American rapper Kanye West made a good start with his 2005 ditty, Diamonds from Sierra Leone. Now, a Sydney student is helping to spread the word on conflict diamonds locally.

By Carla Caruso, www.diamondsandwhirls.com

Yolande Kyngdon reminds me of the main character in a chick-lit novel I have just been engrossed in – Tilly Bagshawe’s “Flawless”.

She’s young, stylish – and passionate about ethical jewellery.

The 24-year-old University of NSW honours student is completing a thesis on the feasibility of setting up a fair trade diamond industry internationally. (Similarly, in Flawless, the main character, Scarlett, is a fine jewellery designer, who also fronts the ethical jewellery organisation, Trade Fair.)

Kyngdon’s passion was sparked while working in jewellery stores during her studies. “Working in the industry for six years made me realise how cut-throat the diamond trade is. It’s the biggest irony that diamonds represent love and commitment, when there is often so much underlying conflict, violence and ill treatment that comes with the industry [abroad]. The diamond chain is often referred to as the ‘spaghetti chain’, because it’s so incredibly interwoven and complex. One of the aims of my thesis is to actually shorten the supply chain and make it more transparent and accountable.”

The film, Blood Diamond, exposed the realities of conflict diamonds for the first time to many and Kyngdon’s says it’s a fair portrayal – aside from Leonardo DiCaprio’s phony South African accent. “When you read about the realities associated with diamond mining in a lot of countries, what’s depicted in the film is pretty spot-on. Although it’s from Hollywood, it really does represent a reality for a lot of people in the world. The problem is that no one can guarantee that their stones have not come from a situation like that, because of the failure of the Kimberley Process.” (The latter refers to a process introduced by the United Nations to certify the origin of rough diamonds from conflict-free sources, though it in itself has been controversy-plagued.)

Diamonds aside, elsewhere in the jewellery arena, several brands are working hard to do the right thing. Bellicious is a Sydney label, which uses beads and silver sourced largely from Fair Trade industries in Thailand and Africa (www.bellicious.com). Danish brand La Chance, available in Australia, also uses Fair Trade materials (www.lachance.dk). And, Italian luxury brand Bvlgari has crafted a ring to help raise funds for quality education for children living in conflict-affected areas. Great work.

For more on Kyngdon’s research, check out www.fairtraderesearch.com.