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Diamonds are forever, and so is misery

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On April 21 Sotheby’s New York auctioned an internally flawless, D colour, 100.20 carat emerald-cut diamond (pictured above). It sold for $US22 million. The seller was anonymous, so was the buyer. Welcome to the exclusive, highly secretive, and occasionally murky world of the diamond whose mystique has been endlessly explored. The miseries it can inflict have been less exposed, until now.

In 2008 massive diamond deposits were discovered in the Marange fields of Zimbabwe and from the outset illegal land acquisitions, forced labour, murder and complicity at the highest levels of government were instrumental in channelling its rough diamonds into the market place and avoiding scrutiny over the methods of their mining.

These so-called ‘conflict’ stones or ‘blood diamonds’ are commandeered by political, military and police-led syndicates and are channeled into the hands of middlemen who are indifferent to the bloodshed surrounding their arrival on the sorting table. From here they are cast into the fast-running stream of legitimate stones from which they will become indistinguishable.

Man’s earliest encounters with the diamond began over 2000 years when the valuable diamond mines of the Golconda region of Hyderabad in India were exposed in the 4th century BC. Then in 1867 a young child found a pebble on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa which set in motion the world’s greatest diamond rush.

Englishman Cecil John Rhodes established the De Beers Mining Company and by 1891 it controlled the lion’s share of diamond production in South Africa.The diamonds were sold to merchants through a cartel, known as ‘the Sydicate’. After Rhodes died in 1902, Ernest Oppenheimer, who had gained control of De Beers, was responsible for its trajectory, making the cartel the dominant player throughout the 20th century. He knew that their production and sale had to be carefully regulated to protect their prices and ultimately, the answer was to buy up diamonds, hold them, and release them slowly.

Thus after 1934, the Central Selling Organisation (CSO) was born as De Beers’ marketing mechanism. In the late 20th century a new player entered the scene, when Australia’s Kimberley mines were found to have significant supplies of the much sought-after pink diamonds.

It was not until the 18th century that diamonds ceased to be the plain Janes of the gem world and became the vamps they remain today. As the hardest of gems, its scintillating rainbow flashes were only revealed in full when technologies advanced sufficiently to cut and polish enough facets in mathematically calculated angles to each other, to direct and reflect the light upwards and outwards from the table of the stone. Thus, broadly, we can look at a diamond’s table as a window, and its under facets (its pavilion) as mirrors.

The strategy by which diamonds passed from accoutrements of royalty and nobility to a global accessory for the middle classes was created by the most successful advertising line of all time. In 1947 Frances Gerety, an American female copywriter delivered ‘A diamond is forever’, a slogan entwining the notions of everlasting love and everlasting value.

Diamonds have their own birth canals and it can be a perilous journey. Most don’t make it up through the hundreds of miles of vertical conduits of a volcano’s molten magma. Most turn to graphite (the grey fixture in our HB pencils). When magma reaches the earth’s surface it hardens and its weathering over millions of years releases the unprepossessing grey, white and yellow stones into streams and rivers, beach sands and alluvial gravels.

It was the inveterate traveller and diamond dealer Jean Baptiste Tavernier who visited Indian mines between 1630 and 1668 and gave the most detailed accounts of what he saw there in four volumes of writings. He was responsible for selling the peripatetic Tavernier Blue said to have been plucked from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, to Louis XIV. The Golconda mines produced many of the world’s finest and largest stones, such as the Koh-I-Noor and the Great Mogul. Queen Victoria’s British Empire, now firmly in India’s saddle, was quick to recognise and exploit this new source of wealth.

Jean-Baptise Tavernier,1679

In past centuries, royal treasuries were routinely purged of diamonds and other gems to secure loans to fund wars and ransom notables. Louis XIV’s finance minister Cardinal Mazarin, a diamond lover, struck a deal with the English Charles I’s widow, Henrietta Maria and also with Oliver Cromwell, to secure a group of remarkable stones in lieu of a debt Charles had defaulted on. They came to be known as the ‘Mazarin eighteen’, and unhappily, they were stolen (along with the rest of the French Crown jewels) during a robbery at the Garde Meuble (Royal Storehouse) during the French Revolution.

