These Ain't Conflict Diamonds, Is They? Jacob, Don't Lie to Me, Man.

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The new message/adventure movie Blood Diamond is keeling over at the box office, but the debate over whether buying diamonds funds brutality has been heated up a little by its release. Nicholas Stein in Foreign Policy sighs deeply.

Conflict, or "blood" diamonds first gained international attention in the late 1990s when Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone were all engaged in violent civil wars. Soldiers on all sides used their nations' diamond riches to buy weapons. Human rights groups such as Global Witness (as well as this movie) place much of the blame on consumers, whose lust for diamonds allegedly funded these wars and prolonged the slaughter of innocent civilians. The remedy they propose is that consumers refuse to buy diamonds whose origins are in any way unclear.

While the intentions behind this proposal are noble, the solution fails to take into account the economic devastation such a practice would unleash on the legitimate diamond industry in Africa. Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa together take in $5.5 billion annually from diamonds, accounting for 42 percent of the world's production and dwarfing that of the conflict-afflicted areas. In Botswana, the world's largest producer, diamonds account for nearly 80 percent of the country's export income and have single-handedly transformed one of the developing world's poorest nations into one of its fastest growing economies.

Stein's work is almost moot; stories about the uselessness or bloody roots of diamonds have circulated for decades, and the trade's never been impeded.

NEXT: Q: Are We Not Men? A: Yep.

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  1. In cases like this where the majority of the market comes from legitimate sources I would say it relies on the diamond wholesalers to look at where there diamonds are coming from and if they are all legitimate sources or can easily become so simply slap a sticker on the product saying, “Blood Free Diamonds.” Plus I’m sure doing so would allow the price to increase for the peace of mind o the consumer and the balancing of the slight drop in supply. Too bad I’m not a diamond wholesaler.

  2. Why does Stein assume that refusing to buy conflict diamonds = no sales of diamonds?

    Botswana’s diamond sales continue to be strong under the Kimberley process.

  3. The world is divided into winners and losers. Winners buy diamonds, and some losers get hurt producing diamonds. Big deal. Let’s not encourage losers to become whiners.

  4. So you can buy diamonds whose source is an oligopoly that manipulates the market as well as any Arab oil sheik or you can buy diamonds originated as payment for guns.

    Looked at another way, what if the diamonds were sold for US dollars and then the US dollars were used to purchase the guns. Blood dollars if you will.

    Fortunately, some of us do not lust for diamonds. We lust for wine instead. Blood wine. No wait, that’s the Catholics.

  5. Yeah, I’m with joe. I don’t know anything about the certification process that he describes, and no doubt somebody can show up and tell me all sorts of awful things about that process. (Hell, that person might even be right, for all I know.) But the problem of violent thugs selling something to finance their violence seems like a perfect candidate for the private sector solution of private, voluntary certification processes. This way people who are simply trying to do honest business could still reach consumers, while violent thugs could be identified and shunned.

  6. Diamonds are for suckers. They aren’t rare and the price is kept artificially high. Men are forced by societal pressures to mortgage their lives over the damned things so their ladies can feel special and superior. A pox on diamonds! Worse than fur!

  7. You know, I’m disappointed. I was hoping I’d get something useful here, like a way to talk my fianc? into eschewing a diamond ring in favor of a 100″ HDTV or a fully sentient robot lawnmower. Alas, no such luck.

  8. thoreau – no one selling diamonds is “trying to do honest business”. The entire industry is built on a pretext of lies; such as – diamonds are rare, diamonds are valuable, diamonds hold their value, real diamonds are distinguishable from fake diamonds, women have always recieved diamond engangement rings, etc… all lies.

  9. Of course, even if you find a conflict-free diamond (whatever that means), you’re still probably dealing with the DeBeers folks, and that’s reason enough to think twice.

    IMHO, the better reason to avoid diamonds is that there are prettier gemstones out there. When I went shopping for engagement rings, I considered a few diamonds, but stones like sapphires and emeralds were much nicer looking. Fortunately, the ring’s recipient agreed.

