A Girl's Best Friend - The Dirt on Blood Diamonds

Bryan RSeptember 21st, 2007
By: Bryan R

A hundred years ago, an engagement ring was customary when it was time to pop the question. While this ring was worn on the left hand's ring finger, it wouldn’t have looked anything like the modern-day ring (unless you were pretty wealthy). The standard engagement ring used to be a simple band of gold or silver, adorned perhaps with a semiprecious stone like an emerald, sapphire or ruby.

But times have changed! Once relatively rare, diamonds are now easily supplied because of dramatic improvements in mining technology. As early as the 1900s, diamonds became affordable and popular (although they weren’t yet part of our cultural norm). The Great Depression, however, put a stop to the sparkling sales the diamond was experiencing.


The "classic" engagement ring

Because of the Great Depression, the leading diamond producer, De Beers, ran into financial problems. De Beers found a novel solution to this crunch by launching a massive ad campaign with the lionized phrase: “A Diamond is Forever?. Along with this catchphrase, De Beers’s marketing campaign forged the now institutionalized link between the diamond engagement ring and sentiments of romance, purity, and permanence. Almost overnight, the diamond engagement ring became commonplace, which helped De Beers gain ownership to over 40% of the worldwide diamond production.

Now that the trickle of diamonds flowing into the market has turned into a torrent, the sourcing and production of these diamonds has received great attention. While diamond mines are located all over the world, the richest deposits are found in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Other nations such as Russia and, to a lesser extent, Australia and Canada also have active diamond mines.

It’s no secret that several of these nations are unstable and plagued with violence. During chaotic times, insurgent groups take over the diamond production in hopes of scoring a quick source of cash. Often, these groups impose an almost slave-like regime on the mining operations and force workers to continue the diamond hunt to the point of injury or death. Any diamond that is found is then sold to the various jewelry businesses. When a diamond is mined and sold under these conditions, it is called a blood (or conflict) diamond.

Over the last fifteen years, several nations have become the focus of controversy because of their blood diamond production. In 1998, during Angola’s civil war, resistance groups took over several mines and used them as a source of revenue. In 1999, civil war erupted in Ivory Coast; not only did militia groups commandeer several diamond mines but they also served as middlemen for the sale of blood diamonds produced in other parts of Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced multiple civil wars and genocide during the 1990s. Despite the turmoil, the diamond mines in the DRC continued to produce gems and profits for whoever happened to be in charge. It was during this time of anarchy that the DRC produced one of the most famous diamonds in the world, the Millennium Star, which De Beers then purchased arguably making this the most famous blood diamond in the world.

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Articles in Series
  1. A Girl's Best Friend - The Dirt on Blood Diamonds
  2. Blood Diamonds - Continued
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