The ‘Tavernier Blue’ diamond

One such stone from the royal treasury was the aforementioned Tavernier Blue, which had been re-cut and re-christened the Blue Diamond. It’s fate, like a car ‘rebirthed’was to be cut down further to disguise it, and 20 years later it appeared in a London shop, where it was bought by George IV. It appeared in the market place again in 1851 where it is bought by a wealthy English banker, Henry Hope, and went on display as the Hope Diamond in Prince Albert’s inspired 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

The Hope Diamond

Hope and his fortune parted ways and he was obliged to arrange for the firm of Cartier to find a buyer for it. Enter Evalyn Walsh McLean, the adventurous American wife of an industrialist who was intrigued and challenged by Louis Cartier’s tale of its sinister history. It has been suggested that Cartier invented the curse to entice her to buy it. He had been given the idea by a Victorian novel by Wilkie Collins called The Moonstone. She bought the diamond and depending on whether one believes in curses or not, had an entirely blighted life. Its next owner was the celebrated jeweller Harry Winston who donated it to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. Because of its cursed history, members of the public wrote in protest to the President Eisenhower vigorously protesting its display. But today it is one of the world’s most viewed treasures.

The curse has receded but the mystery of its creation and its unique properties  are still being unravelled by scientists. In the 1960s it was discovered that the Hope phosphoresced a bright red — even after the fluorescence stimulated by exposure to ultraviolet light has been removed. They extracted some of its atoms which were sorted and counted to explain the circumstances of its birth a billion years ago. One atom remains unidentified. So much for the romance and mystery of gemstones.

If a diamond can be cursed, then the ‘out of Africa’ diamonds are clear candidates.

In the late 1990s, Global Witness, the world Natural Resources monitor, revealed that countries such as Angola, the Congo, Liberia and the Ivory Coast were fuelling their civil wars (which had killed more than four million people) with the sale of diamonds.

In 2000 governments world-wide, representatives from the diamond industry and civic-minded groups came together to discuss the dilemma. Thus the Kimberley Process was established. This was an informal regulatory authority whose aim was to monitor and prevent the sale of diamonds which had been procured through corruption, coercion, brutality and murder, and were helping to prop up rogue regimes.

However what has occurred in the last decade, shows how quickly a pragmatic initiative like this one can be unravelled and demonstrates the extraordinary leverage small sparkling objects can have in relation to whole countries and international relationships.

In 2010, 3–5 million carats of rough diamond worth approximately $US150 million were tendered at auction at Harare airport in Zimbabwe and many respected diamond companies from around the world took part, in spite of the anticipated strictures of the Kimberley Process.

What has the Kimberley Process achieved? Maintaining some unanimity among major trading countries has been crucial to the legitimacy of this project. While Australian Canada, the US and the European Union all support the ban on exports from Zimbabwe, China, Russia, southern African states, India, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil want to see it dismantled.

In 2011 the World Diamond Council president Mr Eli Izhakoff remarked :“The Kimberley Process is comprised of rules and regulations, certificates, statistics, sealed packages, monitoring groups and paper trails. But these are details. At its core, the Kimberley Process is about protecting the right of communities and individuals to derive properly deserved benefit from natural resources. This is about humanity not politics”.

