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A Diamond is Forever, but stock ownership is whole different ballgame
November 7, 2011 3:57 AM   Subscribe

"A momentous and difficult decision for the family which has been in the diamond industry for more than 100 years and part of De Beers for over 80 years" ~ Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers on the recent announcement of selling the family's interest in De Beers to Anglo American and pulling out of the diamond business.

The Oppenheimers may have ruled the roost for decades, but the company began with Cecil Rhodes, the English-born politician and entrepreneur who went on to found Rhodesia, which was renamed Zimbabwe in 1979 and the Rhodes scholarship scheme to Oxford University.
posted by infini (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
They clearly don't understand the diamond market. Quit after 60 years and you get a diamond jubilee. After that, almost every year is just more expensive diamonds.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:22 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I bet someone has made a massive strike, probably in Russia, and they won't sell it to De Beers; anticipating a huge plunge in the price of diamonds, they are selling their interest.
posted by Renoroc at 4:23 AM on November 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is there an opening in the Hague for this family? Momentous and difficult, indeed. I imagine they taste like Kobe beef. Let's find out.

Not to be reactionary, or anything.
posted by converge at 4:28 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could just be that they're anticipating tastes shifting. It's going to be harder and harder to convince people that "natural" diamonds are more beautiful when we can synthesize flawless diamonds on the cheap. Other gems may well become more popular; in the same way pearls are elegant, but associated with older women, diamonds may become less popular among younger crowds.

Or a massive strike, but diamonds have been more plentiful than they let on for a long while now.
posted by explosion at 4:29 AM on November 7, 2011


Oh, and "a diamond is forever" is sort of bullshit advertising. A diamond will ignite in the heat of a typical house fire, and a simple hammer strike is enough to break one. Not that people are routinely throwing diamonds into a fire or onto an anvil, but they're not some sort of magical wonder gem, either.
posted by explosion at 4:37 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Maybe James Bond finally got those two creepy diamond agent guys.
posted by DU at 4:37 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's hard for a young person to spend three months' salary on a diamond when they don't have a frickin' salary.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


I saw a documentary that said if DeBeers flooded the market with all the diamonds it has in storage, they would be practically worthless. They had a monopoly until discoveries in the Canadian North. So yeah, probably a good time to get out.
posted by Brodiggitty at 4:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My (musical) take on the diamond thing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a couple of drivers here, not in the least new diamond deposits in Canada and Russia, as well as the real threats of African policy and laboratory diamonds.

It's well-known that De Beers propped up the price of diamonds with illegal trading activities for some time. After the Soviet Empire fell, huge quantities of diamonds were about to be released onto the market when De Beers swooped in and bought as much as they could. This resulted in tremendous inventory of diamonds -- as well as monopoly suits in the US. For a long period, De Beers executives could not travel to the US for fear of being arrested, making it rather difficult to do business.

Then, the African economies where De Beers operated started requiring a certain volume of the diamonds be polished and prepared for sale in the local geographies, as well as a degree of profit sharing for the resource extraction.

De Beers had split mining operation off from the retail diamond operations, hence Anglo American and De Beers to deal with these issues. However laboratory diamonds came of age not long after. Initially, lab diamonds were for industrial uses, however quite quickly were developed gemstone quality processes, threatening to undermine the entire resource extraction business and the scarcity play.

De Beers added a fifth C or something to the rating list to combat this and came up with the ForeverMark. Essentially, the ForeverMark is a laser code etched into the inside of a diamond that dealt with two problems simultaneously. The first being 'blood diamonds', as the supply chain of a gemstone could be traced from source to product. The second is that it finally ended the monopoly problem, for it didn't matter where the diamond originated -- whether from an AA mine or a competitive mine as De Beers was a consumer brand.

Thus the supply was dis-intermediated. And it worked for a while it seems. De Beers had a good strong blip after the ForeverMark was launched, but the entire thing was getting too complicated really. The reality is that the 'scarcity' of diamonds was broken long ago and despite prolonging the magic, the 'hard' reality is that diamonds were always a social construct.

Today, there are numerous ways to show wealth and luxury, declining marriage rates, and numerous substitutes, thus the cache of diamonds is quite quickly eroding. In short order, lab diamonds will probably be superior to mined diamonds, and at that point, the game really is over.

