Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bloody Diamonds
January 8, 2008 2:50 PM   Subscribe

The Hope Diamond glows red when exposed to ultraviolet light. In itself, this is an interesting way to determine the provenance of a particular gem.

But when the same story is reported by the Associated Press, it acquires an interesting subtext: natural diamonds are "real", while man-made diamonds are "artificial". The AP reporter has absorbed a half-century of diamond cartel marketing campaigns.

What makes a laboratory-produced gem less valuable than a natural gem? Artificial rubies, emeralds and sapphires have been around for years, and Moissanite (gem-quality silicon carbide) has many of the same desirable qualities as diamonds — with even higher refraction. Large high-quality artificial yellow diamonds have been available at relatively low cost for half a decade.

So why does the popular image of a diamond persist as sentimental, desirable and valuable? How do the undesirable side-effects of the diamond trade differ from the undesirable side-effects of the demand for elephant ivory? Discuss.
posted by Araucaria (55 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
posted by Araucaria at 2:53 PM on January 8, 2008


Well, for one thing, high-quality Artificial diamond are still more expensive then real ones, so unless you need one for a scientific instrument or pure novelty, there is no reason why anyone would care.

But, that might change at some point, and when it does, you'll probably find that lots of people don't care.

The reason people make and sell artificial yellow diamonds is that real yellow diamonds are very rare and expensive, so the artificial ones are actually cheaper.
posted by delmoi at 2:55 PM on January 8, 2008


By the way, this is my first FPP. Not particularly notable, and a partial repeat, but that AP phrasing got me all riled up.
posted by Araucaria at 3:00 PM on January 8, 2008


isn't it because natural diamonds are rare? artificial ones are, at a molecule level, just about the easiest thing a person could fake aren't they?
posted by shmegegge at 3:00 PM on January 8, 2008


isn't it because natural diamonds are rare? artificial ones are, at a molecule level, just about the easiest thing a person could fake aren't they?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "easy". You need extreme pressure, and you need to do it just right. Like I said, it costs more to make an artificial diamond then it does to buy a natural one retail.
posted by delmoi at 3:03 PM on January 8, 2008


Natural diamonds aren't particularly rare either. Doesn't DeBeers intentionally stifle the flow of them to create artificial demand?
posted by davros42 at 3:06 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Discuss.

No.
posted by Malor at 3:09 PM on January 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


The diamond trade aside, there is a sentimental value with something beautiful that was manufactured by this marvelous planet we love on. For that same reason that I am trying to find some real sapphire earrings for my wife. If they are lab created then to me they are simply a mishmash of elements someone threw together. Most I can find are lab created.


I get the point, but try less editorializing next time.
posted by Big_B at 3:19 PM on January 8, 2008


*live* on. Some of us love on it too I guess. When no ones looking.
posted by Big_B at 3:20 PM on January 8, 2008


Posting something because it gets you "riled up" is never a good place to start. And putting the word "Discuss." is never a good place to end. But thanks for playing!
posted by Dave Faris at 3:27 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dave Faris writes "Posting something because it gets you 'riled up' is never a good place to start. And putting the word 'Discuss.' is never a good place to end. But thanks for playing!"

Consider me schooled :-).
posted by Araucaria at 3:29 PM on January 8, 2008


Discus.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2008


Discus.
posted by MikeKD at 3:40 PM on January 8, 2008


Discus , all you can drink !
posted by elpapacito at 3:44 PM on January 8, 2008


Discus, brah!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:45 PM on January 8, 2008


Natural diamonds are not rare. I dunno if they've stopped, but DeBeers used to dump thousands of tons of diamonds into the Atlantic every year to keep the prices up.

Really, I can't see a single redeeming thing about that horrible company.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:55 PM on January 8, 2008


IOW, This is no solitaire and this is not the setting..
posted by sfts2 at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2008


When no ones looking.

For others, that takes all the fun out of it.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Araucaria writes "Consider me schooled :-)."

Language, yo ! Respek, byatch !
posted by elpapacito at 3:57 PM on January 8, 2008


There are some internal structural differences (that as Araucaria says can only be seen when the diamond fluoresces) between "real" and "artificial" diamonds but they are gradually being removed. One of my tutors at KCL was Mark Newton who at the time was doing some amazing work.

I for one cannot wait until the two are utterly indistinguishable (including in terms of price) - fuck you, De Beers, goodbye great deal of conflict.
posted by alby at 3:57 PM on January 8, 2008


The irony is that in every facet of marketing, we are constantly told that natural (or "organic") is better than artificial. That will take awhile to undo in the case of man-made diamonds as long as the price isn't too different.
posted by desjardins at 4:16 PM on January 8, 2008


here's a story about an 'artificial' diamond :P

it's the diamond age!
posted by kliuless at 4:17 PM on January 8, 2008


The only diamond ring that will win me as a bride is one set with a certified murder byproduct. It's obvious, when you think about it. The three Cs:

Cut: Kill the person with a knife, pls. Guns and people who interrupt are my turnoffs.