6 responses to “Diamonds are forever, and so is misery

  1. The Kimberley Process was severely compromised from the outset. The vested interests in the World Diamond Council who “provided the blueprint for the certification system” of of self regulations refused to ban the trade in all blood diamonds and restricted the remit of the KP to “conflict diamonds” – rough diamonds that fund rebel groups.
    This sleight of hand allows diamonds that fund rogue regimes to evade the strictures of the KP – hence diamonds that fund gross human rights violations by government forces in Israel, Zimbabwe and Angola cannot be banned by the KP. These blood diamonds freely and legally enter the legitimate diamond market labelled conflict-free in accordance with a bogus System of Warranties introduced by the WDC to create the illusion that the KP extends to cut & polished diamonds as well as rough diamonds. The System of Warranties allows diamond sellers to self-certify diamond as conflict free even when they are a major source of revenue for regimes guilty of gross human rights violations.
    Israel is the biggest net beneficiary of the global diamond industry. Diamond exports worth $20 billion gross account for 30% of Israel’s manufacturing exports adding $10 billion net to the Israeli economy and generating $1 billion/yr in funding for the Israeli military which last summer killed over 2100 Palestinians in Gaza – mainly civilians including over 500 children. Israel stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UNHRC, AI and HRW. Despite this, diamonds from Israel flood the market, accounting for 50% of the diamond sold in the US.
    Diamonds that fund a nuclear armed apartheid regime guilty of gross human rights violations are blood diamonds. Buyer beware.

  2. If Sean Clinton was not dedicated to the anti-Jewish (under the guise of anti-Israel!) campaign, surely he would campaign against US, UK, Australian, Indian, Russian (and more) diamonds. These countries are all involved in wars against terrorists (just like Israel).

  3. Perhaps he does; we can’t tell from what he’s written here. If you weren’t so paranoid-Jewish, you might try something on-topic and address what he says about Israel’s diamond trade. But no, you must defend Israel whatever the cost, by shooting the messenger.

    Great article, Patricia!

  4. In one breath, NAUKHTI has labelled Sean Clinton as racist, called all Palestinians terrorists, and put Israel in the same boat as countries who are not guilty of genocides. If nothing else, you have to admire his bloody-minded efficiency, a true Israeli Hasbara troll if ever there was one.

    I wonder whether a more appropriate article – and one that might go some way to solving many of the issues you have raised – is asking the question: Why in this day and age do women still DEMAND that men buy them a diamond ring?

    And if you think the word “demand” is inappropriate, then consider how many women would marry a man who said, quite up front, “I have no intention of buying you a diamond ring.”

    Diamonds are not rare, they serve no useful purpose so if women did not covet them, there would be little reason for them to be mined, which would resolve many of the issues you raised. Yes, most of the ‘misery” would disappear!

    Though you would need to add an entirely new issue of unemployment (and maybe starvation) in most of the regions where they are mined now, but that’s another issue.

    But overridingly in an age where women demand equality to men, and they insist on respect (both reasonable propositions I might add) and at a time in history where it’s quite common for the female to be earning more than the male, why do women continue to allow themselves to be “bought” with a diamond by a man?

    The fact that in 2015 a woman still values her future partner on the amount of money he will spend on a diamond ring to court her, is not only an indictment of females, it perpetuates the problems in the diamond industry.

    The answer to most, if not all of the problems you raise, is in the hands of women! Not men, not the diamond miners, not the military juntas and not the Israelis, this all happen because women covet diamonds for no logical, sensible or rational reason.

    Remember, diamonds have almost no value. Want proof? Unlike gold, go and buy a $5,000 diamond today and then try and sell it tomorrow. If anyone wants to buy it, see how much you will get for the stone.

    If you bought gold it will be still worth around $5,000, give or take a little.

    So Patricia, why not explore why women are the major cause of this issue?

    They might not like to hear it, and most won’t accept it but it’s an inarguable fact – if women stop coveting diamonds, men will (happily) stop buying them and almost all of the issues you have raised will be gone!

    The real or perceived problems caused by the diamond industry are actually in the hands of women rather than “on” the hands of women.

    Yes, I know that we can’t blame women for this “misery”, can we? … It’s important that we blame men because it’s much easier and less troublesome to the women’s movement? But at the end of the day the sad fact is that because of women’s indecorous desire for a product that, essentially, has little value a great deal of misery is caused in the world.

    Food for thought, right?

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