Jane Bell, one of just a handful of woman active in New Zealand's mining industry, is moving ground to bring more transparency to the jewellery business.
Auckland-based Bell, who has been involved in mining and the wider jewellery business for 28 years, is working on a new company to bring more traceability and sustainability to local diamond and gold mining practices.
Bell is the owner of luxury diamond brand Godavari, set up in late 2019 just before Covid-19 hit and shook global markets. The brand found its niche within the market presenting loose diamonds in a luxury way - in a globe made of precious metals.
Bell bought into the business eight years ago after a long career with gold mining companies Zedex and then Besra Gold, when she acquired New Zealand Gem Trading from then-owner and ex-All Black Peter Whiting and his nephew. Whiting set up the business in the 1970s importing and supplying diamonds to jewellers throughout the country.
But once in the industry, Bell said she felt that loose diamonds "weren't sold in a particularly nice way" and so she went on to establish retail brand Godavari.
Aside from selling conflict-free diamonds, Bell is focused on bringing change to the industry.
The self-confessed "Queen of diamonds", who says there are no other women working in New Zealand's diamond and gold mining industries, is working with Development West Coast and local iwi Ngāti Waewae on the board of newly-formed company The New Zealand Refinery Limited.
She is one of three board members of the firm, which will soon begin refining gold that will be traceable back to the tenement that the gold has been mined in - and to the part of the river in which it came from.
Bell is also a company secretary of gold mining firm New Talisman Gold, and a director of the South Island-based NZ Institute of Minerals to Materials Research.
Godavari aims to begin sourcing gold through The New Zealand Refinery in coming months.
"Most of our gold is West Coast gold but at the moment we can't trace it back to the tenement, so that is an exciting development. And that way we can actually look at the practices of the miner as to whether we want to be buying their gold versus someone else's," Bell told the Herald.
"In the industry it is a real challenge because of the way gold mining and refining - and it's the same with diamonds - the way that they trade metals and diamonds, it's actually quite difficult to get right down to the mine."
Few companies in the jewellery industry globally can currently trace their materials back to the original source mine.
This was a problem, said Bell, as most metals were sent to refineries and consolidated. "They are tested on the input but the output is all the merged product so it is difficult to say 'This piece of gold came from that piece of the river or mine,' whereas all of what we're doing in the New Zealand Refinery Limited will be traced back to the tenement."
As a board director of the NZ Refinery Limited, Bell is helping to establish policies and setting up channels for the firm to work with jewellers.
The diamond and gold mining trade is yet to be shaken up in any meaningful way. But with consumers now conscious of what they are buying and under what circumstances it was produced in, there was no better time to try to bring change to the industry, said Bell.
"We're not seeing a big pool in terms of demand for sustainable practices in jewellery - we're not asked for that often, but we are choosing as a company to be responsible," she said.
"But in the long term, that's where people will go."
Bell likens the move to bring more transparent mining practices in the industry to the Government implementing the ban on single-use plastic bags: "We all couldn't envisage how it could work, but we're all now very happily going to collect our reusable bags from the back of the car and have changed our habits."
Bell urged more companies to push for better transparency and traceability in the industry, and to be "good corporate citizens of the world".
Diamond sales amid Covid
The war in Ukraine has been "causing issues" for the global diamond trade.
When Covid first hit in early 2020 mining companies were forced to cut back on the mining of rough diamonds as a result of staff sickness and social distancing regulations, and production was further cut back amid uncertainty and fears of a global depression.
But as the world opened up quicker than expected and demand for diamonds sustained despite uncertainty, this has put pressure on diamond prices as the supply of rough was not as readily available. That coupled with the war between Ukraine and Russia has strained the industry, pushing diamond prices since the middle of last year up between 30-40 per cent.
Russia produces over a third of the world's diamond rough, but following global sanctions since February when the war between Ukraine and Russia began, that has meant a third of the world's diamond rough is largely unavailable, putting extra pressure on supply.
"Diamonds are at a high at the moment compared to what they have been for many years - they are usually very steady and don't have massive highs and lows like gold," Bell explains.
Demand for diamonds since the arrival of the pandemic had caught jewellers and the industry by surprise, she said. "Certainly in New Zealand, people weren't spending money on travelling so they had more discretionary funds to spend on things like luxury jewellery.
"[Luxury] cars are doing very well [too], and here we've got companies like Van Cleef & Arpels coming in - all the big luxury brands are moving into New Zealand so they must see a market here and some money here," she said.
"What we've seen in the last couple of years as a wholesaler is bigger diamonds going out - 2 carats and 3 carats - and they are quite an investment."
Bell set up Godavari to focus on sourcing diamonds from fair-trade organisations and sustainably-producing mines. Its diamonds are sourced from entities that commit to sustainable environmental and business practices, and have undergone a vetting process.
Godavari recently teamed up, and designed a range of jewellery, with fashion retailer World, and is working on a collaboration with Ngāti Waewae to set diamonds in its pounamu.
"Because we had this opportunity of starting a retail brand from scratch [in the hopes to] solve the problem of not presenting loose diamonds in a luxury way, we started with a clean slate in terms of being able to build what we wanted around sustainable practices.
"We were able to think about how everything from the packaging to finished product impacts on society and the environment."
Godavari has no plans to set up its own stores. Long term, it wants to expand overseas through collaborations with retailers, stockists and artists.