Basel, Switzerland–When developing a method to make emeralds completely traceable, Gübelin Gem Lab looked to DNA.
Introduced at Baselworld 2017, Gübelin’s “Emerald Paternity Test” involves applying DNA-based nanoparticles directly onto rough emerald crystals at mining sites.
Nanotechnology deals with particles less than 100 nanometers large. The particles aren’t visible to the naked eye or even under an optical microscope, so a stone’s properties and grading won’t be affected by the application.
Gübelin’s application process is designed to withstand all steps of an emerald’s journey, from cutting to cleaning, polishing, transporting and setting, so that the nanoparticles will act as a permanent origin tag.
Just like a human’s DNA is specific to each individual, the tag will be unique to each mine.
This is an image of the DNA-based nanoparticles applied directly to rough emerald crystals as part of the emerald paternity test. The particles are invisible to the human eye and even to optical microscopes.
At any point in time, the particles can be decoded to reveal a stone’s origin.
“This technology offers all stakeholders along the entire supply chain, from the miner to the final customers, proof of the exact source of emeralds, instilling confidence and creating trust,” said Daniel Nyfeler, managing director of Gübelin Gem Lab. “It enables a new level of transparency for the gemstone trade.”
Gübelin worked with Gemfields, majority owner of the world’s largest emerald mine, the Kagem Mine in Zambia, to test the new technology.
“Partnering with Gemfields for the feasibility study was an obvious choice,” Nyfeler said, “as it is not only an industry leader, but a forward-thinking company, and hence a perfect partner to test a ground-breaking idea such as this paternity test for emeralds.”
The results were a success and Gemfields told National Jeweler it would “continue to tag emerald production coming through the auction system.”
Gemfields CEO Ian Harebottle explained, “Embracing innovation, technology and increased transparency is at the heart of our approach. We were therefore thrilled to assist Gübelin in the testing of this new technology, and we are very excited about the outcome as it offers a multitude of benefits to the industry and the consumer.”
For now, the paternity test will only work for emeralds, as the DNA-based nanoparticles are able to adhere to the fissures unique to the gemstone, and remain there through all processing.
Gübelin, which analyzes diamonds, color gemstones and pearls at its laboratories in Lucerne, Switzerland, Hong Kong and New York, said that the nanotechnology could offer transparency across the industry, to large and small mining companies, governments, trade organizations, industry watchdogs, jewelry brands and customers.
Gübelin is “looking to develop relationships with all stakeholders in the supply chain,” they said to National Jeweler.