Thus, perhaps we can take this that diamonds are now a commodity. And if you're going to be in the commodity mining business, there are a lot of more profitable commodities that can be mined much more easily, and that don't have the same awkward history as diamonds.

Perhaps you hear that giant cry of joy? Yes, men around the world rejoicing that they increasingly less hide-bound by the good old 'two months' salary business. In its heyday, the De Beers diamond engagement ring was perhaps one of the greatest advertising campaigns of contemporary history.

And with this sale, a very opaque period of Western consumer civilisation -- one with a tremendous human and financial cost, and equivalent profits, comes to a bittersweet end.
posted by nickrussell at 4:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [69 favorites]


Diamonds are, and always have been, ugly little stones with nothing to recommend them except jewellers. The only time they look even remotely interesting is when surrounded by dozens of point source full spectrum lights, and that never happens except in a jewelry shop. I'm thankful that people are finally wising up to the bullshit that's been pulled over their eyes for decades by the symbolism merchants.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:54 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Diamonds are, and always have been, ugly little stones with nothing to recommend them except jewellers.

And thus do you do away with Marilyn Monroe.

"He's your guy when stocks are high but beware when they start to descend
It's then that those louses go back to their spouses
Diamonds are a girl's best friend"

C'mon you cannot ignore the massive cultural significance of those hard little rocks. Diamonds and precious gems are culturally significant across time and continent. If it's "just jewelers" behind all of this then they've got quite some sort of conspiracy working for quite some time.
posted by three blind mice at 5:02 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I bought my wife an "cultured" diamond engagement ring. It gives me a little thrill to think that I may have contributed in some small way to the downfall of this horrible industry. Plus, it's blue, so we can pretend it's a saphire when diamonds' value "falls below that of bricks."
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:04 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This Note focuses on the accountability of corporations for indirectly fueling civil wars by purchasing diamonds from insurgent groups. While many corporations are involved in the diamond industry, De Beers controls a majority of the uncut diamond market, including mining, buying, and selling uncut diamonds. Therefore, this Note will analyze whether De Beers may be held liable for knowingly funding war criminals under the Alien Tort Claims Act ("ATCA"). Part I of this Note examines the trade in conflict diamonds in Angola and Sierra Leone and De Beers's involvement in this trade. Part II examines case law developments under the ATCA and obstacles to recovery against multinational corporations ("MNCs") under the ATCA. Part II also outlines efforts made by international organizations, the U.S. government, and MNCs to regulate the activities of MNCs in host countries. Part III argues that De Beers should be liable under the ATCA for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity by funding insurgent groups engaged in human rights violations. This Note concludes that the ATCA should be amended and offers a proposal for legislation to make MNCs liable for their involvement in human rights abuses. Under an amended ATCA, De Beers could be held accountable for its part in the conflict diamond trade.

Full Pdf


De Beers is, and always has been, an extremely sordid affair.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 5:05 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Diamonds are, and always have been, ugly little stones with nothing to recommend them...

I think this may be overstating the case against diamonds. But if you really feel that way, I'll take yours.
posted by DU at 5:10 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favourite Cecil Rhodes quote, which has stayed with me since I heard it in high school:

Pure philanthropy is very well in its way but philanthropy plus five percent is a good deal better.

...where "philanthropy" here refers unironically to colonialism. It comes to mind every time there's someone talking about how colonialism and imperialism "weren't all bad," which is increasingly often as time passes.
posted by vanar sena at 5:13 AM on November 7, 2011


You should never buy any diamond that didn't come out of a machine.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:13 AM on November 7, 2011


C'mon you cannot ignore the massive cultural significance of those hard little rocks. Diamonds and precious gems are culturally significant across time and continent. If it's "just jewelers" behind all of this then they've got quite some sort of conspiracy working for quite some time.

Exactly. The worlds most monopolistic corporation, mining huge amounts of diamonds using Apartheid-era African labor, supported by the first modern and most successful advertisinf campaign and you do have an open conspiracy. Manufactured demand for a product by tying it to marriage and envy.

Quite simply a masterpiece job od capitalism's worst.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Diamonds are a girl's best friend"

C'mon you cannot ignore the massive cultural significance of those hard little rocks. Diamonds and precious gems are culturally significant across time and continent. If it's "just jewelers" behind all of this then they've got quite some sort of conspiracy working for quite some time.


