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The Facts About Diamonds (and why I don’t like De Beers) (depletedcranium.com)
77 points by billpg on Feb 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

Moissanite is the way to go. I got married last fall and didn't even give her the option of a diamond on principle. Nobody asks if it's real, they just think you're loaded because you're fiance is wearing a $800 rock that they think cost 20g. My friend who just got engaged had a completely custom setting designed + moissanite -- more thoughtful and less expensive than crap from your local jeweler and nobody can tell the difference. The hardest thing is getting over the massive psychological pressure that people will think you're cheap. Know what I told myself? Man the fuck up and stop being society's little bitch. Besides, two days after the wedding neither of you will ever think about it again.

edit: un-diamonds are also a great litmus test. if your girlfriend learns the real story of diamonds and still insists on having one you're probably in for much bigger problems than just the ring.

My wife wanted a diamond ever since we got hitched (we were far too poor at the time to even consider it). So now, years later, I told her "let's get you that ring you wanted". We went around for a year or so, to local loose diamond sellers, and then she saw "Blood Diamond" and that put a stop to that.

$60 later she's happy as a peach with a CZ ring she enjoys wearing. And on balance she says that she's even happier with it because she doesn't have to worry about it at all. If she loses it, it's not like losing a used car.

Reminds me of this comic: http://cowbirdsinlove.com/34

This one's a good one, too: http://cowbirdsinlove.com/76

I'm fortunate that my wife is the same way. She told me she didn't want a diamond for engagement. I wrote an iPhone app for her instead. ;) We've been happily married for six months now!

I am a lady who had long disliked diamonds for these very reasons. They are not nearly as valuable as what you pay due to hoarding and such. My partner is aware that should the time come, I'd far prefer a natural pearl, than a diamond. Unless of course he can find a piece of genuine moissanite, one that actually came from space on a meteorite, that would be the coolest!

I got my ex(unrelated I assure you) a sapphire because it had meaning in relation to our birthdays and we both agreed not to buy diamonds.

She loved it and our families thought it was great but we both had to deal with a lot of comments off strangers and friends about why I didn't buy a diamond. She was great about it but you could see a bit of disappointment in her whenever it was raised as she was just excited to have it and felt hurt that she had to explain why it wasn't a diamond. When they would ask me I'd list the reasons on the page and tell of why I picked the stone I did so it would only bother me when I saw her bothered.

The point of this story? Even when its perfect for you and you couldn't be happier there are large portions of society and people you honestly never expect that will go about criticizing you for not following the norm and you need to be prepared to have that conversation a LOT like every time someone sees your ring a lot.

That said I still wouldn't change it for the world though and I know neither would she and when your day comes I'm sure you won't either.

People will always be criticized for not following the norm. It's awesome, and an affirmation that you aren't part of the herd.

Plus I'd just say "We preferred sapphires" and change the topic.

A good response:

"Anyone who buys or accepts a mined diamond is implicitly supporting war and slavery in Africa. I'm against slavery. What about you?"

(This does run the slight risk of alienating most of the women in the room, including some who cried during "Blood Diamond".)

The problem here is that you're paying attention to their bullshit question. When you spend time justifying yourself it rewards the person for asking the question (because they're getting attention) and makes it look like you need to justify yourself.

(Although I suppose after enough impromptu five minute speeches about blood diamonds people will learn to stop asking you about the ring :) )

> felt hurt that she had to explain why it wasn't a diamond.

She didn't have to explain anything.

What she should have done is pointed out how rude they were to make such hurtful comments.

Bravo! I hope to find a mate who doesn't like shiny things.

On a related note, I find general obsessions over expensive jewelries a bit annoying. I rather have an expensive vacation with nice memories over an expensive piece of metal/mineral.

Figure out how she can show the vacation off to her friends and you can kill two birds with one stone. ("You like it? Its obsidian -- we got in on this fabulous vacation in Honduras...")

You'd be surprised, my wife barely mentioned she was getting to go on vacation to England and France and even her employer (owner of a dozen franchises and lives in a multi-million dollar home) said he was jealous.

I've noticed a lot of people in north america are fascinated by Europe, you only really need to lay a hint and they'll do the work of making themselves jealous. Considering you can get to the Canary Islands for about $4k from Toronto, I don't really see how any woman would prefer a stone over that. 2 weeks at a beach in the Mediterranean where ocean temp is regularly 20C+, I believe today the ocean temperatures are ~13C for most of the European coast, in Turkey and Egypt I believe the oceans are still hitting almost 20C.

I know for a fact my wife would prefer to go to Europe again over ever getting a diamond, in fact she told me a list of countries she'd prefer to visit over me buying her expensive jewellery.