Color: The whiter the kill, the more valuable the stone. Them's the breaks, world.

Clarity: One life, one stone. De Beers is super shady about how many bodies are behind the extraction of each stone.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:19 PM on January 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


DeBeers used to dump thousands of tons of diamonds into the Atlantic every year to keep the prices up.

Pope Guilty, I want to believe, but I cannot. Do you have a cite for this?
posted by exlotuseater at 4:21 PM on January 8, 2008


Natural diamonds are not rare. I dunno if they've stopped, but DeBeers used to dump thousands of tons of diamonds into the Atlantic every year to keep the prices up.

Riiight. That's why BHP and Rio Tinto have spent billions of dollars to develop and operate Ekati and Diavik. Because natural diamonds are common.

And I'd love to see a cite for the dumping-in-the-ocean charge. DeBeers threatened to do that about a hundred years ago, but I know of no credible source that claims that it ever followed through.

It's preposterous that DeBeers would dump diamonds in the ocean when they could simply close some of the many mines that they operate.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2008


Pope Guilty I am not finding anything to back this up either. One article stating that it was an option laid out on the table, but was not acted upon.

Something else, I bought my wife's diamond at an old estate jewelry store and had it set by them, so it sort of felt like I was cheating the industry a little. Like being used cd's instead of new ones. Something to consider for those feeling guilty I guess.
posted by Big_B at 4:39 PM on January 8, 2008


Well, for one thing, high-quality Artificial diamond are still more expensive then real ones ...

Apparently not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I ever buy a diamond again, it will be something like this or this. While artificial diamond makers continue to try for "perfect" diamonds, these will remain unique.

The second one, it would be a great conversation starter. I wonder if it will scratch glass.
posted by Dr. Curare at 4:56 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Artificial Diamonds do no have cool curses on them, either.
posted by misha at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2008


do NOT. Grrr.
posted by misha at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2008


DiamondPepsi Red.
posted by Balisong at 5:00 PM on January 8, 2008


Kirth Gerson: I don't think that diamondaura is actually diamond. If you read their ad copy, they are careful never to make that claim.
posted by alexei at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2008


The irony is that in every facet of marketing, we are constantly told that natural (or "organic") is better than artificial.

Luckily that hasn't filtered down to housing; otherwise we'd all be trying to live in caves.
posted by davejay at 5:41 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


But does it glow in the presence of orcs?
posted by ooga_booga at 5:45 PM on January 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


maybe Pope Guilty was referring to this-
At one point in the past, an Oppenheimer had been prepared to dump tons of diamonds into the ocean in order to control prices. But why waste tons of diamonds on marine life when they could be dumped instead, for astounding profits, on the American public
posted by bhnyc at 5:50 PM on January 8, 2008


bhnyc: I saw that, but "f news magazine" seems pretty weak. I'm looking for something that can actually back this claim.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:44 PM on January 8, 2008


alexei writes "Kirth Gerson: I don't think that diamondaura is actually diamond. If you read their ad copy, they are careful never to make that claim."

alexei, with a Mohs hardness of 8.5, DiamondAura is almost certainly cubic zirconium.
posted by Araucaria at 6:48 PM on January 8, 2008


should I just leave that grammatical ambiguity? Someone is sure to comment on it :-)
posted by Araucaria at 6:50 PM on January 8, 2008


What makes a laboratory-produced gem less valuable than a natural gem?

Color and clarity. The internally flawless, D-E-F colorless/blue diamond has been 5 years off for the last 50 years. It remains at least 5 years away.

DeBeers has a giant cache of diamonds under Amsterdam - you can visit part of it as a tourist attraction - and the national bank of Israel is still trying to extract itself from the time when it tried to maintain a diamond reserve to partially back its currency. Those are more interesting stories than all these diamond simulant tales.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:29 PM on January 8, 2008


My father gave my mother a pair of earrings and a pendant necklace for Christmas, each with a large artificial diamond. They must have been cheaper than similarly-sized natural ones, or else my parents have some trust fund I don't know about. At any rate, my mother loves the pieces and her jewelry-snob friend has no idea, even after close inspection, so I guess everyone's happy and nobody died to get the gems.

I'm quite impressed with the technology, actually. Should I ever propose to a woman I would buy an artificial diamond, I think. Of course, it would give me the excuse to say something ridiculously dorky like, "Our bond was made with love, but this diamond was made with SCIENCE!"
posted by backseatpilot at 7:34 PM on January 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Buying non-blood diamonds still props up the blood diamond market. It's still bad, just not so much so, or so directly.

On the other hand, buying synthetic diamonds pretty much gives DeBeers the finger, and widespread adoption is probably the most likely way for their corrupt operation to go under. So, if you want one of those, I'd go for it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:50 PM on January 8, 2008


the national bank of Israel is still trying to extract itself from the time when it tried to maintain a diamond reserve to partially back its currency

Woah! No way! Let me guess: they've switched to tulip bulbs?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:01 PM on January 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Riiight. That's why BHP and Rio Tinto have spent billions of dollars to develop and operate Ekati and Diavik. Because natural diamonds are common.