It's interesting because it really is just the diamond industry manufacturing this cultural significance out of whole cloth - largely within living memory - and yet it has been so amazingly successful that people believe such nonsense about diamonds - "Diamonds are a girl's best friend" is either a lie or a misconception (depending on how much industry backing the song had) because they just don't provide the value-storing service for the girl that they are said to. They show that someone spent a lot of money some time in the past, but the girl hasn't been given that wealth and she can't access that money because what was bought and given to her was just rocks that aren't worth what was paid, due to the market shenanigans.

Diamonds are the louses that go back to their spouses.

The extent and success of the manufactured cultural significance is amazing and fascinating. Justin Beiber and N'Sync got nothin'! :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Somebody dig up a link to that incredible New Yorker piece about diamond advertising. It was really eye-opening for me.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:36 AM on November 7, 2011


There's going to be something so very satisfying about watching the bottom drop out of the diamond market. For a stone supposed to be beautiful, they have had some truly ugly associations. And I've known some couples who spent a bomb on a diamond engagement ring, and they all were shallow and materialistic and could really stand to learn a lesson about the true value of things.

I once said to my mother (who has a modest 1/4 carat diamond engagement ring) that I didn't care at all for diamonds — they're too flashy and glitzy to suit me or my looks. (I like peridot, aquamarine, opal, seed pearls, carnelian, turquoise and amber.) She said, "Don't go around saying that!!!"
posted by orange swan at 5:40 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the imminent collapse of diamond prices, am I just running with a wealthier crowd than when I was a kid, or do the diamonds on rings these days tend to be bigger than they were 20 years ago?

Is that 2-3 months salary buying more diamond than it used to?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:40 AM on November 7, 2011


Ironmouth

I'll do you one better - the book it was based on (full text).
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 5:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


C'mon you cannot ignore the massive cultural significance of those hard little rocks. Diamonds and precious gems are culturally significant across time and continent. If it's "just jewelers" behind all of this then they've got quite some sort of conspiracy working for quite some time.

It's as much of a conspiracy as tobacco companies sponsoring movies. Diamonds were inserted into Hollywood plots before people were even aware that product placement existed.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:04 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> The only time they look even remotely interesting is when surrounded by dozens of point source full spectrum lights, and that never happens except in a jewelry shop.

A large perfect diamond - a carat or more in size - can look amazing regardless of the light. Placed on velvet with halogen lights all around it, it will be sparkly and glittery and eye-catching, but a perfect stone can be mesmerizing when held up to the sun or even a reading lamp. If you have the opportunity, study one sometime and you can get a sense of how diamonds have fueled empires. (Marketing, yes, but fascination with large diamonds predates the "Diamonds are Forever" ad campaign by centuries.)

Those are stones a shopping mall jeweler might never stock because they will never draw the clientele that can afford thirty thousand dollar stones in ten thousand dollar settings. Instead, most of what gets sold to consumers are tiny hundredth-carat diamonds in clusters and larger, lower-grade diamonds, visually less interesting. However, since they're diamonds they can be sold off marketing spun from the mystique and romance of large, expensive jewelry, prices marked up accordingly.
posted by ardgedee at 6:12 AM on November 7, 2011



Maybe James Bond finally got those two creepy diamond agent guys.


Interesting you should bring that up; both the book and movie Diamonds are Forever and one of Fleming's non-fiction works, The Diamond Smugglers, were based on time Fleming spent with deBeers in South Africa. The Bond works are sometimes cited as pinnacles of product placement (it's hard to get much better than having your slogan as the book/movie's title).

Of course, Bond did get them in the end.
posted by TedW at 6:23 AM on November 7, 2011


The most fetching diamond news is the fate of Kim Kardashian's 20 carat 2 million dollar object of conspicuous consumption.
posted by bukvich at 6:30 AM on November 7, 2011


As if you just Kardashianned this thread.
posted by Theta States at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?
Excellent 1982 article by Edward Jay Epstein in the Atlantic about the "invention" of diamonds as rare and valuable gem.
posted by Kabanos at 7:02 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oops. I see Cheradine Zakalwe has done me one better.
posted by Kabanos at 7:04 AM on November 7, 2011


