The Greatest Story Ever Sold is a Fantasy Covered in Blood

By Amy Lin on 4 January 2007 125 comments

Want an easy way to save over three months' salary? Don't buy a diamond engagement ring. If your fiancée, friends, and family scream hellfire, calmly explain:

(See also: The Ethics of Free: Is It Wrong to Get Free Stuff?)

1. It's Just Marketing

The whole "A Diamond Is Forever" and the idea of a diamond engagement ring is not an ancient tradition to be revered and followed. It is Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst." It is Nike's "Just Do It." It is Gary Dahl's "Pet Rock." Not only did De Beers understand it had to control supply (buying up and closing down any diamond mine discovered), they had to control demand. They had to make it sentimental. And Americans were the perfect suckers. They targeted the U.S. specifically for our marketability. This campaign is less than 70 years old, yet has become so ingrained in our culture that the diamond engagement ring has become the ultimate symbol of how much the relationship, the girl, and love itself is worth.

2. Diamonds Aren't Rare

Fine, using marketing tactics can't be blamed since that's part of the game of capitalism. But another part of the game is competition. It's all well and good if marketers can convince consumers to buy them instead of the competition based on a nice slogan, but the competition should be there to protect the consumer. All gems are valued based on their rarity (as are most things in life). But diamonds are abundant. De Beers has a huge vault where they keep most of the world's supply of diamonds. If it ever got released into the market, the way it would be if they weren't a monopoly, diamonds would be worth nothing. It's literally a pretty rock.

3. Diamonds Have No Resale Value

The reason "A Diamond Is Forever" is because you're basically stuck with it. You'll never be able to resell it except to a pawn shop. Even a jeweler (the few who would be willing to buy it) would offer a fraction of what you paid.

4. Synthetic Diamonds Will Flood the Market

Synthetic or "cultured" diamonds are already being made and within the next few years, will be efficiently made for the mass market. These are real diamonds. They are made in a machine that replicates the environmental forces that make diamonds. The only difference is that they're better. They have less flaws. And they cost a fraction of the going rate. Want a two-carat pink diamond? That'll be a few thousand dollars.

5. Moissanite Looks Just Like a Diamond

Jewelers had to upgrade their equipment to detect Moissanite from diamonds when it came into the market. It's undetectable with the naked eye. And it's actually more brilliant. A one-carat ring is under $1000.

6. Who Is the Ring for, Anyway?

Seriously. As The Dilettante so poignantly put it, "For women, comparing jewelry is our phallic posturing contest: look at how big MY dic….er, I mean, diamond is." It's fun to show off for about 30 seconds. After that there is little to show for the debt incurred for the shiny piece of rock. That money could have gone into furniture, an amazing trip (or many nice ones), your future kids' college funds!

Are these reasons still not enough? Watch Blood Diamond. It is high time Hollywood dared to broach the subject of diamonds, especially when they had a hand in marketing it to the public in the first place. Blood Diamond, is an explicit example of the blood and war that has spanned the entire history of the De Beers' diamond cartel. The story of Sierra Leone isn't an isolated event, nor is the conflict over just because the movie says there's peace in Sierra Leone now.

7. What Are Conflict/Blood Diamonds?

Conflict/blood diamonds are used by rebel groups to fuel conflict and civil wars, and by terrorist groups to finance their activities.

8. The Kimberley Process Is Just PR

It's an agreement that is supposed to prevent conflict diamonds from getting into the market but ended up being more of a PR stunt since it's based on a system of self-policing. The U.N. reported in October 2006 that due to poor enforcement of the Kimberley Process, $23 million of conflict diamonds from Cote d'lvoire alone entered the legitimate market. Sure De Beers won't buy diamonds coming out of Cote d'lvoire, but they'll turn a blind eye to the smuggling of diamonds from there through Ghana and Mali where they are certified as being conflict-free.

9. Percentage in the Market

During the height of the diamond conflict in the 1990s, the diamond industry reported that no more than 4% of the diamonds in the market were conflict diamonds, when in reality it has been shown to be closer to 15%.

10. Asking for Conflict-Free Certificates Is not Enough

In April 2006 after a scathing report by Partnership Africa Canada about activities in Brazil, an internal review showed that 49 of 147 Kimberley Process certificates were fraudulent. Besides these fraudulent certificates, real certificates could still be issued if conflict diamonds were smuggled and mixed with legally traded ones before being certified.

11. Children in India Are Cutting and Polishing the Diamonds

Children in India can become "bonded" — forced to work to pay off the debts of their family. These children end up working in the diamond factories.

12. Children in Conflict Zones Are Being Used as Soldiers

The images in Blood Diamond with child soldiers are very real. They are drugged and brainwashed to handle the manslaughter they are forced to do.

Jennifer Connelly says in the movie Blood Diamond, "People back home would not buy a diamond if they knew it cost someone their hand." Now you know.

