We’d all like a beautiful hand finished diamond engagement ring, but how often do we consider the humanitarian or environmental cost that comes with getting our diamonds from the mines to the jeweller’s shop? Why do we not question the exceptionally high and disproportionate cost of them and just carry on following what has become the social norms, spending our hard earned money in this way?
It’s worth having a look at some of the uncomfortable truths that the mined diamond industry would rather we didn’t examine too closely.
Choosing ethical diamond jewellery over questionably sourced mined diamond jewellery isn’t just a nice concept – it really does have a positive impact on people’s lives and the environment.
1. DIAMONDS ARE NOT AN INVESTMENT
Diamonds are not a solid investment. The thousands of pounds you spent on a diamond ring will not be available to you on a rainy day, if the worst happens. The heirloom factor can be accounted for in the sentimental value of the jewellery as a whole, but unless you have a truly enormous diamond, then the value will drop by as much as 50% as soon as you walk out of the jewellers.
When diamonds change hands, they do so at a price that is fixed by the diamond industry. This fluctuates according to demand and is set artificially high. It does not really reflect the cost of extracting the diamond from the ground, cutting it, polishing it and setting before bringing it to the market. So when you purchase it, it will be at the over-inflated retail cost that the jeweller has to charge to cover the price for which he purchased the gem. And if you were to try to sell it back to him, he’d only give you a resale price, relating to the actual value of the jewellery, rather than the cost.
And the jewellers can get away with this because the public has been conditioned to believe that diamonds are rare.
2. DIAMONDS ARE NOT RARE
Diamonds are not rare. They are hoarded. There are hundreds of thousands of carats of diamonds stashed in warehouses across the world, waiting for the right time to bring them to market.
If you are a canny supplier of a durable product, then you don’t need to sell everything you make straight away. You can hold some back until your competitor has a special offer on that type of item, then release similar things to the market, to undercut the rival. Or you can hold things back, to create an appearance of rarity, to raise prices. This is exactly what the mined diamond industry does, routinely, and has done since its inception in the late 1930s. De Beers is behind this, having discovered a vast supply of diamonds in South Africa around the turn of the last century, and realised that, with a virtual monopoly, they could control supply, and therefore pricing. A handful of men became very wealthy on the back of this, and from creating a market in which diamonds were a sought-after commodity, especially for engagement rings.
Did you know that diamonds are around three times less valuable at the point of sale? Simply put, jewellers mark up by up to three times, so buying a diamond is one of the worst investments you can make.
3. DIAMONDS ARE NOT TRADITIONAL
Before the 1930s, giving a diamond ring as a symbol of engagement was not common practice. Diamonds themselves were scarce and unaffordable, and they simply weren’t on the radar of most about-to-be-engaged couples.
All that changed when the De Beers Group found their fortunes in the diamond mines of South Africa. With a vast quantity of diamonds to sell, they needed to create the market in which to do that. They very cleverly set about creating a perception of rarity and high value, desirability and the necessity to purchase a diamond for one’s girlfriend when one proposed to her.
N.W.Ayres advertising agency in Philadelphia was asked to work on this for De Beers, came up with the campaign to reinforce the image of diamonds linked to love and romance. The famous slogan, that is regarded as one of the most successful in the marketing world, stating that ‘A Diamond is forever’, was invented in 1947 by Mary Frances Gerety, and is still recognised the world over.
The notion that one should spend a month’s salary on an engagement ring also dates from this period, although it has been updated in recent years to be three months’ salary.
It is unfortunate that for so many people, the diamond is linked to love and romance, because the reality of mining diamonds is far less romantic and lovely than most people care to know about.
When you extract a diamond from the ground, very rarely is it found simply lying on the surface. Diamonds are formed in deposits of a mineral called Kimberlite, which occurs in conical shapes, often disappearing many hundreds of metres into the ground. Therefore, extracting the diamonds requires similarly deep mining operations, creating a huge hole, with extraction and processing plants on the surface, massive machinery, and a vast spoil heap of rock without diamonds in. On average, 1750 tonnes of material is extracted to find a 1ct diamond.
An alternative scenario, where diamonds have been eroded from their deposits over time, and are found in the sediment by rivers, also create huge scars in the landscape, with topsoil stripped, filtered and dumped, either by hand or in huge industrial operations. This is known as alluvial mining.
Ecosystems are destroyed in the creation of these mines, whether they are looking deep underground or on the surface. Downstream from these mines, water is contaminated, the water table is altered, toxic materials leach into the soil, and migrating creatures are diverted.
Abandoned mines can fill up with stagnant water, creating a great environment for mosquitos, as has happened in the Kono district of Sierra Leone, where malaria is a plague on this once-rich diamond mining area. Rich agricultural land becomes barren, and wildlife vanishes, leaving the people in the area destitute and starving.
Approximately 140,000,000 carats (28,000kg) of diamonds are mined annually, with a total value of nearly £6 billion. The perception that diamonds are rare – justifying inflated prices – is just a mirage.
