Is New ISO standard for Grading, Historic for Industry?

By Ronnie VanderLinden, President of IDMA

A few weeks ago, the International Standards Organisation (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, announced that it has ratified and published ISO standard 24016.

ISO standard 24016 is the first-ever standard approved by ISO that specifies the terminology, classification, and methods to be used for the grading and description of single unmounted polished diamonds. The document is a comprehensive technical document, 55 pages in length, providing detailed information with tables and figures.

ISO is not known to make waves in the media, but when ISO announces a new standard, the world listens. It is, therefore, that Gaetano Cavalieri, President of CIBJO, The World Jewellery Confederation, called the publication of the standard “a historic moment for our industry.”
“It is the first time than a strictly defined diamond grading system has been ratified by the world’s leading standards body, formally recognizing principles and terminology that to date have not been approved by any impartial and international authority. ISO 24016 essentially parallels the CIBJO Diamond Blue Book, meaning that our widely-accepted standard is now effectively validated by ISO,” Cavalieri said in a statement.

“This a massive achievement for the diamond industry, and it was achieved through hundreds of hours of hard work and a painstaking international vetting process,” said Udi Sheintal, President of CIBJO’s Diamond Commission. “Now, for the first time, we can say without equivocation that an entire gemstone category, namely diamonds, has been fully addressed by the International Standards Organisation, which through ISO 24016 and ISO 18323 comprehensively provides an accurate definition of diamonds and the ways in which they are described and graded. Furthermore, with both standards being so closely associated with the CIBJO Diamond Blue Book, we can take great pride in our processes and professionalism.”

What benchmark did the ISO use to set the grading standard?

According to Sheintal, ISO used CIBJO’s master set of diamonds held in Switzerland as its benchmark. He suggested that other master sets – of natural diamonds only – can be produced based on CIBJO’s master set.
ISO is a nongovernmental organization that comprises standards bodies from more than 160 countries, with one standards body representing each member country.

However, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which – according to the ISO website – holds membership in ISO “via its U.S. National Committee,” did not take part in the two-year process that led to the new diamond grading standard. Specifically, ANSI has no representation in ISO Technical Committee (TC) 174, which deals with standardization in the field of jewelry. TC 174 Committee Manager Patricia Bischoff said in a comment that she did not know why the US is not represented in TC 174.

The standard for diamond grading was composed by the members of Technical Committee (TC) 174 Working Group 2, a team of internationally renowned diamond experts from 10 different countries. After consensus among the technical specialists was reached, the draft was shared with all ISO National Members for further comments. Then a final draft was sent to all ISO TC members for ratification.

Is this standard relevant and valid for the 30 member bourses of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) and the IDMA members? In other words, should the overwhelming majority of diamantaires and jewelers who sell and buy polished diamonds accept this new ISO standard, and expect grading labs to adopt it as their own, for the sake of consumer confidence in diamonds?

Looking at the steps that the WFDB and IDMA have taken in the past, one would think so.

The WFDB and IDMA founded the International Diamond Council (IDC) in 1975 to create an international standard for rules, working methods, and nomenclature. About a decade ago, after many years of work, the IDC Rules and the CIBJO Diamond Book were amalgamated into a single entity and consensus. ISO 24016 parallels the CIBJO Diamond Blue Book, as noted by Cavalieri. They – CIBJO and the IDC – also wholeheartedly embraced the earlier mentioned ISO 18323 standard.

On the face of things, the above consensus would suggest that the diamond industry and trade would be susceptible to adopting the new ISO standard for diamond grading, a standard created by a third, independent, non-commercial party that enjoys wide international recognition and deep respect. For countless industries, companies, institutions, and organizations, ISO’s standards and accreditation are a sine qua non. Since long, consumers worldwide have come to recognize and appreciate ISO accreditation as the ultimate stamp of approval of the products they buy and the services they access.

In recent months, due to the Covid-19 health crisis and its impact on our industry, we have seen how the industry has become percipient of change. This became evident in how the industry resolved to take a fresh look at how benchmarks for polished diamond prices are accomplished and how they affect the diamond business at large.

Similarly, the publication of ISO 24016 presents the diamond industry and trade with a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at diamond grading.

These could be some of the questions that our industry may consider:

  • Can the industry at large afford to ignore this milestone achievement?
  • Will the IDC, as the representative of the WFDB and IDMA, publicly subscribe to the ISO 24016 standard?
  • Will the diamond grading labs that service our industry align themselves with the ISO 24016 standard and seek accreditation?
  • Does the ISO 24016 standard and accreditation of grading laboratories by the ISO herald the end of questionable grading practices, and will it prove instrumental in weaning out those operators that can or do not meet ISO standards?
  • Will labs in the United States embrace or ignore this global standard?
    What will the consequences be for the efforts for automatic grading?
    What will ISO standard 24016 mean to consumer confidence in diamonds?

These are just some of the many questions that we can raise, following the ISO 24016 standard’s recent publication. One thing is sure: from top to bottom, the global diamond industry will need to engage with this “historic moment for our industry.”

Of course, our industry is going through rough times, and I can understand the sentiment that “we don’t need more problems than we already have!” But at the same time, we cannot negate what is right in front of us. Challenges and changes will keep coming at us. Let’s face them valiantly!

The 2020 holidays sales season is starting, and we’re all hoping, worldwide, that globally, and especially here in the USA, consumers will, as predicted by the Natural Diamond Council, make those diamond and jewelry purchases!!

I’m excited, and I’m hoping all of you are.