Sunday, December 20, 2009


Its hardness is natural; its value is not

A diamond is forever. So are sapphire, silica and Styrofoam. It is the hardest known naturally occurring substance, which explains why diamonds are excellent industrial cutting materials, not emblems of romance. They are no more rare than any number of minerals, no more dazzling. So although diamonds may have their genesis in the heat and pressure of the earth’s mantle billions of years ago, what a diamond represents is a very modern tale.

In 1870 British mining efforts in South Africa uncovered massive diamond deposits. Until then, as commodities, diamonds had been extremely rare; the new finds threatened to flood the market with stones and obliterate their price. Investors in the mines realized they had to consolidate their interests to control the flow of diamonds into the open market, and so in 1888 they formed the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. consortium. By stockpiling its goods to keep prices high, De Beers controlled the worldwide diamond supply for the next century.

Its next trick was to control demand. In 1938 De Beers hired the American public-relations firm N. W. Ayer to begin the first advertising campaign that aimed not to sell a specific item, nor to bring customers into a specific store, but rather to sell an idea: that a diamond is the only acceptable symbol of everlasting love—and the larger the diamond, the greater the love. The company planted stories in newspapers and magazines that emphasized the size of the diamonds movie stars gave one another; four-color advertisements of celebrities conspicuously flashing their rocks helped to cement the connection. The slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” entered the lexicon in 1949, and by the time the postwar generation grew old enough to wed, the diamond engagement ring had become a nonnegotiable symbol of courtship and prestige. Antitrust rulings earlier this decade broke De Beers’s choke hold on the diamond market and forced an end to its practice of stockpiling. Yet it has effectively been replaced by Alrosa, a firm 90 percent owned by the Russian government that became the world’s largest diamond producer earlier this year. Alrosa, worried about a drop in prices during a global recession, has not sold a stone on the open market since December 2008. As Andrei V. Polyakov, a spokesperson for Alrosa, explained to the New York Times, “If you don’t support the price, a diamond becomes a mere piece of carbon.”

Sourceo of Information : Scientific American September 2009

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