physical tracers

Reliable proof of provenance is here.

Provenance Proof physical tracers

Why is traceability important?

With today’s consumers becoming more and more discerning about the provenance of a product, especially a jewellery piece from how the gemstone was sourced to how the jewellery piece was manufactured, the need for companies to show their commitments in providing transparency of their products is proven more and more critical.

The Physical Tracers enable all stakeholders to work towards the realisation of their goals of transparency. Companies in the gems and jewellery industry are facing limitations when it comes to the exact source of origin of the gems they use in their products. They must rely on a mixture of trust and self-declaration of mining companies, which usually lacks independent proof of provenance.

Through our Physical Tracers, such proof is now available for all the gems and jewellery industry stakeholders. The Physical Tracers is the first of an array of technologies of Provenance Proof dedicated to bringing more transparency into the gems and jewellery industry. The right of using the technology is subject to a Code of Conduct, defining the use and application of the technology.

View the Code of Conduct here.

What are Physical Tracers?

Our Physical Tracers are nanolabels that are based on DNA. These nanolabels contain information that can be custom-made to meet a user's needs, identifying the mine of origin, mining period, country of manufacture, manufacture period, and so on. These Physical Tracers can be applied to a gem at any stage, from rough to a finished piece of jewellery.

With gems and jewellery sales are thriving in the digital landscape more than ever in the past, these Physical Tracers help protect your brand from counterfeiting, false claims of product origin and build customer trust by providing traceable provenances for your products.

Emerald Paternity Test

Since Provenance Proof was launched, we have successfully developed Physical Tracers dedicated to the needs of emeralds. These Physical Tracers can trace an emerald back to its exact mine of origin. Meanwhile, relevant information like the mining period and the mining company can also be stored in these Physical Tracers, which effectively create confidence and build trust in consumers when purchasing emerald jewellery pieces tagged with these Physical Tracers. Furthermore, this information stored in the Physical Tracers can be later decoded and retrieved to validate the claims on the background of these emeralds made by the retailers, which we are proud to call "The Emerald Paternity Test". The Emerald Paternity Test has been a huge success since its launch, and these Physical Tracers can be found in many of the top-tiered emeralds in the market today. To know about the availability of Physical Tracers for other kinds of gems, please kindly inquire us at info@provenanceproof.com.

What is the technology?

Recent advances in nanotechnology and the customisation of DNA has enabled invisible tagging of various materials. We have customised DNA-based, nano-sized particles to suit the specific needs of the gemstone industry. The particles have a diameter of about 100 nanometres or 0.0001 millimetres. Our nanoparticles are invisible even to the best optical microscope and do not induce any optical effect whatsoever.

Information on the mining location, the miner and the mining time is encrypted and stored in the DNA and encapsulated in a sphere of amorphous silica to resist the influences of cutting, polishing and repeated treatment. By means of a carrier liquid, these particles are applied on the rough crystals and gems, penetrating even the tiniest fissures, and tightly adhering to the walls. The nanoparticles can be retrieved for the information contained in the DNA to be decoded and read at a later stage, disclosing the paternity of the emerald.

How does it work?

The process typically starts in the mine. The rough crystals are tagged with the nanoparticles before any cleaning or sorting is undertaken. The application of the Physical Tracers in the mine is handled by an independent auditor.

The nanoparticles penetrate the fissures in the emerald and adhere closely to the surface. Then, the applied ethanol-based liquid evaporates completely within a few minutes. After this step, the tagging process is already complete.

Experience has shown that a sufficiently big number of DNA tags remain in the fissures during cutting, polishing and re-oiling processes, so it is usually possible to determine their origin at a later date.

During the sale of the final piece in a retail shop, the Provenance Proof label and Emerald Paternity Test inspire trust and bring consumers additional confidence in the jewellery piece.

Whenever required, the stone can be submitted to an authorised lab to conduct the paternity test. And the client gets transparency about the exact location where the emerald was unearthed.

Download the brochure to learn more.

Who benefits?

The Physical Tracers are available for the entire industry.

Mining companies and cooperatives

Mining companies and cooperatives, small and big, are key to achieve a new level of transparency. They unearth the rough crystals and start the journey of the gems. And it is ideal to kick off the Physical Tracers with them to enable traceability in gemstones.

Industry organisations & NGOs

Industry and trade associations, civil society organisations, NGOs and other outfits overseeing the gems and jewellery industry can directly or indirectly use this technology to facilitate and check the industry's implementation of policies and standards.

Governments

Governmental bodies can use the technology to promote and monitor their domestic production, control exports and support the marketing and branding of their country's gems by distinguishing them from gems of other countries.

Jewellery brands

Jewellery manufacturers can show consumers their commitments to manufacturing transparent products by proving that the gemstones they use in their jewellery are traceable. They can apply these Physical Tracers as a proof against counterfeit products.

Retailers

Jewellery retailers have a new way to tell a verifiable and more complete story of the jewellery they sell. The client can verify the provenance claim made by the retailer, which connects the consumer more deeply and intimately to the product, fostering trust and loyalty.

End consumers

End consumers can fully trust the claims made by jewellery brands, knowing that the provenance of a gemstone is now verifiable through physical tracing. In addition to that, verifiable traceability also renders the gem retains its resale value.