Well, giant, perfect diamonds suitable for semiconductor manufacture certainly are.
posted by delmoi at 9:14 PM on January 8, 2008


My father gave my mother a pair of earrings and a pendant necklace for Christmas, each with a large artificial diamond.

A lot of time non-diamond crystals (like Moissanite) are marketed as "synthetic diamonds" or "lab diamonds" But, they're not actual Diamonds.
posted by delmoi at 9:16 PM on January 8, 2008


DeBeers buys and closes diamond mines, and there are heavily guarded warehouses all over Russia filled with diamonds that will never see the light of day.

The ocean-dumping stories may be urban legends, but it's true that diamonds are far less rare than the industry makes them.

The economics are wack but you end up paying extra for diamond rings because they're rare, and the extra you pay goes towards the closed mines and warehoused diamonds that preserve your diamond's rarity. Sure, you pay for the civil wars and diplomatic lobbying and heavy advertising, too, but that's just extra sparkle.
posted by breezeway at 9:41 PM on January 8, 2008


"Our bond was made with love, but this diamond was made with SCIENCE REMAINS!" is way more romanticker, backseatpilot.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:28 PM on January 8, 2008


Artificial Diamonds do no have cool curses on them, either.

I lead walking and/or boat tours past the property in Bar Harbor where the Hope Diamond used to spend its summers. (The home is now torn down; coincidentally in 1908 it also was the birthplace of Nelson Rockefeller.) Elderly locals — including the woman whose father used to fix the clasp when it needed repair — have told me that the diamond's owner at the time, Evalyn Walsh McLean, often had her dog wear it as a collar (and occasionally, when it fell off, they had to go looking for it).

Don't know about any curse, but Evalyn's first son died at age 9 in a car wreck, her daughter committed suicide at age 25, and her husband, owner of The Washington Post, was an alcoholic who died in a mental institution. (She herself is said to have been a morphine addict.)

Two interesting things about the Hope Diamond: McLean once pawned it during her attempt to ransom Charles Lindbergh's kidnapped baby, and when jeweler Harry Winston, the last private owner, donated it to the Smithsonian, he mailed it there in a brown paper wrapper. ($2.44 in postage, plus $142.85 for insurance.)
posted by LeLiLo at 11:17 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


All I know is that the lady I love is going to know I loved her enough for African children work and die for that token, that token that expresses how I feel for her, in a way I can't with my brain and my mouth.

And she'll show it to the other girls, and they'll look at that shiny bauble of love and say "Gosh, he sure does love you!"
posted by sourwookie at 11:34 PM on January 8, 2008


Seriously, some other industry should steal the thunder from DeBeers and start an alternative campaign:

"Show her you love her with two months of salary vacation. The memories are forever."
posted by sourwookie at 11:40 PM on January 8, 2008


Flagged as artificial: adjective, made by human skill; produced by humans (opposed to natural).
posted by jacalata at 12:12 AM on January 9, 2008


There's an excellent (albeit 25 years old) article on De Beers efforts to control the image and price of diamonds in The Atlantic.
posted by Sparx at 2:42 AM on January 9, 2008


More on what De Beers did next (from 2001)
posted by Sparx at 2:55 AM on January 9, 2008


I look forward to the day that artificials are good enough to be completely indistinguishable from "real" diamonds. I want De Beers to crash and burn, and someone having the ability to flood the market with a product that is impossible to discern as being real or fake will go a long way towards making that happen.

In fact, if I were ever to buy a diamond, I would make sure to get spend the money on a fake one, just for the personal satisfaction of knowing that I helped to finance any effort to make more perfect shiny engine of destruction against De Beers.

I hate them that much.
posted by quin at 9:23 AM on January 9, 2008


Why on earth are artificial diamonds so much more than natural? Isn't the purpose of creating an artificial diamond partly to help reduce the prices?

I can understand why the previously mentioned Lifegems are more expensive...$3,499 for a .20-.29 carat colored or colorless diamond, but having a dead relative on your finger, priceless!
posted by crystallyn at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2008


Yeah, that DiamondAura stuff is cubic Z. You can buy loose, faceted cubic Z on ebay at $0.78 the carat, last I looked. It's just not valuable.

Creating a diamond requires creating very extreme conditions of temperature and pressure; that requires energy, which isn't exactly cheap these days. Creating a blue-white gem grade diamond requires very, very extreme and very even temperatures and pressures as well as an orderly environment for the crystal to form without gaps, voids or flaws and a way to mix the boron (that gives a blue-white diamond its blue color) evenly through that crystal lattice. Apparently it's harder than it sounds because the holy grail, an artificial 1-carat internally flawless DEF diamond, has not yet been achieved.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:23 PM on January 16, 2008


« Older John Harris's science fiction artwork is stunning....  |  Pomme Chan... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments