A 1960 De Beers ad in Reader's Digest (SensaiAlanFlickr)



Were we Brainwashed?

Diamond and Loop
Diamond and Loop

Part 2 of Firefly's 3-part Series on Diamonds and their History

In recent history, a company called De Beers might be (is) responsible for the way we use Diamonds in our Western Culture today. In 1943, Frances Gerety was hired as a copywriter by the Philadelphia ad agency Ayers, and her main account was to be the De Beers company - the Diamond Mining Cartel out of South Africa, who at one time had total control over the Diamond Market as a Monopoly. 

Following the Great Depression Diamond prices were falling. Gerety was hired to promote Diamonds to young men as the only option for engagement rings. Due to anti-trust laws she was not allowed to actually market the De Beers company in the US. Instead she was to market the idea that the size of a man's love for his woman could be measured in carats. They decided that a Diamond should be on every engaged woman's finger as a symbol of love and devotion, and nothing else would do. 

A 1960 De Beers ad in Reader's Digest (SensaiAlanFlickr)
A 1960 De Beers ad in Reader's Digest (SensaiAlanFlickr)


Now, I know you might be saying...

"​Wait, who is this De Beers person, and why did they decide they could tell me how much MY love was worth??"

Well, I touched upon the 4 C’s briefly in my previous post about Diamonds, but I should mention that I personally believe that there is a 5th C. Conflict-Free. De Beers and Conflict-Free Diamonds didn't always go together, so lets back this train up and get some history on De Beers and their origins. This might help you make some informed decisions about your Diamond purchases  in the future.... 

Blood Diamonds 

Diamonds have a rather sad history filled with exploitation, greed, child labor, and smuggling. Laborers in countries ripe with Diamonds mining for the beautiful gemstones we want to wear in our jewelry have been taken advantage of for years and years – human rights abuses, murder, and the funding of war crimes follow the greed of irresponsible mining so much so that the term Blood Diamond arose to label these stones from corrupt sources for what they were, and bring awareness to the issue. 

Diamond held by Miner

​​The name Cecil Rhodes and Diamonds have gone hand in hand since 1869. A large diamond eventually cut and named the Star of South Africa weighing in at 83.5-carats at the time of discovery, was found on a riverbank near a South African mine and shortly thereafter the Diamond Rush began. Cecil Rhodes was a land owner who sold water from his property to the miners and was doing so well that he started buying up small claims in surrounding land, having eventually procured financial backing from the Rothschild Family, the richest family in the world.  
Cecil Rhodes Image - By Unknown - Uploaded 23:19, 23 September 2003 by Hephaestos, as File:CecilRhodes.jpeg., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=234825 Cecil Rhodes


De Beers Mine Shaft - By Gardner F. Williams - The Diamond Mines of South Africa, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56575901 De Beers Mine Shaft
​Two Dutch settlers and brothers by the name of De Beers had been land owners in the South African republic of Orange Free State, and found Diamonds on their land in 1871. They were subsequently pressured into selling their land to the British government and 2 huge mines were developed, one of which was named after them as the De Beers mine. 

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Rhodes would develop the DeBeers Consolidated Mining in 1888 and would go on to hold 100% of all Diamond Mining operations in the country. He also had started working with banks and Diamond Syndicates to fix the market prices with supply withholdings. 

​To add to the destruction in the industry, working conditions were awful. The miners died in the mines. They died in wars. Children were exploited and working long and hard hours for little to no pay, and slavery was rampant with unsafe working conditions. The money from the mining operations was used to fund wars. Explosives and horrible chemicals ruined the earth and irreparably changed the face of the landscape. Greed ruled.

Rhodes died in 1903 having never seen any real threat come to his empire with the exception of competition. The De Beers monopoly was threatened only by the discovery of other mines, but remained in power until 1905 when the massive 3,106.75 carat Cullinan Diamond was found in an independent mine called the Premier Mine. This mine refused to sell to De Beers and despite threats and intimidation managed secure business with independent dealers, the brothers Oppenheimer, Ernest and Bernhard. 

The Premier Mine (later renamed the Cullinan Mine in 2003) was suddenly on the scene and was producing more diamonds than all of the De Beers mines combined. Ernest Oppenheimer quickly rose to power becoming the local agent for the London Diamond Syndicate and became Mayor of Kimberly, the heart of South Africa's Diamond production. Ernest’s greed made him very aware that flooding the market with all the diamonds that their mine was producing would lower their cost and he carried on the tradition of supply withholding to fix the market pricing of Diamonds, and would be criticized heavily for exploitation, profiteering, price fixing, smuggling, and manipulation. 
Premier Diamond Mine - By Farrington: Gems and Gem Minerals, published 1903. Link. Uploaded to and transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3947528
Premier Diamond Mine in 1903

Finally somewhere between 1914 and 1918 during WW1, De Beers was finally able to acquire the Premier Mine, once again consolidating power into a monopoly and dominated the Diamond Market for the rest of the century, keeping prices high, and using manipulative ads to coerce the public into believing that a Diamond is the only stone worthy of an engagement ring.