Frequently asked questions

How are the particles applied to the stone?

The emeralds are immersed in an ethanol-based liquid containing the nanolabels. The suspended nanolabels penetrate eye-visible, microscopic or even submicroscopic fissures and adhere to the walls of all these fissures. The exact chemical mechanism behind this process is a proprietary procedure protected by an international patent.

What are the nanolabels made of?

The nanolabels (Physical Tracers) consist of synthetic DNA encapsulated into amorphous silica spheres. As a biological molecule, DNA is not a very stable material, and degrades when exposed to sunlight, heat or humidity. To protect it from such degradation, it needs to be protected. In our nanolabels, the DNA is encapsulated into silica, comparable to the process of fossilisation.                        

Why are you using DNA?

DNA makes an excellent medium for storing client-specific information due to its nano size, which makes them invisible to even the best optical microscopes out there after they have been tagged on a rough gem. This explains why DNA has always been the favourite method of mother nature for storing information in extremely small volumes of space. Furthermore, the nature of the DNA structure allows for an infinite number of unique codes to be written which makes it suitable for a long-term, global application.

Are the nanolabels harmful?

The synthetic DNA sequences used in our nanolabels are identical to natural DNA fragments found in many fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, through the daily intake of food, humans' digestion is shown to have no issues in processing even a large volume of DNAs. Concerning that, nanolabels that accidentally get swallowed are therefore not going to cause any known health risk. And yes, our nanolabels are perfectly vegan!

Even for people working with the nanolabels daily, for instance, those involved in applying the Physical Tracers onto the rough crystals are not exposed to any known health risk according to the current state of knowledge. In addition, as the nanolabels are suspended in a liquid, the nanolabels are not airborne and therefore not prone to cause any lung disease such as silicosis.

According to research findings, the amount of nanolabels getting airborne during the cutting process is usually moderate and does not imply an increased health risk for the cutter. Likewise, no health risk arising from the nanolabels in connection with the handling, setting, cleaning, oiling of the gems, and finally wearing jewellery with gems containing our nanolabels  could be proven. Furthermore, according to the requirements defined by the European Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these nanolabels contain nothing considered persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic.               

Is tagging classified as a treatment?

It is up to the market or a trade authority such as CIBJO to decide if the application of the Physical Tracers is considered as a treatment. Provenance Proof does not consider this process as a treatment as treatment refers to any process excluding cutting and polishing that alters the appearance in the hope of improving its colour or clarity. Our studies could not prove such an alteration due to the application of our Physical Tracers. Furthermore, the nanolabels are invisible even to the best optical microscope. For instance, they have no discernible effect on the appearance (including colour and clarity), weight, value, or properties of the emerald in the case of the Emerald Paternity Test.

The carrier liquid used for transporting the nanolabels into the fissures is ethanol, i.e. standard alcohol that evaporates completely within a few minutes, leaving no traces whatsoever.             

What about stones that have no fissures?

Rough gems that are completely free of any fissures might not be suitable for the application of the Physical Tracers, as all particles might get removed during the cutting and cleaning process. However, based on our recent experiences with the technology in the case of the Emerald Paternity Test for example, the few emeralds that are loupe clean still feature sufficient fissures of submicroscopic dimensions for the nanolabels to enter them and adhere to their walls, enabling a later paternity test.

How to read the information stored in the Physical Tracers?

The particles found within the fissures are removed from the walls using a proprietary buffer solution. The retrieved DNA fragments are analysed using quantitative PCR (qPCR), a standard method applied for reading DNA. The analysed DNA is then decoded to determine the client-specific information, such as the identity of the owner, the mining location, the mining period etc. Provenance Proof is the custodian of the information encrypted into the DNA and the sole party in charge of decoding this information.

How does it work?

Emeralds can be submitted to Provenance Proof or any Gübelin Gem Lab in Switzerland, Hong Kong or New York to perform the Emerald Paternity Test, i.e. retrieving and analysing the nanolabels. We foresee contracting a few other analytical laboratories that get entrusted with the extraction of the nanolabels. The decoding of the information stored in the nanolabels remains exclusively with Provenance Proof.

How secure is the technology against counterfeiting?

In principle, it is not difficult to reproduce a known DNA sequence. So how can we assure that the information in the DNA-based nanolabels is not copied, reproduced and misused on other gems other than the one made for? Firstly, the intellectual property of the nanolabels and the application for emeralds are protected by different international patents, making a possible unauthorised application illegal. Better protection arises from increasing technological challenges a counterfeiter would have to overcome. The highest level of security stems from the fact that the technology is based on a key-lock system, meaning that reading the DNA sequence is only possible with a key specific for that sequence. Hence, the information is made inaccessible and kept under careful custody in a bank vault. Therefore, our physical tracers are fairly secure against counterfeiting.

How to make sure that the technology is only applied to the correct gems?

The nanolabels used in the Physical Tracers contain information specific to a mine, a mining company and a mining period. Therefore, these Physical Tracers must only be applied to the correct gems. Furthermore, to minimise the risk of having the nanolabels applied on the wrong gems, the application of the Physical Tracers is strictly allowed to be operated only by independent and professional auditors assigned by Provenance Proof.