  10. I agree I’d much rather spend my money on sweatshop goods or electronics from China. It warms my heart to know I’m helping them have an income. Diamonds are simply overated…and is it too harsh to say the majority of people really don’t care where the diamonds come from. I may however argue against diamonds when it comes time to buy a ring…

  11. Surprisingly Single has it right.

    Guys, get your wives/girlfriends to read this article on the DeBeers diamond cartel. Old, but surprisingly relevant.

  12. Sup. Single you hit it on the head. I read somewhere the DeBeers (Imagine a Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Mellon triumvirate offspring) family are wanted in the U.S. for their monopolistic practices and cant set foot here. Had to set up some kind of puppet company to sell the the Ronnie Mervises of the world.

  13. “The remedy they propose is that consumers refuse to buy diamonds whose origins are in any way unclear.

    While the intentions behind this proposal are noble, the solution fails to take into account the economic devastation such a practice would unleash on the legitimate diamond industry in Africa.”

    Well there’s a non-sequitir if I’ve ever heard one.

  14. We should just make diamonds illegal.

    We must save the diamond addicts from themselves. We cannot allow these pathetic, deluded souls to throw their money away on diamonds; the best way to do this is to eradicate diamonds at the source, with nuclear bunker-busters. Thusly will we keep the money of diamond addicts from reaching the evil diamond dealers. And spread peace and security throughout the world, amen.

  15. Huh? I thought this whole “blood diamond” thing just some clever branding cooked up by de Beers to stifle the 9% of the international diamond trade that they don’t control? I mean, if we take this idea to its logical conclusion, all trade with people from poor countries at war is wrong.

  16. To paraphrase an old joke:

    Fianc?-to-be: But honey you have to buy the prettiest, most expensive diamond so I can be proud to give it to our daughter one day.

    Husband-to-be: Then why aren’t we getting your mother’s?

    Is two month’s salary really too much to spend on something that has a high probability of ending in acrimony?

  17. Ironchef, thanks for the link. I think I just found my litmus test for any potential wife.

    So, freewill types, after reading the Atlantic article on diamond marketing, anyone care to argue that advertising and PR have little effect on buying habits? And, if so, then tell me what exactly businesses are buying when they hire ad guys like the De Beers family did in the thirties.

  18. . . .not that all rings are bad. For instance, if the pre-wife gets me a Green Lantern power ring, why, I’d be as pleased as punch.

    Number 6,

    I agree. Sapphires are great stones, and if you simply must acquire shiny, overpriced objects, then they seem a much better option than diamonds. I just hate the way products like this have become practically mandatory. There’s nothing better for a young couple to do with their money than to drop $5,000+ on a ring? Capitalism would work so much better if people weren’t trying ever so hard to rip off their neighbors. Oh, well, when we’re replaced by fully sentient lawnmowers, the free market will work much, much better.

  19. “when we’re replaced by fully sentient lawnmowers”

    What? Sheep will inherit the earth?

  20. The sage of our era, 50 Cent, had a wonder meditation on this very subject:

    Your bitch [is] a regular bitch
    You callin’ her “wifey”
    I fucked her, fed her fast food
    You keepin’ her ice-y

    Interestingly, the Gorgias to 50’s Socrates, The Game, had this to say:

    Take a look at my chest,
    A hundred thou at jacob
    Whole crew got chains,
    A hundred thou can’t break ’em

    Our nation’s most prominent George Bush critic, Kanye West, chimed in helpfully:

    But I ain’t even gon act holier than thou
    Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou
    Before I had a house and I’d do it again
    Cause I wanna be on 106 and Park pushing a Benz

  21. Two months salary eh? What can I get for $800?

    If you think diamonds are an expensive, useless status display, wait until you sink $20K on a wedding. But at least there’s booze at a wedding.

  22. I’ve opposed diamonds since long before I heard of blood diamonds, for the very reasons mentioned here: they are NOT rare, the supply is kept artificially low, and if diamonds were released on the world market rather than artificially restricted they’d be about as cheap as garnets, amethysts or other semi-precious stones. As for the African nations whose economies depend on diamonds: I am sorry for you, but I’m not going to pretend that something almost as common as table salt is actually rarer than platinum just so YOU don’t have to base your economy on something of actual value.

    I don’t wear rings, but if I DID have a sudden desire to stick something sparkly on my finger, I’d rather have a cubic zirconia. It’s just as shiny, it’s much, much cheaper, and only a jeweler with a microscope can tell the difference.

  23. P Brooks,

    Sorry, I left out the adjective, “robot”.

    I support your ban on diamonds. That would save me a bundle, especially since I’ve got the ring and wedding hanging over me in a Damoclean manner, all while enjoying the benefits of a law firm downsizing.

  24. Don’t know if they’re still at it, but Blue Nile was trying to push a 3 mos. salary standard a few years back. As for me, I agree with a good friend of mine who said: you should spend as much money on an engagement ring as you are willing to light on fire and throw out the window of your car as you speed down the freeway.

    Of course, I’m 25 and years away from being interested in marriage. I’m sure I’ll cave.

  25. I had an eco prof make a pretty compelling argument that deBeers was doing us a favor. We have an efficient market for buying the status symbol of choice for our proposed brides. A status symbol which is somewhat available across the income spectrum and involves minimal physical danger. He argued in absence of this mutually agreed upon “big lie” we would be back to trying to kill the biggest bear for our darlings. Sure it hurts the pocketbook, but I didn’t have to spend any time tromping about in the woods.

  26. That argument, I think, isn’t really THAT compelling. It implies that our choices are basically diamonds or bear/lion/rhino/whale killing or what have you. Most of the current ‘diamond culture’ only stems from the 1930s. A lot of it was basically invented wholecloth by a specific ad agency that DeBeers hired.

    By that point, it isn’t as if before then everyone (even people in a lot of fairly backward countries and places) were still having to do a great hunt or something else equally difficult to express status (leaving aside the question if that is even necessary).

  27. I buy only dolphin-safe diamonds

  28. I only buy diamonds stained with the blood of dolphins.

  29. Dolphin blood stained diamonds from toxic chemical laden mines that are made with third world child slave labor that is financed in turn with cartel money AND Afghanistanni opium money?

  30. “Dolphin blood stained diamonds from toxic chemical laden mines that are made with third world child slave labor that is financed in turn with cartel money AND Afghanistanni opium money?”

    Polished to a hypnotic sheen on the silky-smooth thighs of young girls.

  31. I have a cunning plan. Launch an ad campaign that suggests that diamonds, when ingested, cause an amazingly hallucinogenic experience. The government will ban diamonds, and men, finally, will be free to buy useful things.

  32. There is also an episode of Law & Order that uses blood diamonds. The diamond company was prosucuted.

  33. Then we’d have SWAT teams kicking down the doors of newlyweds for the War on Diamonds.

  34. my wife’s engagement ring is an antique, which no doubt has its own problems, but it’s a far nicer stone than i would be able to afford from a modern producer today.

    plus fuck debeers right in their de-ears.

  35. “It’s just as shiny, it’s much, much cheaper, and only a jeweler with a microscope can tell the difference.”

    jennifer, i must respectfully disagree. i am no jeweler, but i did a lot of research and you can spot the difference with a bit of practice. they look too prismatic and too perfect to be diamonds.

  36. I posit that one’s intellectual capacity is inversely proportional to the size of his/her diamonds. I call to the stand any Rap Artist.

  37. Dhex- So Cubic Zirconias are actually prettier than diamonds?

    I frankly resent the idea that I should spend a given amount of money on an engagement ring, and not only because I’m poor. If the ring is a symbol of our love, then it makes sense to pick a symbol that we both like to look at. The ring is for us, not a status display to the rest of the herd. In other words, the industry that insists that if I really love my woman, I’ll buy her a diamond and nothing else can go and fuck itself.

    BTW- Up until the 30s, sapphires were the standard engagement gems.

  38. The real genius is in the marketing campaign that convinced the women of the western world that there is something special about little pieces of highly compressed carbon.