And if you like to know the virtues of the diamond, (as men may find in THE LAPIDARY that many men know not), I shall tell you, as they beyond the sea say and affirm, of whom all science and all philosophy cometh from. He that beareth the diamond upon him, it giveth him hardiness and manhood, and it keepeth the limbs of his body whole. It giveth him victory of his enemies in plea and in war, if his cause be rightful. And it keepeth him that beareth it in good wit. And it keepeth him from strife and riot, from evil swevens from sorrows and from enchantments, and from fantasies and illusions of wicked spirits. And if any cursed witch or enchanter would bewitch him that beareth the diamond, all that sorrow and mischance shall turn to himself through virtue of that stone. And also no wild beast dare assail the man that beareth it on him. Also the diamond should be given freely, without coveting and without buying, and then it is of greater virtue. And it maketh a man more strong and more sad against his enemies. And it healeth him that is lunatic, and them that the fiend pursueth or travaileth. And if venom or poison be brought in presence of the diamond, anon it beginneth to wax moist and for to sweat—The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Ch. XVII.
posted by misteraitch at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


He that beareth the diamond upon him, it giveth him hardiness and manhood

Hhhhhhuh huh huh! Hhhhhhhhhhuh huh huh huh!
posted by AugieAugustus at 7:11 AM on November 7, 2011


The most fetching diamond news is the fate of Kim Kardashian's 20 carat 2 million dollar object of conspicuous consumption.

Ha. I happen to know a bit of celeb gossip here (blame the TVs at the gym.) Kim's mother said that the engagement ring is "a gift." And she was taught that only "Indian-givers" ask for their gift back. Thereby enraging American Indians and anyone with a basic knowledge of etiquette in one fell swoop.

I will always love diamonds. Used well, they can really make a piece of jewelry come alive and if I ever inherit 25 million dollars I will run out and by myself an Art Deco bracelet encrusted with diamonds. The problem is that the discount stores have really proven how cheap and worthless bad diamonds can be by selling their crappy diamond heart pendents for $59.00.

True story: When we took my husband's engagement ring to the pawn shop (the ring his fiancée gave back after the engagement was broken off) the pawn broker was only interested in the gold-- the diamond solitaire was worthless to him because he had so many.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:23 AM on November 7, 2011



Oops. I see Cheradine Zakalwe has done me one better.

check teh early links in the fpp she said smugly
posted by infini at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2011


Diamonds have negative associates for pretty much everyone I know, from the fake scarcity to the horror idle mines to the price fixing, etc. The hot rocks these days are more like opals, garnets...bright colors, less sparkle. I like emeralds myself, they're so insanely impractical, they scratch if you look at them wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


@infini -Thanks for all the excellent links!
posted by Twang at 9:03 AM on November 7, 2011


I think one of the most depressing and troublesome thing about this marketing campaign is how irrational and abusive it was, how people thought of diamonds as an "investment" or how it more or less replaced the idea of a dowry or safety net for newly married couples.

I grew up knowing that De Beers and the price of diamonds were totally artificial and unsupportable - not to mention unpleasantly violent - so I wasn't prepared nor sensitive enough for the conversation I had with my grandma when I was living with her and being her caretaker.

She grew up in the Depression, started a family post WW2, parents of Boomers - so basically she was right in the center of the De Beers marketing target.

Something on the news or TV had started the conversation. I think it was about the inflated value of diamonds or maybe it was about blood diamonds, and she immediately grew alarmed about it and said that this couldn't be true since her own diamond in her wedding ring was worth Y amount now, and cost X amount when purchased. I replied that this was wrong and that the information we just saw on TV was actually right, that the whole thing was a scam and that if she ever tried to sell that diamond she probably wouldn't get even a tenth or twentieth what she thought it was worth from any jeweler or pawn shop...

and I was utterly unprepared for how much the idea of this upset her and made her angry. It was like I told her the sky was actually purple. It's not like she was ever planning to sell it, and it's not like she was poor or in need of the money - but the very idea that she couldn't sell it for anywhere near what she thought it was worth if she really needed it was deeply upsetting and she refused to believe it, even after what I was saying was supported by what we were watching on TV.

Her reaction went far beyond the value of her wedding ring as a sentimental or emotional object. It was like it suddenly challenged everything about her life from getting married onward, like her entire worldview was going to collapse because that financial security that the diamond was supposed to represent in place of a real "dowry" or whatever wasn't ever actually there.

That was deeply frustrating and depressing. Yeah, "one of the greatest advertising campaigns of contemporary history" indeed. It's a perfect capsule summary of the act of thievery of playing on peoples emotions and love itself to sell useless shiny baubles to people who don't need them.

In short: Fuck you, De Beers. Even after discarding the brutality of diamond mining - you have no idea how much emotional and financial harm you've caused over the last century.
posted by loquacious at 9:08 AM on November 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Is there any way we could make it so the Kardashian diamond would turn out to be one of the "cursed" ones?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:18 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


loquacious - here's the story of them doing it over again in China most recently (and I'm sorry to hear about your Grandma's pain)


Andy Davidson, mining analyst at Numis, said the global outlook for diamonds was bullish thanks to high demand from emerging markets where they were being marketed as a lifestyle product.

“It does boil down to marketing, really. What use are diamonds… beyond their perceptive value? You’ve all been convinced by De Beers that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. In essence there is no reason why they should be.

“The Chinese and Indians value these even more than we do,” he said, adding that he didn’t think that this would change.


Surat is now the world's center for the diamond trade - considered the middleman for the shady side of the industry, it seems they've gotten themselves a certificate

Perhaps it does make sense that the Oppenheimers are going into a JV with Singapore's Temasek holdings to invest in consumer goods and trade in Africa, now that they have a sovereign wealth fund in their own right.
posted by infini at 9:44 AM on November 7, 2011


I remember sitting next to my future wife in college when a DeBeers commercial came on (you know the kind--kind of like the first twenty minutes of a Terence Malick film, except with diamonds). She was not considered countercultural or radical in any way; she was rich, popular, in a sorority, very conservative, etc. So when she just launched into this anti-diamond rant aimed at the industry, at the women who insist upon them and the gullible men who perpetuate it all, well, let's just say that that's when I knew she was the one for me.

Seven and a half years, diamond free.
posted by resurrexit at 9:46 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Small diamonds have been found in creeks and streams in southern Indiana, they were transported via glaciers from Canada (gold also can be found).
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 11:01 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whenever anyone mentions diamond marketing I always think of this cutaway bit from Family Guy.

Diamonds are gaudy. At work, I'm surrounded by women with giant fuck-off wedding sets that would serve nicely as a sparkly boat anchor, and I literally cannot see any differences from one woman's hand ornament to the next. They all look exactly the same, they all cost several thousand dollars, and for what? So you can match the other ladies in your income bracket, keep up with the Joneses? Ew. If I had several thousand dollars to blow on something, I'd much rather have an adventure than a bauble. A few grand would get me to a hell of a lot of places I've always wanted to visit, and the ROI of travel would be far greater than the ROI on a shiny rock.

A close friend and her husband just got married this past summer -- her engagement ring was a small and delicate Art Deco piece they found at a hole-in-the-wall estate jewelry shop, and the diamond chip that's set in it is barely visible to the naked eye. She LOVES it, it is exactly what she has always wanted, but she's had to cope with rude comments from family and acquaintances about when he'll get her a "real" ring. It's really kind of sickening, how easy it is to conflate the amount of money someone has to spend on an engagement ring and how much they love and value their partner. Money is not love. We need to drill that into our collective heads but good.
posted by palomar at 11:06 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


when me and my man got married, we didn't have rings (which tripped up the judge's prepared speech, she had a whole speech about rings) but before we went to the courthouse, we spent some time near his childhood stomping grounds in the north of England. He has family connections to the mining industry and had a fond memory of going down the Blue John mine. Blue John is a type of blue fluorite with white and dark purple streaks. It's pretty and the mine is slowly running out, so it's special.

We got matching cufflinks of Blue John. Better than any diamond.
posted by The Whelk at 11:14 AM on November 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


The New Diamond Age (Wired, Sep 2003)

Update: Lab-Grown Diamonds Make the Cut (Wired, Feb 2007)
posted by vidur at 11:21 AM on November 7, 2011


It would seem fitting to discover a perfect new use for all of these diamonds - maybe in solar energy engineering, or lasers, or as a semiconductor substrate that would make them actually useful and valuable. Diamond dust is such a factor in so many manufacturing situations that it seems "scaling them up" would be the honorable thing to do. How many soltaires or acres of pave' do we need?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:51 PM on November 7, 2011


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