Frances Gerety and her ad campaign for De Beers - Source: NY Times
Frances Gerety and her ad campaign for De Beers - Source: NY Times


Which brings us back to where we started at the beginning of this post with dear old Frances Gerety. This ad campaign devised after the ravages of the Great Depression would go on to be one of the most manipulative and successful campaigns in history. "A Diamond is Forever" she wrote as a pitch for the company after some late night brainstorming. She wasn't even confident in it, and it wasn't grammatically correct. However, it stuck. And took off like crazy! Garety wrote all the ads for De Beers from 1947  to 1970, and since 1948 the words "A Diamond is Forever" was used in all De Beers ad campaigns forward. In 1999 it was named the "Slogan of the Century" by Advertising Age, it has been heavily studied by marketing companies and universities, and has inspired book titles, song lyrics, and many an ego. 

​Finally in 2000, the business models for De Beers crumbled due to industries in Canada and Australia going outside of the De Beers channels to distribute their Diamonds. This forced competition, raised awareness of monopoly and the cartel, and De Beers was forced to embrace more transparency. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was then developed to inform buyers of the origins of their stones and create control over rough diamonds funding war crimes….. but…..

​A word about the Kimberly Process:

The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme is an effort by the Diamond Trade to regulate trade from areas that could finance rebel movements in war-torn countries, and sounds like it would be an assurance you can trust but unfortunately it doesn’t discriminate against Diamonds from countries riddled with war crimes, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction not *officially* at war. This certification is an easy answer thrown at many consumers that sounds good, but isn’t really a solution and you have the right to ask questions of your jeweler and designer and decline a Diamond that you don’t believe is ethically sourced. 

Map of Kimberley Process and List of ongoing conflicts in Africa. Source: Wikipedia - By Webysther, based on Kimberly Process Map.svg - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46186876
Kimberly Process Key
Map of Kimberley Process and List of ongoing conflicts in Africa. Source: Wikipedia

After the beginnings of restructuring, a series of lawsuits and class action suits would follow over the next several years. The Oppenheimers would sell their shares of De Beers ending their 80 year reign over the industry. Reports came out about missing money in South Africa – identifying price fixing, losing money in the sums of over $3 BILLION, and that's just between 2005 and 2012! And not all countries have adopted ethical practices that align with the principles of the Kimberly Process, nor has the Kimberly Process been expanded to ensure that countries not officially at war are still regulated for safety, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction.

Things have gotten better, but to make the industry truly a safe one, we must all do our part.

You have the power!
You have the power!!!


After all of this destruction, and strife cased by these little gems, Diamonds continue to be a major player in the jewelry industry because of their durability and beauty. And you can purchase them with confidence if you are willing to do a little extra fact checking. 

​When purchasing a Diamond you have the power to help support our world's sources of Diamonds, the countries they come from, and the beautiful people who are mining them for you. When making your decisions and ultimately your purchase, you can ask the dealer for the source of your Diamonds. If they are unsure or give you a vague answer, you can make the choice to move on. Diamond sourcing companies who are practicing responsible mining procedures will follow the stone from Mine to Market. 

​Educate yourself about the countries where your Diamond is from. Some countries are excellent sources and the money you spend on your Diamond goes directly back to the mining community. Countries such as Namibia and Botswana are working to provide support to Artesian and Small-Scale Mining Companies where labor practices and environmental standards are enforced by the countries themselves. These countries are providing jobs and further helping to develop the industry to provide and maintain standards of excellence and sustainability for the communities and people in them. 
Kimberly Diamond Mine 
Kimberly Diamond Mine
Diavik mine winter aerial 
Diavik Diamond Mine, Courtesy: Diavik Diamond Mine
Canada is another wonderful source of ethically mined Diamonds. Their standards do raise the price per stone and your business will not be directly supporting developing communities as in Africa, but you can be sure that the stone will not be from a community that is abusing its resources and people. You have the power to find out where your Diamonds come from and support businesses that are furthering the practice of sustainable and ethical Diamond sourcing!
Canadian Northern LightsCanadian Northern Lights
Canada's Hudson Bay  
Canada's Hudson Bay
As a side note, yes – you could purchase a Lab Created Diamond which will have the same properties of a natural diamond. But while these stones will not be Blood Diamonds and will be cheaper than their natural counterparts, I personally feel that the mining communities that have been developed around ethics and sustainability are supported by your efforts to buy ethical Natural Diamonds, and sourcing Diamonds from these entities will continue to support developing communities around the world who are committed to doing right by the planet and the people on it.    
Lab Created Diamond 
Lab Created?
Recycling is Earth-Friendly 
Recycling is Earth-Friendly
Another option to consider is sourcing a Recycled Diamond. You can repurpose a Diamond from a vintage piece or buy from a supplier who sources these recycled stones for you. These stones can be reset into a modern setting if you like and no matter the original source, you will know that your choice to reuse and recycle is tapping in to the supply of already above-ground Diamonds, and reduces your environmental footprint.

Well, that's it for now!
​​I hope you’ve enjoyed this chapter in my 3-part series on Diamonds.
​There is so much information out there and we’ve only scratched the surface though, so stay tuned for the final chapter on how Diamonds are graded! 

Coming soon!!!

And if you'd like to read the previous post on Diamonds which includes the description of some of the world's most famous Diamonds, click here!

An important note about Conflict-Free Diamonds and Firefly Jewelry Studio: 

​Firefly Jewelry Studio is committed to using Conflict–Free Diamonds and supports the practices of recycling Diamonds as well. I try to source my stones from Canada first, and when these stones are not available I make sure that my supplier can trace the origins of my Diamonds to a Conflict-Free region of this earth, or that the Diamond is recycled and ready for resale. 

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