Tuesday, December 27, 2016

So much for diamonds

I was amused to read that the diamond industry is getting its knickers in a knot over Leonardo DiCaprio once more.

A decade after his film 'Blood Diamond' shone a light on the dark underbelly of the diamond industry, Leonardo DiCaprio is ruffling feathers again.

The Hollywood star has annoyed industry leaders by promoting lab-produced gems.

He has invested in the US start-up Diamond Foundry, which says it can produce pure, nine-carat gems much faster than it takes to mine them.

At the Natural Resources Forum last month, Stuart Brown, chief executive of AIM-listed Firestone Diamonds, said synthetics threaten firms that mine for gems. He added: ‘Our first challenge is to work together to make sure we can counter the threat of manufactured diamonds, as it’s not going away, and really sing the praises of the natural mining industry and how much good it does in countries like Botswana.’

There's more at the link.

Don't believe a word of the hype from the diamond industry about how 'natural' gems are somehow 'better' than synthetic gems.  They're lying - and, what's more, they've been living a lie for generations.  You see, there are parts of the world where diamonds are common or garden items.  If it were allowed (it's not), I could take you for a walk in the so-called Sperrgebiet - 'Forbidden Area' - in Namibia, and literally pick up diamonds off the sand as we walk.  I know.  I've done it on an escorted tour, near Oranjemund.  (Of course, the area has long been stripped of most of its best diamonds, at enormous profit to the local diamond industry but giving virtually nothing back to the local population or the country.  [You can watch the first part of a documentary about it here, with links to the rest on that page.]  So much for 'how much good it does in countries like Botswana' - the industry only 'does good' when it can't get away with robbing them blind!  Again, I know.  I've seen it at first hand.  The movie 'Blood Diamond' was by no means all Hollywood hype.  A lot of it was true.)

The thing is, diamonds are common in nature.

Diamonds are the hardest material found on earth. Other than that, they hold no unique distinctions.  All gem grade materials are rare, composing just a tiny fraction of the earth. However, among gems, diamonds are actually the most common. If you doubt this ask yourself; “How many women do you know that do not own at least one diamond?” Now ask the same question about other gems.

While we are still learning about the interior of the earth, current information shows that diamonds are likely the most common gem in nature.

Outside the earth, diamonds are also common. A recent discovery shows that some stars collapse on themselves, creating giant diamond crystals. In the constellation Centaurus,  there lies a white dwarf, that has crystallized into a diamond 2,500 miles in diameter and weighing 10 billion, trillion, trillion carats.

Again, more at the link.

Being so common, diamonds don't deserve the inflated prices asked for them by jewelers around the world.  That's largely the creation of De Beers, the mining company behind the slogan and campaign, 'A Diamond Is Forever'.  (You can read how that happened here.  There's no reality behind it - just advertising and the 'soft sell'.)  For many years, De Beers formed and controlled a very successful monopoly alliance of suppliers, which held back diamonds from the market, creating an artificial shortage and raising their price.  To this day, it tries to prevent new supplies from new producers from 'flooding' the market and driving down prices to more realistic levels.

Natural diamonds were created by precisely the same forces as modern synthetic diamonds.  It's just that the former underwent that transformation in nature, whereas the latter undergo it in the laboratory.  Put two identical gems next to one another, one natural and the other synthetic, and you probably won't be able to tell them apart unless you examine them microscopically.  (Indeed, the synthetic gem may well be 'superior' to the natural one, in that it'll probably contain fewer impurities.)

There is simply no real-world reason, apart from advertising and sentiment, to pay exorbitant prices for gem diamonds.  They can be created in the laboratory for a fraction of the price demanded for natural diamonds, and I see no reason why that shouldn't become commonplace.  I hope more laboratories decide to offer such products to the public at more realistic prices.  That can only be good for all consumers.



Sendarius said...

As to diamonds being common:

I have heard (from people that know) that the Argyle diamond mining company in Western Australia's North-West carefully selects those diamonds that go to the jewellery market with a shovel - just taking a shovel-full from the output every month.

That region is home to "Champagne" and "Argyle Pink" diamonds, but almost all their production goes to industrial uses.

Anonymous said...

It seems African diamonds should be given the same treatment as ivory in the global markets.


Tal Hartsfeld said...

It's just another status-oriented "preserve the tradition" syndrome if you ask me.

"If you REALLY love me you'll get me the real thing any way you can, no matter what sacrifice you have to make. That is, if I REALLY matter to you".
And most people (especially the status-obsessed "trophy" bastards) oblige accordingly.

