Traceable Melee

.025ct diamonds from the Argyle Mine in Australia

The term “melee” refers to small diamonds and gemstones that are .18cts or less. They are used for embellishing and accenting jewelry, as well as the focal point of some pieces. Some of Bario Neal’s most popular pieces feature melee diamonds or gemstones. This article will examine the issues with traceability for these small stones and the efforts Bario Neal is making to source traceable melees.

The use of diamond melee in jewelry makes up the largest portion of the world’s diamond consumption, but because each individual stone is small and relatively inexpensive, it’s often not worth suppliers’ time to document their sourcing and keep them separate from other stones. Additionally, with larger stones, traceability can be achieved by laser-inscribing a unique tracking number on each stone, a process that is cost-prohibitive (and sometimes even impossible) for smaller stones.

This attention to larger stones applies to the cutting and polishing processes as well. It is easier to find larger diamonds and gemstones that are cut in facilities in China, India, Canada, Belgium, Israel, the US, and elsewhere that have high or extremely high standards for worker health, safety, well being, and compensation. It is easier to cover the higher costs of ethical sourcing with these large, very valuable precious gemstones. Likewise, it is more difficult to find small, and therefore less valuable, stones that are ethically mined, cut and polished because it is often not seen as cost effective (see our article on Stone Cutting and Polishing).

 Channel Narrow Bands in 18kt Yellow Gold with .005ct Diamonds


Luckily, suppliers such as Mike Angenent of Open Source Minerals and Steve McClelland of Inspira are committed to traceability for all of their materials and have put great amounts of energy into sourcing traceable melee. Both Inspira and Open Source Minerals are members of the Jeweltree Foundation (also founded by Angenent), an independent, third-party certifier that guarantees supply chain transparency, social responsibility, and ecological sustainability while supporting small scale mining initiatives in developing countries. When purchasing a Jeweltree certified diamond or gemstone, you have full access to your stone’s information, from the mine to the cutting and polishing facility, all the way to the supplier or store from whom you are purchasing the stone. Jeweltree certification is among most rigorous standards for ethically sourced materials in the jewelry industry.

So how does Jeweltree certify melee stones if they cannot be laser inscribed?  Jeweltree certified melees are kept in parcels, or lots. This is standard practice, but usually melees in the lots are sorted by the 4C’s (color, cut, clarity, and carat). In order to ensure traceability, Jeweltree requires that stones be sorted by mine and country of origin. [1]


 Custom Asymmetrical Avens with a Round Cut Champagne Diamond and .02ct Diamond Sidestones

Steve McClelland of Inspira Diamonds explains the specifics of sourcing traceable melees:

Rio Tinto Diamonds (RTD), the mining company that supplies Inspira with rough product, keeps separate the rough from the three mines they market–namely the Argyle mine in Australia, the Murowa mine in Zimbabwe, and the Diavik mine in Canada. This separation is not only because the products from these mines have different characteristics, but also to ensure that each producing country receives fair royalties for their product. Back at the RTD offices, the vault is sectioned off into three sections, one for each source of origin, and staff may only access one product at a time. Each mine’s production is clearly labeled and has a traceable lot number. This tracking and demarcation process is audited internally by Rio Tinto, by the auditing authorities of the producing countries, and by an independent, third-party auditor. The rough is then purchased by a Select Diamantaire (SD), who then decides if it’s financially viable to maintain the origins of the product he purchases; this is usually based on the percentage of traceable RTD product in their total intake. Inspira’s SD sources 100% of its product from RTD, specifically from the Diavik and Argyle mines. This SD is then responsible for tracking the lots through the polishing system to the satisfaction of RTD standards, and is also audited by the Responsible Jewellery Council. The products from the two mines are polished in separate facilities, again because of their different characteristics. The factory that houses these polishing facilities is audited by Jeweltree and has been approved as the only Jeweltree supplier of traceable melee. Inspira then purchases this melee in parcels, which are labeled and separated physically at all times, and each has a tracking code that is passed along to the customer.  Inspira’s tracing system has been examined and approved by Jeweltree. [2]

Bario Neal is also proud to offer recycled melee diamonds. As Jorge Arrieta of Niccolo Bella explains, these melee are second hand stones from a variety of sources–some from estate dealers, pre-owned stones resold by individuals, and a few from jewelry store closings. [3] One of the main advantages of investing in a recycled diamond is the inherent contribution to reducing the diamond industry’s reliance on environmentally damaging mining practices. A recycled diamond is one that has been previously used in a piece of jewelry, removed, re-polished, and properly graded. [3] With a recycled diamond the social and environmental bill has already been paid. It is important to acknowledge that with a recycled diamond, it is impossible to trace it back to its mining and cutting origins, and know whether or not it came from a mine that treated its workers and environment responsibly, or whether it was cut in a facility that offered safe working conditions and fair pay to its employees. Additionally, it is also important to keep in mind that traceable melee from responsible sources provide livelihoods for many people, and support the shift toward a more ethical and environmentally sustainable jewelry industry. [3]

Bario Neal is proud use traceable melee diamonds and gemstones for all jewelry in our collections that feature melee stones, with the one exception of baguette diamonds, for which we are currently seeking a new source.


[2] Conversation with Steve McClelland of Inspira Diamonds. June 2014.

[3] Interview with Jorge Arrieta, Director of Niccolo Bella. June 2014.





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