IBM’s blockchain for jewelry will steer consumers clear of blood diamonds

IBM is showing that there is wider usage for blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin. With TrustChain, a blockchain’s decentralized ledger could now be used to track the provenance of jewelry from the mines to retail stores, bringing greater transparency to the jewelry business. This gives jewelers and consumers the ability to see various parts of the supply chain involved in the process.

“What we are announcing and bringing forward has been in the works for some time. It’s the first end-to-end industry capability on blockchain that has its core in trust,” IBM general manager of blockchain services Jason Kelley told TechCrunch.

Various companies in the jewelry supply chain have signed on board with TrustChain so far, including diamond supplier Rio Tinto Diamonds, precious metals refiner Asahi Refining, U.S. retailer Helzberg Diamonds, precious metals supplier LeachGarner, and jewelry manufacturer the Richline Group. Even Underwriters Laboratories is part of the initial consortium to give third-party authentication to the process.

Rather than relying on today’s current paper trail in the jewelry manufacturing process, IBM’s TrustChain would allow the entire supply chain to go digital to keep detailed records. Going digital also makes it easier to view and verify each transaction along the process.

“If there is a dispute, instead of calling and following back through the process in a more manual way, you can click on a trusted chain, and you’re able to see what happened immediately,” Kelley said. “That reduces the number of steps in the process, and speeds up what has been a paper-laden and manual effort.” This allows data to be shared accurately within the network.

This means that only valid and certified members would be allowed into the permissioned blockchain network, and every member on the network must consent to allow each new member to join TrustChain. Given that this is a collaborative effort, if errors are found along the way, IBM hopes that members will correct mistakes quickly along the way.

“This is collaboration among responsible and ethical organizations across the jewelry industry, supported by governance and guidance,” the consortium said. “The blockchain collaboration … will track and authenticate diamonds, precious metals, and jewelry at all stages of the global supply chain, from the mine to the retailer.”

On the consumer side, IBM hopes that in a year, consumers can use an app on their smartphones to scan a QR code on the jewelry at retail stores to see every step in the supply chain.