    I believe that livestock are the “bride price” in the places where those ‘blood diamonds’ come from. And y’know, that kinda makes sense. Though I’m glad I didn’t have to exchange water buffalo with my wife at the wedding…

  39. “Dhex- So Cubic Zirconias are actually prettier than diamonds?”

    no, i don’t think so. diamonds are interesting looking. i like the jewelry design more than the actual gemstones, but that’s me.

    plus shopping in the diamond district when you know folks is like being in a really, really weird movie. with a lot of orthodox jews.

  40. I’ve seen the “three month” standard all over the place, and do recall when it was two months. Lovely. My ex-gf was all wrapped up in the idea of a diamond engagement ring, despite the fact that the $$ would’ve been better applied to a downpayment on the house that she wanted.

    I’ve heard that cubic zirconias aren’t as hard as diamond, and can get scuffed and lose their luster over time. Can anyone confirm?

  41. Wow, I never gave much thought to diamonds as a sort of dowry before – what an eye-opener. Things really don’t change, do they.

  42. The lovely thing about “free speech” in our country is that if you actually created a campaign to inform people about how useless diamonds are, and how disgusting their history is… you’d promptly be sued and fined for interfering with trade or some other nonsense.

  43. Though I’m glad I didn’t have to exchange water buffalo with my wife at the wedding…

    ChrisO – word of advice from a twice-married man: Never use the words “water buffalo”, “wife”, and “wedding” in the same sentence.

  44. What? Sheep will inherit the earth?

    Sheep are not sentient.

  45. Larry A,

    “Sentient” just means “conscious”, I believe. So it would seem to apply to higher order mammals. Naturally, when the term is used in the robotics context, it takes on some additional meaning.

  46. Re: comments pertaining to the DeBeers family

    What I have read of the DeBeers diamond company indicates that there is no DeBeers family to speak of that has any significant interest in the company. Apparently Cecil Rhodes bought a farm where his first mine was to be located from the Boer DeBeers brothers and never bothered to change the name. After Rhodes died with no heirs, controlling interest of the company fell to his partners the Oppenheimer family who were diamond cutters in Antwerp. This is according to the Edward J Epstein article about DeBeers which will have to be googled for, since I don’t have a URL handy.

  47. Screw diamonds. Their value is artificially controlled, they’re not that rare, and if you like pretty sparkly things, cubic zirconium looks the same.

    Plus, I hate the commercials at this time of year telling men their women are whores (“Every kiss begins with Kay”) and telling women they should expect overpriced shiny things to prove their man really loves them (“HE went to Jared!”).

  48. I agree with the previous comments that a rock is a peculiar way to demonstrate a man’s love. And I agree that diamonds as engagement gifts share way too many connotations with bride prices, dowries, etc. The whole marketing campaign of “conflict diamonds” is deliciously cynical however.

    The best argument I’ve heard for the custom though is, since most young men do not have 2-3 months salary lying around, presenting a diamond (or other precious gem) tells the young lady that: someone thinks he’s credit-worthy and that he’s willing and able to forego some disposable income to repay the debt.

    That weeds out a lot of young men right there…

    I’d rather that the money were used to purchase a home—it would seem to prove the same thing to the lady and be a lot more useful.

  49. I guess I’m just not that utilitarian. I think a diamond ring is nice to give. So are other stones, or furniture, or whatever. Hearing people harp on how they hate diamonds is a little like the guy who insists on telling you how he doesn’t ever watch tv. I know you’re the most clever iconoclast ever to grace the earth, but can I please enjoy what I want without the nattering?

    Then again, I like smokes and booze too, and they’re apparently not all that wise of an investment.

  50. ChrisO – word of advice from a twice-married man: Never use the words “water buffalo”, “wife”, and “wedding” in the same sentence.

    HaHa! No doubt. Note, however, that my wife has a nice shiny piece of compressed carbon on her finger, and we do not have a single water buffalo between us.

    Gray Ghost, I agree with you about the “commitment” angle to the diamond engagement ritual. It’s definitely about forcing the stereotypically commitment-phobic male to ‘take a public stand’. The comparison to a dowry isn’t a very good one, anyway, because diamonds, unlike livestock, don’t retain their value very well, though I suspect the ring has its origins as a form of dowry.

    As to the original topic, if it wasn’t diamonds, I’m sure the various goon squads wandering around central Africa would have found some other way to finance their thuggery.

  51. Remember we are dealing with women here. It really doesn’t matter that the diamond is rare or not (you know, cause emeralds have all sorts of practical applications). The act of buying the diamond has social significance. If you thought your ring was an investment you are either from the 1700’s or a fool.

    If women thought lighting 2000 bucks on fire was a sign of eternal love, hand me the lighter fluid.

    And hey, they are pretty!

  52. “Hearing people harp on how they hate diamonds is a little like the guy who insists on telling you how he doesn’t ever watch tv.”

    hey, i don’t watch tv but i bought my wife a diamond so i’m only half an asshole!

    WHEEEEEE!

  53. diamonds are worthless. anyone who pays big money for them to the DeBeers cartel is a sucker. I have no ill will to DeBeers. I admire them for the snow job they pulled on all the marks out there spending thousands for a shiny worthless stone. A sucker born every minute.

  54. Wow, that article was pretty cool. But wasn’t it written in the 80’s?
    And now apartheid is over, and so is the Soviet Union, and still diamonds are over priced.
    Or maybe there is a use for them in satellites or something like was the theme of that stupid movie about the killer gorillas.

    Anyhow, I am not getting my future wife a diamond ring, because it is plain that it is not worth the money. Diamonds are pretty, but now I know I am being conned if I buy one.

  55. Yeesh, diamonds. The only thing I can see them being used for are diamond anvils.

    Otherwise: boring crystal structure, overpriced, don’t hold their value, yadda yadda yadda.

    If you insist on a ring, go for garnets instead. Or, if you really want to blow the budget, a piece of alexandrite with good colour change.

    Or if you want to impress your wife with your virtuousness, how about a $10K CD that matures in 6 month? You’ll get some benefit and get the use the $$ again.

    Same for weddings–why not just hold a nice party with some good wine?

  56. Ironchef,

    Thanks for that link to the Atlantic article on De Beers. Fascinating reading, and probably more than a few lessons to be learned when it comes to cartel control of a commodity.

  57. I think small diamonds are attractive as accents to other, prettier stones like rubies, emeralds, etc. But oversized and on their own, they’re rather boring.

    Women who insist on putting their fathers and fiances into substantial debt so they can have a wedding out of a bridal magazine are fools. Unless your family really has enough money to blow on that kind of extravagence, a spectacular wedding isn’t much of a status symbol.

  58. Women who insist on putting their fathers and fiances into substantial debt so they can have a wedding out of a bridal magazine are fools. Unless your family really has enough money to blow on that kind of extravagence, a spectacular wedding isn’t much of a status symbol.

    Nine times out of ten, it’s the bride’s mother who is the prime mover behind the Wedding to End All Weddings. In my observation, a couple of months of Wedding Planning Hell convinces many brides that elopement might be a good option.

  59. Agreed with ChrisO. Up here in NE Ohio, it’s the bride’s mom that controls the show, and the bride’s parents that get to foot the bill. Apparently it has become a way for the bride’s parents to either:

    A) make up for the guilt they feel for not buying her everything little trinket she ever wanted

    or

    b) show off to their social circle how much they love their daughter.

  60. I just wish I could stop paying my blood taxes. Gotta love seeing my tax money when it went to prop up Mobutu in Congo or to bribe good ol’ Mengistu, The Butcher of Addis. How many gas stations do we use that have blood gas from places like Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Sao Tome and others?

    I’ll avoid a Citgo if I can but I’m not going to spend hours every week fretting over the precise origins of everything I consume.

  61. My dislike of diamonds stems not from any trade problems or cartels, but because I think they’re dull, overrated, and not especially pretty. If I have to get engaged, I would accept a sapphire, emerald, amethyst, ruby, etc.

    And I refuse to have a wedding. If we want to get married, we’re eloping, and if my mom or my sister wig out about how I eloped and I’m not having a wedding, they can plan a party.

    Perhaps this is why I’m not married.

  62. you are all idiots. you obviously have not experienced the social and economic conditions of an african country. i bet you are all americans or europeans who know nothing better than what they see on television. seriously, more informed comments will be much more appreciated.

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