and supported activities.

What are the best strategies to boost the incomes and livelihoods of artisanal and small- scale miners? How big a problem is illiteracy? 

Jean Claude Michelou: Eliminating the illegal status of artisanal and small-scale miners will provide them with the visibility necessary for open trade, in contrast with illegal traders in an informal environment who do not add value to the supply chain.

As for illiteracy, this can be progressively resolved with programs linked to formalization of illegal artisanal and small-scale activities, allowing for aid that can be channeled to miners.

Cooperatives and a regrouping of the mining community can provide an adequate environment for sustainability and education.


Jean Claude Michelou, is a gems and jewelry resource strategist.

He has been active in gemstone trading, mining, cutting and export since 1977 and is a sourcing strategist for rough colored gemstones from different origins.

He has served as Vice President for eight years of his 18 years in total on the Board of Directors of the International Colored Gemstone Association, ICA.

More recently, he has been active as a consultant for the World Bank, government authorities, miners and mining agencies.

He has worked in different countries in the development of infrastructure and policies from mine to market for the gemstone industry.

He has been working on the development of Fair and Ethical Trade and Mining Standards and social responsibility initiatives for artisanal and small scale mining communities.

He is an Advising Director to the ICA Board, and co-chairs the Compliance and Sustainability Committee.

He is the ICA Chairman of the Ambassadors and Communication Committees as well as the Editor-in-Chief of the international gems and jewelry publication, InColor magazine.

Jean Claude Michelou served as Senior Technical Advisor for the UNICRI (UN) on the Gems and Jewelry Supply chain for a project entitled “Illicit Trafficking of Precious Metals and Traceability and Ethical Origins of Colored Gemstones.”

He is an active contributor to the OECD forums on ethical sourcing of precious metals and gemstones and is on the Board of Advisors of the Gemstones and Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub.

In May 2019, Michelou was appointed to the RJC Standards Committee for Colored Gemstones.