Next from the Fashion Library is BRILLIANCE AND FIRE: A BIOGRAPHY OF DIAMONDS by Rachelle Bergstein, author of WOMEN FROM THE ANKLES DOWN. Having a fondness for sparkly jewelry and having been born in the month of April, I was doubly excited to read about the industry. (I would go on to learn that the diamond was added to the birthstone list by jewelers taking advantage of the diamond boom.) Unfortunately, as I read along, my excitement was short lived. As with Bergstein's last book, BRILLIANCE AND FIRE is well researched and I would soon learn I knew little of the actual business.
When we think of diamonds we tend to think about glitter and gifts of love, but BERGSTEIN doesn't leave out the bad and I would soon learn that the business of diamonds isn't all brilliant. Included is the history of the South African gem rush that plagued a native population and ultimately set the ground work for apartheid and the rise of the conflict diamond. What started with one shiny pebble found in a stream became a complicated and shrewd trade.
Of all the players, the most important to mention is DeBeers, a syndicate that created a monopoly and convinced the world that diamonds were rare. By controlling the supply, they controlled the price and in by doing so built an empire built on the engagement ring. The truth is diamonds are made of carbon and are plentiful. Subliminal persuasion by marketing executives successfully enticed the public's mind to believe that we needed diamonds. Not only as a status symbol, but as a true token of love; the bigger the stone, the bigger the love. We all know that presenting diamond rings has long symbolized betrothal and marriage, but it hasn't always been that way. Executives even managed to convince cultures that didn't traditionally exchange wedding rings that they did indeed need to start. How magnificently genius.
As with so many aspects of our lives, science continues to move us forward and we are now able to grow diamonds in a lab that have the same chemical make up of ones mined from the Earth. They're conflict free, eco friendly, and price conscience. However, it's hard to miss the next celebrity flashing their egregiously large engagement ring over social media. Because the promotion was so far beyond clever, I believe that the desire for diamonds has been so deeply rooted into the psyche of consumers that the industry will not only live on, but will continue to thrive and be profitable. The false notion of exclusivity coupled with a romanticization of displaying wealth will ensure that the diamond will be around. Forever.