“For every finger to receive a ring, another finger must pull a trigger.”
We all know the story.
The man gets down on one knee, grabs hold of the girl’s hand and she covers her mouth as she is overtaken by emotions. The man pulls out a tiny box and opens it up to show off the sparkling diamond engagement ring before asking the question, “Will You Marry Me?”
The classic love story which peaks when the man asks for the woman’s hand in marriage. They are officially engaged once he props a diamond ring on her finger.
However, there is another side to this story that never gets covered in the media. It is the dark side of the diamond, where if the public knew about the horrors and atrocities that take place to produce this mineral – perhaps we would re-think the way we celebrate “love.”
The Human Price of Diamonds
Diamonds are timeless, beautiful, symbols of love. They are the world’s most precious gems. Or as the popular slogan of the cartels has simply claimed, “A Diamond is Forever.”
But the astronomical prices paid to the jeweler to possess these beautiful gems, is nothing compared to the ultimate price paid to mine the diamond in another world away.
As the love story above tells us the ending in which the consumer purchases the diamond and then uses it to surprise the love of his life in a romantic, fairy-tale ending. But, where does the story of the diamond begin?
Similarly, someone reaches out their hand.
But this is the outstretched hand of a villager in a remote area in West Africa. He also has all his friends and family nearby as the anxiously wait. However, it is not to put a ring on his finger; instead combatant rebels are about to amputate his hand to ensure the man is not allowed to vote or be involved in politics as well as a means of spreading fear to the village to comply to the local rebel militia operating the diamond mine.
In a different Southern Africa town, a 14-year-old girl knocks on the door of civilians home before pulling out a gun and a group rebels raid the home. They steal everything valuable, including abducting the woman’s child and executing her in front of their mother.
In Central Africa, another 15-year-old girl has been living in a pit in the ground in which she is brought up each day only to be raped by a combatant. She becomes pregnant but still endures daily sexual abuse before being dropped back in her hole in the ground living next to the corpse of her best friend who was killed three weeks prior.
All these stories are the result of the illicit diamond trade. The sale of diamonds from these rebel groups funded civil wars in a number of African nations by exchanging diamonds for weapons. As these horrendous acts were carried out for decades, the West turned a blind eye to the blood diamonds they were flossing on their fingers and showing off to their friends and family.
Civil wars were being fought in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than four million lost their lives, many more displaced, and hundreds of thousands suffered varying level of war crimes including intentional mutilation/amputation and rape. All of these wars were funded by the same currency – diamonds.
While the “blood diamonds” found their way into the global market in the 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that people started becoming aware of the blood that was being shed in producing diamonds. Since then the industry – like all industries that expose cheap labor in under-developed countries – put up a few cover-up operations that put up the illusions that their products come from non-conflict areas.
However, even the “non-conflict” diamonds come from one of the most corrupt industries in the history of the world. This industry has developed one of the greatest marketing schemes in the world that have us believing that love is synonymous with diamonds and getting the world to turn their heads to the crimes against humanity being carried out to bring us the gems that we need to express love.
“How many times will a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” – Bob Dylan
The Grand Marketing Scheme
Diamonds were first discovered 2,500 years ago and were extremely rare. They were only available to royalty, aristocrats, and the wealthy. They were originally found in riverbeds in India and Borneo. In the early eighteenth century, diamond mines were found in Brazil and as the supply increased the prices dropped.
In 1866, a 15-year-old boy found diamonds on his father’s farm on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. Within fifteen years, African mines became the leading producer of diamonds and the industry was changed forever.
A mining rush ensued and industrial mining for diamonds had begun.
Cecil Rhodes, an English imperialist, whose thirst for power and quest to spread the British way of life across the globe stumbled upon the diamond mine on the De Beers farm and purchased it for a small price. Rhodes feared that if all these diamonds hit the market, the prices would crash. His goal was to then control the market by securing supply. One-by-one, he bought out the other mining companies and founded De Beers Diamond and Mining Company.
By 1888, Rhodes had control of 90-percent of the diamonds in the world ensuring there would never be a flood of supply to lower prices. He also had been named Prime Minister of Cape Colony giving him political power to enforce laws that would pave the way for Apartheid by removing natives off their land and into forced labor camps to mine his diamonds.
The De Beers Company had created a cartel that was based on the French concept of controlling the copper industry – buying up mines, restricting supply, and raising prices. A cartel, by definition, is simply an agreement between competing firms to exclude prices and exclude entry of a new competitor into the market – illegal in the United States and United Nations.
De Beers largest competitor, Anglo-American Company, was founded in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer had stumbled upon massive amounts of alluvial diamonds (diamonds on top of the earth that did not need to be mined). Oppenheimer threatened to flood the market with these diamonds unless he was made chairman of De Beers. And just like that, the illegal anti-trust monopoly was created with complete control of the industry. Now that supply was in control, they had to take charge of the other side of the business equation – demand.
In 1930, a De Beers engineer warned,
“The diamond market is dependent for its smooth function on the maintenance of the illusion in the minds of the general public that the diamond is a rare and valuable stone.”
The cartel then set up an office in Hollywood and exchanged valuable diamonds to producers to put in scenes showing off the diamonds with the man surprising the woman with the diamond which helped launch the notion that engagement meant receiving diamonds. They would give to actresses to flaunt at all public appearances for advertising to the public.
This followed with the marketing campaign with the simple phrase, “a diamond is forever.” This trained the public that love is synonymous with diamonds and people were willing to pay large portion of their salaries to show love for their significant other.
Furthermore, “A Diamond is Forever” also suggests that there is no resale value of diamonds. Every woman deserves her own unique diamond to symbolize your love. This also prevents diamonds from returning to the market, which again would lower prices.