I had written this in December 2006 on another blog that has since been made private, so I’m re-posting here.

A girl's best friend?Of all the zany things I say on my shaadi/indian dating/general online dating world profiles, the one statement I make about not wearing diamonds often gets the most attention. I get asked if I just like being subversive, or if I just am one of those people who likes rubbing people the wrong way, or (my personal favorite) whether I just like cheap gifts/men (this boy deserves a post of his own).

Maybe I get this reaction because the diamond has become the standard measure of a man’s love for his woman, the bigger, the brighter, the more bling-bling the better; the more expensive, the greater his love, and when I reject this measure, some men don’t quite know how to react. Whatever the case, my objection to this particular stone dates far back, to before the bloody nature of the diamond was quite “public,” before movies like Bond made not liking diamonds acceptable, and maybe even a little sexy.

I was visiting my relatives in Texas this past weekend and it was mentioned that another relative had recently got engaged, and her fiancée had sprung for a 3 carat center cut ring worth a whopping $25,000. Yes, you read that right…Twenty-Five GRAND…talk about a mortgage on a finger! And the context of this statement was that my cousins and I (the unmarried ones) could, AND should, learn a thing or two from this girl.

What blows me away by all of this is not the price or the extravagance, like everyone else I am somewhat fascinated with people who have so much money that they can spend that much on a mere piece of jewelery, but that otherwise intelligent, educated people have so thoroughly bought into this diamond craze, that is, after all, simply a series of brilliant ad campaigns by DeBeers that elevated a previously insignificant stone to its present day status.

In the 1930s, De Beers set out to establish social status for large diamonds through giving a number of starlets hefty stones, arranging for glamorous photo shoots, and script-doctoring Hollywood movies to include scenes of jewelry shopping.

In 1947, De Beers’ ad agency came up with the massively successful slogan “A diamond is forever,” which implied that diamonds don’t crack, break, or lose value. (They do.)

Ten-year anniversary rings were created and heavily advertised in the 1960s after De Beers was forced to purchase large stocks of Russian diamonds. Most of these diamonds were small, white gems of less than one-quarter carat…Hence the eternity ring–equally expensive but with smaller stones–was marketed specifically for anniversaries.

DeBeers pretty much controls the diamond market, operating in a monopoly, controlling the supply creating artificial scarcity, and manipulating the demand for these stones, essentially setting global prices for a comodity that is neither as rare or as “traditional” as they want the world to believe.

They’ve even pled guilty to a charge of price fixing, and paid the maximum $10 million fine, a mere drop in their glittery bucket.

In entering the plea agreement, De Beers Centenary admitted that it reached agreements with its co-conspirator to raise list prices for certain industrial diamond products sold worldwide, as charged in the indictment. In furtherance of the conspiracy, officers, employees and agents acting on behalf of DeBeers had communications and discussions with, attended meetings with, and transmitted detailed future pricing information and plans to its co-conspirator. According to the plea agreement, De Beers Centenary and its co-conspirator sometimes used the cover of an officer of a customer, who was actually acting on behalf of De Beers Centenary, to transmit detailed future pricing information and plans to each other.

This all even before we touch on the issue that diamonds have been/are being used to fund several conflicts in Africa. Granted the percentage of diamonds on the market coming from these conflict zones is small, but when you’re talking about a several billion dollar industry, you can see that a large sum of money can be garnered for even a small percentage of that trade. And the worst part of it all is that it is in the interest of the diamond traders in that region for the conflicts to continue so there is no incentive to clean up the trade. And unfortunately, Kimberly Process or not, it is virtually impossible to tell where a diamond has been mined unless you watch the mining with your own eyes.

The good news, is that people are beginning to strike back. Two startups have come up with processes to manufacture diamonds, real ones, using machines. Can you imagine what will happen to the diamond industry if a diamond “worth” $10, 000 was suddenly available for $100?

And what then, would that say about the deapth of a man’s love?


Related: Photo-essay on Diamond Trail from Africa to India

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