Maybe this is because people in the US hardly have any vacation and are encouraged to work all the time, so the lack of time, more than the cost, means many never get to go on any long exploratory trips?

That's almost exactly what we ended up doing. A couple trips to Europe won out over diamonds in the end. And she feels vastly more cultured and informed now rather than lugging around some useless overpriced rock.

I'm curious. What does it cost $4k? Plane tickets? A year ago I looked to apartments for rent there and the prices were about 30€ per day. BTW, Canary Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean in the Africa coast. Balear Islands (Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca...) are in the Mediterranean.

You're correct, I've been to both the Island groups and frequently mix up which are where. $4k from what I looked at was covering plane tickets ($1k a person for 2), and hotels can hit $1k for a couple and half-board typically only bumps this to $1.3k, and if you're planning on spending the day at the beach you don't need much more than drinking money and bottled water.

Talking about DeBeers and truth in advertizing: "Diamonds - that'll shut her up... for a minute!" --Ron White

The issue, really, is status. Our society places pressure on women to show their status via clothing and jewelry. I'm glad to see substitutes like synthetic diamonds and moissanite making it to the market, because of the ethical concerns of supporting systems that promote such destruction. It is important to note, however, that it is not the mere materialism of a woman here that causes the drive for diamonds -- status is important, and let's not fool ourselves if we think it isn't important to us. We have karma systems on HN, we hold successful entrepreneurs to the limelight, and we reach for it ourselves.

I agree that status can be important in many respects, but status achieved from one's own accomplishments and intellect (as an entrepreneur, for example) is completely different than status created by owning an overpriced shiny rock or expensive clothing. While there is certainly societal pressure on women to display status through material means, they also have a choice as to what kind of status they value and thus what type of people will value them.

All true, but shiny stones are used by many as indirect evidence of status. If you're of such a high status you can afford to deck yourself out in jewelry; jewelry and other status symbols act as shortcuts and status messaging.

It's definitely true, however, than many people loose the forest (status) for the trees (jewelry).

Totally agree. If we were all concerned about material status symbols, then good programmers would have to dress up in suits for work.

I'm going to take the opposite approach here. While the idea of a cartel controlling diamond production and pricing is a very bad thing, I don't see how it is so wrong to show your partner your affection with an expensive present. Things to consider:

Most women now prefer other kinds of expensive gifts - http://tech2.in.com/india/news/entertainment-internet/women-...

The whole "Diamonds are not forever" bit is true, and I think it would be very cool to see some diamonds burning/vaporizing. On the other hand what is homeowner's insurance for?

The bit about how diamonds are not perfect and are now produced artificially does not bother me. You get what you pay for.

Lastly, the thing about how diamonds are just a big scam introduced by De Beers in the 30s is not anything new. Does it bother me? Not any more than the fact that I have to shave. Should I stop shaving just because somebody at some point popularized shaving and is now selling me razor blades at $2/blade? Would be a great conversation with my boss: Boss: "So Igor, you grew a huge unruly beard. What's up?" Me: "Yes. I refuse to support Gillette's market position. I'm off to see a client."

Most of our social norms are built around the fact that somebody at some point had an interest in things being this way. Diamonds are just one small, almost insignificant part of it.

I don't think the issue here is whether or not it is a form of social signalling - it clearly is. Nor is the question whether social signalling is useful - again, it clearly is.

Rather, the point is, social signals are often (and certainly in this case) based on symbolic value, which means that they may be open to "semantic hacking" that transfers that value to a less damaging alternative.

That doesn't mean that the value of a diamond is unconnected with its physical properties. It is likely that diamonds are "special" because they are rare, hard, shiny, etc - all of which helped diamonds achieve their niche. But that is an historical explanation. The social signalling (that you want to indicate to someone their value to you) could be done equally well by some other "symbol" if a common social understanding can be constructed.

So it's interesting because (1) hacking social systems is inherently interesting and (2) the diamond industry is itself associated with various negative side effects that sit uncomfortably alongside the notion of "love"...

> While the idea of a cartel controlling diamond production and pricing is a very bad thing, I don't see how it is so wrong to show your partner your affection with an expensive present

There's nothing wrong with the present. What's wrong is the use of diamonds. Diamonds are clearly inferior to other signals. To take an example from another comment: a trip to Europe of equivalent cost has the same 'social signal' strength as do diamonds; but it also has tremendous utility for the woman (educational, memorable, enjoyable, etc.). Diamonds have no utility in jewelry form. So: signal+utility > signal.

The utility opportunity costs are staggering; >30 billion in the US alone. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15842529/ns/world_news/) That would pay for a lot of vacations and more desirable things.

