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Gübelin Gem Lab: Piloting of Emerald Paternity Test Traceability Technology in the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Sector

Gübelin Gem Lab: Piloting of Emerald Paternity Test Traceability Technology in the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Sector

Date: Aug 2017 - Mar 2018

Client: Gübelin Gem Lab

Raw Materials: Emeralds

Location: Ethiopia


Context: Gübelin Gem Lab was founded in 1923 as a small gemmological laboratory to examine and determine the authenticity of the stones used in manufacturer and retailer Gübelin’s jewellery. Gübelin Gem Lab uses the latest science and state-of-the-art equipment to carry out its analyses. Today it is one of the most renowned institutions for coloured gemstones.  Its independent reports are trusted by auction houses, royal families, jewellers, gem traders, and collectors from around the world.

Gübelin Gem Lab has harnessed recent advances in nanotechnology and DNA customisation to develop and implement a novel traceability solution. The solution, known as the Emerald Paternity Test, involves the application of ‘nanoparticles’ to rough emerald crystals at the point of extraction. Nanoparticles, just 0.0001 millimetres in diameter, contain information that can be retrieved in a laboratory environment by downstream organisations and consumers in the future. Information can contain mining location (e.g. country of extraction, mining area, mine, shaft), the miner (e.g. company or mining cooperative), and the time of extraction (e.g. year or quarter). The nanoparticles are applied to tiny fissures in the emerald, meaning the information is resistant to the influence of cutting, polishing, and repeated treatment. The aesthetic properties of the gemstone are not compromised at any point during the application process, providing a traceability mechanism that is ‘locked-in’ to the individual stones. For more information on the technology behind the Emerald Paternity Test, click here.

The Challenge: Gübelin Gem Lab’s technologies build value into the materials and operations of its clients by implementing robust traceability solutions. 

In 2017, Gübelin Gem Lab sought to scope the potential for implementation of the Emerald Paternity Test technology in an artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector context. The company needed to conduct a market entry scoping study to ultimately build the business case for piloting the Emerald Paternity Test in ASM producing countries and coloured gemstone supply chains. 

Gübelin Gem Lab was keen to ensure processes be sustainable and beneficial to stakeholders across the emerald value chain.

The Solution: Gübelin Gem Lab contracted Levin Sources to deepen its understanding of ASM emerald sectors, build the case for scoping in a selected producer country, and perform the in-country scoping.

Sorting through waste pile at an emerald mine, Ethiopia.
Sorting through a waste pile at an emerald mine, Ethiopia. Photo: Kate MacLeod/Levin Sources

Levin Sources was selected for its expertise in artisanal and small-scale mining and responsible sourcing, with experience in coloured gemstone supply chains. The company knew who and how to engage to get the ball rolling on Gübelin Gem Lab’s project

Members of the Levin Sources team accompanied the client to the designated producer country to perform the scoping activities, scoring the suitability of the national emerald sector for piloting the Emerald Paternity Test. Levin Sources engaged key stakeholders in local and national governments, mineral traders, mining cooperatives, and miners.

The team visited a small-scale mine site and engaged with artisanal mining communities to build an understanding of how the supply chains operate and the applicability of the Emerald Paternity Test.

Discussion with artisanal miners, Ethiopia.
Discussion with artisanal miners, Ethiopia. Photo: Kate MacLeod/Levin Sources

After the in-country scoping, the Levin Sources team assessed the feasibility and commerciality for working with ASM in a comprehensive report, providing a roadmap and recommendations for the possible implementation of a pilot.

The Result: Gübelin Gem Lab is now able to make informed and astute decisions and leverage its knowledge to pilot the Emerald Paternity Test in artisanal and small-scale mining contexts, with comprehensive knowledge of the emerald supply chains of Ethiopia.

“Levin Sources completed comprehensive research and gave us a clear indication of the business case to proceed," said Dr Daniel Nyfeler, Managing Director of Gübelin Gem Lab. 

"The team was professional, open, and personable throughout, opening doors to the right people and asking the right questions. They understood our needs well and ensured they were met.”

Women focus group at an artisanal emerald mine, Ethiopia.
Women focus group at an artisanal emerald mine, Ethiopia. Photo: Estelle Levin-Nally/Levin Sources

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