Hard to believe that less than seventy years ago, people rarely gave diamond engagement rings. Now it is the gold standard by which a man’s love and the stability of the relationship is based on. De Beers really did a number on us, because we don’t question this idea that a diamond is a symbol of love. We don’t question that an engagement ring has to be a diamond, and needs to be as big as the guy can possibly afford. And we don’t question that the best stone to buy is a diamond because after all, they’re a girl’s best friend.
What does it say about us though that we’re willing to fork out thousands, or tens of thousands, on a shiny rock that is simply not valuable, simply because we’re told it symbolizes something invaluable? The reason diamonds cost so much (in terms of dollars to the consumer), when they aren’t really rare (the value of a gem is supposed to be based on its rarity), is because De Beers is a monopoly. They buy up and close down any diamond mines discovered by competitors. The laws of supply and demand determine the price of any item. De Beers controls the supply (by limiting the amount of diamonds in the marketplace) and demand (by selling diamonds as a symbol of love). They’ve managed to place an extremely high perceived value on their item.
This in itself isn’t so bad. After all, there are many things people overpay to have for the perceived value. But with diamonds, there is the sticky, unpleasant fact that they have funded civil wars and have resulted in millions of lives lost. Blood Diamond is a movie that came out about a year ago depicting 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, and the conflict is far from over.
You may have heard that you can ask for some certificate verifying a diamond as conflict-free. The Kimberley Process is an agreement that is supposed to prevent blood diamonds from getting into the market but is pretty useless since it’s based on a system of self-policing. Most of these conflict-free certificates are fraudulent, or were issued to blood diamonds that were smuggled and mixed with legally traded ones before being certified.
If you just want a very pretty gem, 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 2-carat pink diamond? That’ll be a few thousand dollars.
Already readily available is Moissanite, which 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 1-carat ring is under $1000.
Is it really that much to ask to forgo that diamond engagement ring for something that’s just as beautiful to send a clear message that we do care about the origin of the goods we purchase? Do we really want to buy something stained with blood and war just so we can show our friends?