HB Antwerp’s new Capsule device promises to lock in the details of a stone’s origins via blockchain.
Securing the identity of a diamond as it travels along the pipeline is an ongoing area of research and development. One of the core challenges is linking the stone to its paper or digital record to confirm its provenance and physical traits. The latest company to tackle this is Belgium-based diamond supplier HB Antwerp, which launched its debut blockchain-powered device, the HB Capsule, in September: a hand-held diamond vault that uses a secure digital ledger to track a stone.
End of the paper era
This proprietary “internet of things” device captures and stores data using the HB Ledger, which the company created in partnership with Microsoft. Others involved in the project are Belgian engineering and design company Compate, and Dutch production company Rompa.
“The HB Capsule is the antidote for the parcel paper,” declares Shai de-Toledo, cofounder and managing partner at HB Antwerp. “Parcel papers embody the state of the industry: an old-fashioned industry reigned by opaqueness and secrecy. Consumers don’t accept this anymore.”
Each time the HB Capsule opens or closes, it digitally stores information about the “transformation process” of the diamond it contains, collecting some 3,000 verification points, says de-Toledo. The aim is to have this data ledger follow the stone through the manufacturing and sales stages so that diamond consumers can access verifiable information about its provenance, the labor conditions at its mine of origin, and the carbon footprint its processing creates, among other factors.
“For the first time, consumers don’t need to trust,” says de-Toledo. “They can verify which product they are buying and how it has been created.”
The device also has built-in security measures. “The Capsule can only be opened by authorized persons,” he elaborates. “Every movement, opening, or closing is registered in an immutable way; tampering won’t pass without notification.”
In practice, this means that after each transaction, only the next person in line on the stone’s mine-to-market journey can unlock the Capsule and register their actions on the blockchain.
Balancing the scale
The HB Capsule is designed to carry a single stone — which raises the issue of scalability. While the product “conceptually solves the problem” of diamond tracing, it “perhaps wouldn’t be economical with smaller stones,” suggests industry analyst Paul Zimnisky.
Indeed, HB Antwerp is focusing the first phase of the project on the rough-to-polished process, presumably with stones of significant size or value. It is also testing the Capsule as a means of tracking rough material that’s been cut into multiple pieces. “When the mother stone is split into several stones, [each of] the ‘children’ will get their box,” de-Toledo explains, and these Capsules will be “digitally linked to the mother stone.”
The company plans to launch the second stage, which will focus on the end consumer, in the second half of 2023.
Taking it to the top
HB Antwerp ultimately has grander ambitions for the technology: It wants to offer governments “undisputable data and information about the value of their natural resources,” de-Toledo says.
Although data storage and authorized personnel usage are two obvious benefits of the HB Capsule, he believes the biggest benefit will be for mineral-producing countries. “For the first time, the country of origin knows how much value they are creating and how much value is staying in the country to improve the lives of its citizens.”
It was this aspect that struck a chord with Microsoft. “This story is one of political leadership,” says Teresa Hutson, the software giant’s vice president of tech and corporate responsibility. “We believe it will lead to greater inclusive economic development and advance the delivery of the [UN] Sustainable Development Goals.”
And diamonds are just the beginning. “As diamonds are one of the more complex minerals, Microsoft sees HB as a case study for other natural resources…to show how data can be repurposed to have a positive impact,” says de-Toledo, whose company describes the Capsule as the “alpha” in a family of smart devices it plans to launch this year and beyond. If it succeeds in its goals, the Capsule concept may become an invaluable tool for the future.
Image: HB Antwerp