How wonderful to hear the fanfare surrounding De Beer’s global diamond cartel, as its boots stride further over Canada! Nice to know the Indigenous will be getting some work out of the new scheme too. But not a word about the actual nature of diamonds, eh? I recommend Jay Epstein’s book, Diamonds, exhaustively concise, well-researched, disturbingly informative, and freely available for the past thirty years. In a nutshell: the only diamonds one can consider precious stones are those found in river beds, the ‘yellow’ diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor owned one. The Star of Bengal is one. The rest are semi-precious stones, and a good many of those are in fact worthless industrially-manufactured items (you greatly compress coal, in essence). These faux-gems always feature the so-called ‘diamond cut’, a multi-facetted look without which they wouldn’t glimmer like…well, like diamonds. You’d never cut a truly precious stone that way. The fewer facets the better a real stone is – that’s why they’re precious and rare. Emeralds have the five-facetted ‘emerald cut’. Rubies often are ‘cabochon’. Why then are diamonds the stock-in-trade of most chain-jewellers? Think about it. Garbage sold as gold? But how would you convince punters that garbage is gold? You would have to control the world’s diamond-market. De Beer’s does this. From the South African mines – where diamonds are found adjacent to the veins of coal from whence they were originally formed by further compression – to the artificial stones manufactured in Russia, one corporation controls the price and the supply. The gangster and occasional premier of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has a large stake in this business – so you know it’s blue-chip all the way. Australia once tried to opt out of the massive cartel, but found itself blacklisted, boycotted, and begging to get back in. De Beer’s is nothing if not cunning in its marketing of trash. You all know the slogan: A Diamond Is Forever? Remember? Why is it forever? Well, it’s most commonly found in engagement rings – and who pawns one of those, no matter how horrendous a bastard he was? The thing is, if you try to sell the ring you bought for five grand, you’ll be offered bubkas for it, nothing. Epstein recounts the story of a woman who bought a diamond necklace for thirty K in Tiffany’s, NYC – that’s, say, 150-odd K today. On her way home, she saw elsewhere a piece of jewelry she liked more. So she went back to Tiffany’s to return the piece. ‘Oh, we don’t purchase second-hand items,’ said the man, suggesting a nearby place that might. The woman went there, and to a few other establishments as well. The best offer she got for the 30 K necklace purchased hours earlier was five thousand dollars. That’s a 600 percent mark-up, for a start. It also basically covers just the cost of gold, settings, and craftsmanship.
A diamond is forever. It wasn’t in Japan, though, where the concept of an engagement was unknown. As Japan clambered out of its post-war slump and nuking by Uncle Sam, growing electronic and very prosperous, De Beer’s took an interest. Before long, these intrepid diamond-hawkers had introduced the idea of engagements into a society which, while intrinsically hyper-conservative, was also mysteriously addicted to Americana. An extreme version of Stokholm Syndrome, perhaps? And so a diamond is forever in the land of the rising sun now. And forever.
I think it’s safe to say that the diamond trade is essentially a fraud perpetrated upon the unwise and unwary. Naturally it won’t get much outraged attention – who cares about suckers buying rings? Many crimes go unobserved, however. And many of these are also seemingly legitimate enterprises. Insurance and banking don’t bear much scrutiny – but millions use them every day, so governments, knowing full well the potential for blowback, stay on the sidelines. Here the thieves are welcomed in with trumpets and open arms. A few jobs to the dispossessed, and we’re in like Flynn. Yet, knowing what we now know – or would after reading Epstein’s book – do we actually want to become partners-in-crime with such obviously shameless and venal hoods? Or perhaps the real question is what happened to the media we used to rely on for exposing this kind of rampant malfeasance? Since the culprits can’t answer, I will help: we’re so scared of legal action, they’d say in response, that we’d rather betray our calling and purpose than have an expensive law-suit on the boss’s hands. And so a once-noble profession sails ignobly into the sunset called ‘entertainment’. If only it were entertaining, though…
Paul William Roberts