And certain businesses and industries, naturally, always (as usual) exploit these stereotypes and customs and the dogmatic mindset that goes with them for their own greedy gains.
Much the same way most any other businesses and industries do.

Glen said...

Gemstones are rarely a good investment. There is some intrinsic value in beautiful things. Buy beautiful jewelry that you (or your spouse) enjoys. Value remaining years later is a bonus. As far as diamonds, you may walk and pick them up over in Arkansas as well (on a lucky day). http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/

Glen in Texas

DaddyBear said...

Of course they bring good to Botswana and the other countries that mine and export diamonds. Just ask the dictators and other folks with the huge bank accounts in neutral countries.

My lovely wife got massive points by not being a proponent of wearing a skating rink on her finger. I spoil her with other gems when she wants more 'twinkle'.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

When I was a little girl, my father and I were going through and industrial tool catalog together, and he was showing me nifty things, and telling me what awesome stuff they could create.

We got to the drill heads, and I said "diamond bits?"

"Yep. When it's not in jewelry, diamonds are five bucks a pound." He nodded. "They're really good for cutting, too. Diamonds are wasted on jewelry. They're fantastic at chewing through stone, and steel, and..."

And for the rest of my life, when the subject of diamonds come up, the first thing I think of is a warm summer day, a tool catalog, and Daddy Who Knows Everything saying "diamonds are five bucks a pound."

This'd be why my husband won my heart with an engagement ring that consisted of a lovely silver and tourmaline concoction made by a nice artist named Caron, and two front spars for my airplane. I didn't need a diamond drill bit, but I did need thirty-two feet of tight-grained, knot-free sitka spruce.

Anonymous said...

My hat is off to the genius who turned industrial diamonds into "Chocolate Diamonds" and now sells them for $$$. Wish I'd been that clever.

Add me to the list of ladies who prefer colored gems and semi-precious stones to diamonds. Not that I'd turn down some of the "chocolate diamond" rings, the neo-Victorian ones, if offered. I wouldn't want to be rude. ;)


Joe Mama said...

Vince bought his wife a two carat ring. It was a stunner.

We asked him what it was insured for. His response puzzled us. "I did not insure it."

Further questioning revealed that the stone in this ring had been cut by the world famous diamond cutters in Czechoslovakia...and least that is what Vince told Jackie when she asked him what the "CZ" stood for.

Somehow, he missed one sticker on the box.

Anonymous said...

My dear wife, practical girl that she is, picked out a ring she liked the looks of that was cheap cubic zirconia and cost maybe 30 bucks. My wedding band, once I got around to actually getting one, was a simple black tungsten carbide band that I think I bought for 10 dollars and it came with a bonus free one in case this one ever gets lost or something. When I've asked about getting her a "real" ring she tells me hers is fine and she'd rather have a new pistol or AR. God how I love that girl.

Anonymous said...

Diamonds are, indeed, incredibly cheap, until you put one on someone's finger.....

SiGraybeard said...

There's really a lot of history here. Synthetic gems have a long history and it's quite illustrative.

Rubies were first synthesized in the early 1800s but the Verneuil process led to the synthesis of pounds of high quality synthetic rubies by the early 1900s. Since the improvements in crystal growing technologies like "pulling" crystals for semiconductors, or hydrothermal growth processes for quartz, even higher quality synthetic rubies have been made.

Has it collapsed prices? Natural, out-of-the-ground rubies are still precious stones commanding high prices, and at the other end of the scale, anyone who wants a pretty little ruby and doesn't have a lot of money can have one. Something beautiful, natural, exotic, and rare will always attract people who want something no one else can afford.

I expect the same situation will develop for diamonds as the price of synthetics comes down. The market for high grade, natural diamonds will stay, and people with less money will be able to buy prettier stones from the labs. To the argument that diamonds aren't rare: diamonds aren't rare because carbon isn't rare, but the diamonds with the highest grades on the valuation charts are rare because the conditions that form them are rare. Things like "tennis bracelets" and other jewelry encrusted with small diamonds were developed as a product to find a market for the majority of natural diamonds that good color and clarity but were too small to sell as solitaires for engagement rings. They had a lot of extra product lying around in inventory, dreamed up these bracelets, asked a tennis star (Chris Evert) if she'd like to wear them and - voila.

And let me be anal-retentive about language for a minute. Synthetic stones have identical chemical composition as the stones out of the ground. Stones like cubic zirconia are simulants. Their chemical composition is completely different from diamond, they just look like one (more or less - anyone who knows what they're doing will spot one instantly).