Diamonds are a Marketer's Best Friend
Sample Paper 2 by Colin Sanders - Spring 2012
Diamonds are ubiquitous in our culture as a symbol of high status. "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Diamonds are Forever" are two phrases that are often though of in association with diamonds. How did this cubic allotrope (chemical arrangement) of the ever so common carbon atom gain such prestige? What does this high value that we place on diamonds reflect? And what are the consequences of our fixation on diamonds?
Until the year 2000 De Beers Company was the largest diamond producer in the world. Since then the empire has been split as stock changed hands and more diamond mines opened. This single company is responsible for most of the ideas that we have about the value of diamonds. Their marketing of diamonds as a source of status increased their own profits, and influenced many generations. In effect De Beers is the socialization agent for our ideas about this gem. Through media and advertisements, they put diamonds in the spotlight for status.
Media of any kind has an enormous influence on our collective consciousness. The way that De Beers marketed was not for their own brand; they marketed for diamonds in general. Because they had an overwhelming monopoly on the market, this was an effective strategy. Their success was only possible with widespread media. If they had tried to promote diamonds before the advent of far-reaching outlets, it is doubtful they would have been successful. The popularity of diamonds as the centerpiece of rings prior to the De Beers initiative was negligible. By showing the public images of lovely, desirable women with a diamond engagement ring, they made people want to emulate her status. This is a common tactic, pair one established desirable trait (wealth, popularity) with one that you are trying to popularize, like diamonds. This created an expectation of what a proper marriage or engagement ring should be. As these values are passed on, the need for advertisements is less. In the typical gender roles, a woman comes to expect a diamond ring, anything less can be considered an insult. There is a strong cultural value placed on diamonds.
Why diamonds? There is no really good answer for this. Diamonds are rare; they are formed under only very specific conditions that occur infrequently on earth. Diamonds have many superlative qualities, like harness and clarity. But diamonds are made of carbon, one of the most abundant elements in the universe (a quality that is reflected on Earth). There are many other gemstones that are more rare. But rarity alone only makes sense from an economic standpoint of supply and demand. Most of the diamonds that are mined are destined for industrial use, to which diamonds superlative qualities of hardness and optics are better suited anyway. Regardless, now there are a few substances that are more suited than diamonds for specific purposes. For purely aesthetic purposes lab-grown stimulants are just as pretty. Even lab grown diamonds require a second look from an expert jeweler (Pittsburg Post-Gazette). It is clear that diamond's popularity is purely a social construct.
Because diamonds have been established to be profitable there is a huge incentive to mine diamonds. The majority of diamonds are mined in Africa, where the De Beers Company started their operation. Some of the diamond mines have since been taken over by factions contrary to their governments. Prior to actions to prevent these groups from profiting from illegal diamond trade, it was a major source of trouble in the diamond industry. These deviant acts are prompted by a desire to change governmental control. Even now, with the Kimberly Process in effect, so-called Conflict Diamonds are still being smuggled and being used for illegal trade (Anna Frangipani). The Kimberly Process is essentially a bureaucratic process to ensure that diamonds are conflict free. This is where what is ideal and what is real differ. Some conflict diamonds can still slip through the process if they are mixed in with legitimate diamonds.
Mining diamonds requires ripping apart the earth and extensive human labor. It is a self-centered and near-sighted endeavor that does not take into account our relationship with the earth. Mining is not in direct violation of the Peacekeeping law, but it shows one of humanities greatest flaws, frivolity. We are willing to cause so much destruction for a small shiny gem that can just as easily be created in a lab. Diamonds are arbitrary, anything that is rare and beautiful can be given value, and diamond has no qualities that distinguish it as the most rare or beautiful. Perhaps we are so obsessed with the perfection of diamonds because we see ourselves as imperfect, or perhaps De Beers really changed the values and norms of the civilized world.
To directly answer some of the questions outlined; diamonds are popular because the De Beers Company marketed them extremely well. While it could have been any company with any gem, De Beers did it with diamonds. The high value that we place on diamonds is a direct response to this marketing, and shows that it only takes a few pretty pictures with an association of glamour to convince us that diamonds are a girl's best friend. The consequences of this fixation is destructive mining practices that scar the earth, and illegal trade in diamonds that fund rebel groups and endanger lives. Objectively, diamonds are not very special, but subjectively they remain as the gem of all gems, and many women still expect to receive one in a ring. Perhaps this trend is changing, but diamonds are still being marketed, and our associations with them are being reinforced. Diamonds truly are a marketer's best friend.
Frangipani, Anna. "Conflict Diamonds." United NAtions Department of Public Information, 21 Mar. 2001. Web. 11 May 2012. .
O'Connell, Vanessa. "How a New Generation of LAb Grown Diamonds is Shaking Up The World." Pittsburgh Post Gazette 17 Mar. 2012: Web. 11 May 2012. gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/how-a-new-generation-of-lab-grown-diamonds-is-shaking-up-the-jewelry-world-467875/.