Couples who pick out an engagement ring will soon be able to trace its history from the mine to the jewelry store. This is thanks to a global jewelry consortium using blockchain technology to create an indelible tracking system for the diamond and gold in six types of popular rings.
The project, announced Thursday, is known as TrustChain and involves precious metal suppliers, refiners and manufacturers working with the U.S. retail jeweler Helzberg Diamonds. TrustChain will use IBM blockchain tools to allow anyone in the supply chain—and eventually the customer—to verify the provenance of the rings.
The jewelry industry has long relied on certificates to show a gem is not counterfeit, or sourced from conflict zones. But the process is cumbersome, relying on a scattered series of records, many of which might be transcribed only on paper.
The TrustChain process, in contrast, requires companies at every stage of the process, including miners and shippers, to create a shared record on a blockchain ledger. The ledger is transparent, tamper-proof and distributed across multiple computers.
“Consumers should be able to see the journey their gem has gone through. Soon ring owners will be able to look up their rings [on the same blockchain],” said IBM Senior Vice President of Industry Platforms Bridget van Kralingen in an interview with Fortune.
Van Kralingen added that TrustChain is already up and running for the retailer Helzberg and its suppliers, and that consumers should be able to use the blockchain technology themselves by the end of the year.
Currently, Helzberg and its partners (precious metals supplier LeachGarner, jewelry manufacturer The Richline Group and third party verification service UL) are working to show that blockchain tracking is viable for six types of diamond rings. The companies then hope to persuade other companies to rely on the blockchain technology in the same way, and make it a common practice across the jewelry industry.
TrustChain is not the first initiative to apply blockchain technology to the jewelry industry. A startup called Everledger is working with diamond supply chains and has so far added more than 1.5 million gems to its ledger. The TrustChain project, however, differs in that it also tracks gold and finished pieces of jewelry rather than just diamonds.
More broadly, the jewelry initiative is only the latest example of how industries of all sorts are embracing blockchain to improve transparency and supply chains. Wal-Mart, for instance, used IBM’s blockchain tool to follow shipments of pork from China, while shipping giant Maersk is using the technology to track containers.
IBM’s blockchain platform, which is based on a type of code called HyperLedger Fabric, is one of several that companies are beginning to incorporate to overhaul their supply chains and record-keeping. Van Kralingen predicts that the variety of blockchain tools will be interoperable, allowing industries to avert conflicts over standards.
She adds that consumers—including wedding ring shoppers—also have a big interest in blockchain since it lets them make healthy and ethical purchasing decisions.
“People do care about what they buy,” said van Kralingen. “Most consumers, especially millennials, will pay more to know.”