5. DIAMOND MINING IS BAD FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
Kimberlite deposits don’t pick and choose where to turn up, so diamond mines aren’t tidily placed where no-one minds the land being used. In Australia, Canada, India and all over Africa, diamond mines occur on lands associated with, or belonging to indigenous people. Some are displaced, some are fobbed off with offers of funding or reimbursement that pay no regard to their traditions or needs. Others remain in the land, exploited, and ground down by the effect of the mine and miners on their health, land, livestock, livelihood and culture.
Even in Canada, where a lot more fuss is being made on behalf of the indigenous people of the Arctic regions where diamonds are being mined, there are still ongoing legal cases around the fairness of the reparations being made to the communities, for the use of their land.
Many industries are already offering more eco-friendly & Fairtrade products. By now, it is accepted that the things we use every day should come from an ethical source, where everybody that contributes to that product is rewarded fairly for their hard work. As we become more conscious of how we live, trying to reduce our carbon footprint e.g. the origin of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, it would seem only natural for us to look at something like a diamond on our finger and ask ourselves:
Where does that diamond come from? And how does it get to the jeweller’s shop?
The answer is not from grandma or your mother who just updated hers to an ever-larger stone, but where the diamond was mined and how. An old diamond is hard to trace, but these days you can do research on a company you may be considering buying from, in an attempt to make a conscious decision. We need to remember that even carefully sourced mined diamonds still have a negative environmental impact and their value is not due to their supposed scarcity.
6. DIAMOND MINING IS BAD FOR THE WORKERS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES
In industrialised mines, in the Western world, the workers are often highly technical, specialised gem miners (not a lot of indigenous workers achieve this level of education and status), and health and safety concerns high on the agenda.
However, less industrialised mining establishments, and artisan mining operations are a different story. Global Witness, the human rights charity, estimates that there are over one million miners in Africa living in poverty, earning less than a dollar a day. Their working conditions are highly unsafe, training is minimal, and they lack safety equipment and proper tools. These workers are often forced into this life to pay off debts, or under threat to their families, and their conditions of servitude last for their whole lifetimes.
The cutting and polishing of many of the world’s rough diamonds takes place in India, where child labour is commonplace in the industry. These children are bonded labourers, working to pay off debt, which they are often unable to do before they reach adulthood when the debt is passed to their own children or younger siblings.
7. DIAMONDS CANNOT BE GUARANTEED TO BE CONFLICT FREE
Unfortunately, diamonds that are labelled as conflict-free are still not the answer for those who desire an ethical diamond. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme that certifies mined diamonds as conflict-free is flawed and according to their definition, a conflict-free diamond is “a diamond that hasn’t financed rebel movements against recognised governments”. This means that these so-called “conflict-free” diamonds may still have origins associated with violence, human rights abuses and environmental degradation. How can a diamond claim to be “conflict-free” when it’s still in conflict with human rights, harmony on earth and the environment?
What’s more, the Kimberley process is highly vulnerable to smuggling and forged certification, meaning that a blood diamond could still be certified as “conflict-free”.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a conflict-free diamond that has been dug up from the Earth.
8. BLOOD DIAMONDS ARE A REAL THING, EVEN TODAY
In 2006, the worlds’ attention was brought to the issue of Blood Diamonds by the film of the same name starring Leonardo di Caprio. Blood diamonds are defined as diamonds mined in a war zone and sold to finance insurgency. The Kimberley Process was set up in 2000, “to ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.”
However, certain practices are not covered by the Kimberley Process – the use of money obtained from diamonds to prop up legitimate but corrupt governments, diamonds mined under conditions of human rights abuses but where there isn’t a rebel group involved, tax fraud, and money laundering.
And there are loopholes as well: diamonds smuggled from non-compliant countries and passed off as certificated, and the inherent difficulties faced by a system that monitors rough diamonds which are sold in batches.
Cote d’Ivoire and Venezuela are currently not in compliance with Kimberley Process rules. Zimbabwe is producing diamonds that, while they do not technically breach the Kimberley Process definitions and rules, are not mined under what you would recognise as acceptable conditions. And the Kimberley process has been partially lifted in, The Central African Republic in order to investigate what is happening in this war-torn country – and it’s not pretty.
This is just a brief snapshot of the truth of mined diamonds. For more information, see some of our blog posts, looking at environmental destruction, and the history of diamonds.
Today, you can choose between gemstones stones from the Earth and gemstones made in labs. The Ethica diamond most closely compares in aesthetics, strength and longevity of a mined diamond, with two exceptions – it is absolutely perfect in every way, and it costs significantly less.
It will perform in exactly the same way as the most expensive mined diamonds and it will last forever.
Negligible greenhouse emissions, water or air pollution results from the creation of our lab grown diamonds. No devastated ecosystems, hazardous chemicals, radiation or other environmentally dangerous substances or processes are associated with it and no artificial pricing structure is used.
Because the Ethica diamond is free from all of these issues, then isn’t it possibly the smartest choice in diamonds?