Additional Reources

Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond - Article from The Atlantic Monthly that chronicles the DeBeers marketing campaign
The New Diamond Age - Article from Wired magazine about the cultured diamond startups
Blood From Stones - LA Weekly
The Truth About Diamonds - A Global Witness Report
The Kimberley Process update, November 13, 2006 - Global Witness
Conflict Diamonds Fact Sheet - Global Witness and Amnesty International
The Diamond Invention
A History of the International Diamond Cartel
Diamonds Suck! - A personal essay on the virtures of Moissanite
Child Slave Labor in India

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Guest's picture

For those who do want a diamond for an engagement ring, and want to avoid conflict diamonds, here is an informative tutorial.

Guest's picture

> It’s just marketing.
Heck yeah!!! Marketing is needed to sell anything. After all a diamond is just an expensive rock. A Diamond is Forever was actually taken from the old Bond movie.

> Diamonds aren’t rare.
There are thousands of carats of diamonds mined every day. 70% of them are not gem quality. They are actually used in a lot of equipment like dentist drills, the drills for cutting tar roads, burrowing and a million other scientific tools and equipments. The gem quality diamonds are not that significantly rare. Its the distribution line which is tightly controlled by the Big Daddy!

De Beers used to have an 80% market share. Not anymore!!! It has diminished to 55% in the last decade and it's shrinking dramatically. One of the biggest reason why it opened flagship stores. It's still considered a monopoly!!

> Diamonds have no resale value.
This is absolutely wrong. Everything has a resale value. A pink and lime colored 1987 buick has a resale value. Diamonds have a resale value NOT INVESTMENT VALUE. Any jeweler who says that diamonds are investments is lying out of their teeth.

> Synthetic diamonds will flood the market.
They have been around since 1957. Seems more like a drought not a flood. Once again, they are used for industrial purposes.

> Moissanite looks just like a diamond.
In smaller sizes a moissanite looks very close to a diamond. In larger sizes, they get expensive and are available in yellowish to yellowish green colors. Moissanites are machine made/man made, it takes the same effort to make a .01 carat moissanite and a 1.00 carat moissanite. Explain to me why does the 1.00 carat not cost the same as 0.01 carat.

> The Kimberley Process is just PR.
It's a self monitored process and has its limitations. The K process has served well in reducing the number of diamonds exported illegitimately. Just like you cannot stop all the crime in the world, you cannot get 100% results.

> Children in India are cutting and polishing the diamonds.
That report does not subtract the number of children who are working in their family business because they want. I know since I am from India, worked and am working in the diamond industry and a lot of my friends starting training when they were 12 yrs old.

> Children in conflict zones are being used as soldiers.
It's a sad thing but how is that the diamond industry's fault???

Ravi Ramani
Adamas India Jewelers

Guest's picture

Thank you for this article - really excellent and although I have done some research on conflict diamonds you really pull together all of the needed facts nicely.

Guest's picture

I don't get it. It's like the fur trade because both fake fur and fake diamonds are practically impossible to tell apart from the original and ok, the wearer will know the truth but so what? Surely the aesthetic effect is what people are trying to achieve?

Guest's picture

I just wanted to be different. I don't want to blend into the masses like sheep. My engagement ring is a natural ruby, and I think it is beautiful because you can actually see some crystallized rutile in the center. It is the deepest red, and red symbolizes love to me. My husband took me ring shopping and told me to pick out whatever I wanted and that is what I picked, because it is as beautiful and unique as I am, and we did not break the bank either. Paying $2000 for a quality stone in a precious metal setting versus $40000 for a quality diamond in a precious metal setting is just a no brainer. Think of what you can do with the rest of the money, pay for your wedding, your honeymoon, buy a car, put a downpayment on a house, do some serious remodeling, or better yet put it in an account for retirement, because we will not be young forever! Just my two cents....

Guest's picture

If you need a diamond engagement ring and you want to be sure it's not a blood or conflict diamond please take a look at the Mad About Diamonds website.

Guest's picture

Nice post! If you saw the movie "blood diamond" it is an example of moissanite stone, even before there was a conflict between this two.Moissanite can be mistaken as diamonds even a jeweler sometimes can't say if the diamonds are real or just a moissanite because of it's quality.

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Get real. Any girl who goes on and on about you buying her a diamond isn't worth being with as anyone that materialistic deserves to be on their own.

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diamonds value is man made, it is just a hype, product of carbon crystalization under high pressure, hard, brilliant and durable, aside from that, nothing comes next, and as what our present scientist doing right now, they make their own diamond at the laboratory, unlike gold, diamond now are being copy, man made.

Guest's picture

I recently had a job interview down at the local chip shop, and they asked, "Where would you see yourself in a few years?" and I replied, "Probably working here selling chips and spilling vinegar everywhere but at night i'll be working the street corners and selling drugs." And he laughed and said, "Won't we all." It was perhaps the greatest moment of my life, he then offered me the job on the spot and I told him No thanks, your allright (sarcasm). Then he got all serious and told me to Get the **** into work next week or im gonna burn down your house! (sarcasm also.)

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Although conflict (or 'blood') diamonds are a serious issue, it's also important to realize that the profit made from the sale of conflict diamonds account for an incredibly small percentage of the product of the diamond market.