As well, the high margins on jewelry means that prices are pushed up for the useful uses of diamonds, like drills or anvils or bearings. (About 20% of mined diamonds, WP says, go to jewelry. A 1/5 price cut is nothing to sneeze at either.)

Whether we fall by ambition blood or lust / Like diamonds we are cut by our own dust.

-- John Webster, Duchess of Malfi

There's a great 1982 essay from The Atlantic Monthly called "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" that talks about the same issues.


The real irony is that diamonds are all but worthless on the secondary market. You'd probably get more for the gold it's set into.

> Diamonds are the hardest known material

Diamonds are not the hardest known material.

1) Wurtzite boron nitride (w-BN)

2) Lonsdaleite

3) Aggregated carbon nanorods (ACNR)

are all harder.

When I got engaged recently I went with a man-made diamond from Apollo Diamond (featured in a Wired article several years back). Fortunately my fiancee was of the same mind about De Beers.

I agree with the idea. If you don't mind my asking, how did it compare, cost-wise? I've seen comparisons of "one third less", but I've never actually shopped the market.

(And no, I'm not a cheap b######. My support is based on the lack of exploitation. But I wonder how pricing in the market for "natural" stones affects pricing in the synthetic market, if at all.)

I didn't look into prices for natural diamonds, but the ring I bought was just under $1800 including shipping for a three stone ring of .34 ca, .22 ca, .22 ca, all with very good clarity. They also resized it for free + shipping.

Although I personally dislike the way people have been duped by De Beers, it should be noted that diamonds have helped Botswana become a stable and relatively prosperous country: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debswana

the de beers de facto monopoly is a schoolbook example, e.g. why do they make commercials if they are the only ones seeling something? Because they have to prove that diamonds are actually better than other luxury goods (and also interesting is the fact that their commercials sell diamonds, not de beers diamonds)

This is all fairly old news but do review details of the 1938 marketing campaign, absolute genius (if evil ;-)

My goodness, what a sad discussion.

First of all, you can source diamonds ethically. I made a point of doing so when I had my fiancée's engagement ring made, working with a local jeweller who have been implementing strong ethical policies since long before Hollywood thought it mattered. They were happy to explain the precautions they took to avoid, for example, using conflict or other abusively mined diamonds. I do have written confirmation to support these claims.

Of course, you may have to pay more for a diamond that is guaranteed to come from ethical sources. If you're worried, you could choose to go synthetic, which I have nothing against if the product is identical. But if you find diamonds attractive, there is no reason you can't get one at all because parts of the industry operate unethically. And if you don't find diamonds attractive, why are you reading this anyway? No-one is forcing you to buy one, after all.

Secondly, can't I get my partner a present of some nice jewellery simply because I think it makes an attractive decoration that she will enjoy wearing, just as I might buy her a nice dress or she might buy me some smart clothes for a big night out? Not everything is about showing off how much money you have or trying to prove a certain status in society. In fact, my partner doesn't know how much money I spent on most of the nicest jewellery I have bought for her over the years. Sometimes it's just a matter of taking pride in your appearance.

Finally, regarding whether it is worth spending the money on some nice jewellery rather than, say, a foreign holiday: I proposed while on a (rare, for us) holiday abroad, with a ring that I had spent several months designing with the help of ther jewellers. Yes, that ring was quite expensive, and it does have a couple of diamonds on it. But do you think that is what really matters to my other half, or do you think she appreciates that it is a unique gift, made with considerable personal effort, that will remind her forever of both that holiday and how important she is to me?

Just like to add that once I watched the movie "Blood Diamond", I am all the more reluctant to buy Diamonds. Never know what you end up sponsoring.


It is interesting what can be thrown up by an emotive subject, even one that is clearly ignored for the most part. I remember following the progress of a campaign Survival International were doing around the time Blood Diamond was coming out. They are a charity that provide support for indigenous peoples that are classically, and tragically, under represented.




I like the way that these campaigns work, and there is another one I've been following more recently. It's been ignored for a long time, but it's looking like some good press could come off the back of another Holywood Blockbuster:


That's a British company. They recently recieved some major flak when the CofE pulled out as an investor citing human rights issues. But they have been allowed to get away with a lot of underhanded dealings for a good while, and it's just one I'd like to bring to people's attention.


There's also an excellent National Geographic documentary on the subject available on Hulu http://www.hulu.com/watch/70093/national-geographic-specials... I've never been a fan of sparkly, expensive things (seems like a waste of money for a small, sparking rock, no matter how 'rare' it is), but it definitely turned me off to diamonds even more.

I was about to post the same thing. Seconded; gripping movie, and according to my subsequent research not too much Hollywood artistic license either.

He forgets to mention that diamonds are not forever in that, at ATP, they expand back into graphite over a long time frame.

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