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Women like pretty jewelry, I am no exception, so I often collect jewelry, because of this love, which makes my life more interesting

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I never have wanted a diamond ring. Diamonds just don't have a "wow" factor for me. They are a plain, clear, rock. Yeah it's sparkly, but so is an emerald, sapphire, ruby...ETC and those are COLORFUL! I'd much rather have a semi-precious stone, like tigers eye(I LOVE tigers eye) in a ring than a diamond. That way the ring means something to me rather than just looking "pretty."

Guest's picture

I have been crazy about diamonds my whole life.

Then around 2006 I watched the movie and decided I was going to change just one thing..... DEMAND, from one little person. ME!

My husband thought I was kidding and wanted to buy me a diamond ring when my son was born.... i told him if he dared bought me one i would leave him. He didn't realise how serious I was.

It also made matters worse. I was now a mother to a beautiful baby boy. What's the difference from my baby to all those children enslaved to this terrible trade?

God bless you Lynn for this beautiful article and I hope we together can change people and but a stop to this sick trade.

Guest's picture

It's much easier living on the surface. There's less cognitive dissonance occurring because ignorance is bliss. I think the argument regarding blood spilled around diamonds is silly - everything has blood on it.

What I do find offensive is the extreme entitlement some women (majority of American women) feel towards diamond rings.

Just because you're too afraid to open the box and look inside doesn't change what's really in the box. It would take a foolish man to marry a woman who demanded a diamond ring.

Guest's picture

Let's not jump on the synthetic diamond bandwagon yet. The article he links to is 6 years old, but we aren't all buying synthetic diamond engagement rings.

Guest's picture

Why would you choose not to do something just because it's unpopular?
I chose to have a CZ ring from my husband because I couldn't live with the idea of having blood on my hands. I know the there is a small chance percentage wise that my stone would be a blood diamond, but why even taken that risk? It seems very wrong.

Guest's picture

A) diamonds are rare
B) resale is almost as good as gold or platinum. Diamonds are a legitimate form of trade.
C) moissonite IS detectable by the naked eye
D) engagement rings go back thousands of years.

Whoever wrote this is ignorant.

Guest's picture

I love the movie Blood Diamond. It made me realize what it really meant to sacrifice your life for a stone. They aren't even worth anything over there and you only do it because if you don't you will die. It's too bad that they have to be kept in private like this. I can't wait for diamonds to be stolen from a vault and flooded into the market which brings down the economy of diamonds...

Guest's picture
Richard Tracy

It's so flattering for a girl to receive a diamond ring, for we all know that it really cost a lot, and receiving one only mean that the man values her a lot. But for people living in a country, like those in India where children need to work in an early age for their living, there are many other precious things than those diamond rings.

Guest's picture

Well said. My sense is that both women and men cling to manufactured ideas about diamonds. Why? As Homer once said, "It's because they're stupid, that's why. That's why everybody does everything." I think that's probably true of 80% of what most people do with their lives. It's not stupidity, exactly, but more like socialized behavior intertwined with subconscious motivations that shape a great deal of our beliefs and actions. Indeed, the widespread and rapid adoption and continued acceptance of the diamond-romance myth--even knowing their true cost and invented value--is proof that most of what we do with our lives is completely arbitrary and without meaning. The nagging sense of leading a meaningless life is probably what makes most people so miserable. Have a beautiful rest of your day, everyone.

Guest's picture

I know this is a really old article... but before reading this I was totally set on the classic huge, nice diamond engagement ring. After reading this, so many of your points hit home. I realized that what you say is true; the only "value" of a big rock is showing it off to people. It is SUCH a competition; but who really wins? The diamond distributors.. that's who. I just sent my boyfriend a link to a site that breaks down the differences between moissanite and diamonds, and told him that I want moissanite. Thanks for the excellent article!!

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Hopefully if you are reading this, you are more aware than most brainwashed consumers. Everyone thinks you HAVE to have a diamond, and it HAS to be mined from the earth. At the end of the day, if it looks good and has a great sparkle, who cares. Why pay another $40,000 just because it 2% clearer than another diamond. CZ and Moissanite are reasonable alternatives at a fraction of the price. Don't get hosed!!!

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The Kimberly process is total BS. I called around and most stores say they follow it but they don't even know what it really means. Win for DeBeers, lose for us!

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I liked the article, I felt the comments are from people who think they are better than others. Its more than just diamonds that are covered in blood. I get the people on here don't like diamonds, but there are those who have a desire for it. It doesn't make them stupid, it makes them human. Is it right to by diamonds once we know it costs someone their hand? No. However we also know that so much of the clothing we buy is made in a sweatshop...that the meat we eat (Im a vegetarian) is at the severe suffering of an animal, that the medicine we take is most likely animal tested and the makeup we wear is the same. All of that needs to be stopped. I agree diamonds should not be bought (I only learned this many years ago long after I bought a diamond ring) but get off your high horse no one is perfect. Most people only make changes when it is convenient for them.