It’s a shame that Emma Watson’s inadequate grasp of the English language has dominated the headlines after the Oscars. Just inches below her infamous tattoo clung a simple silver and diamond bracelet with a much more interesting story to tell.
Emma’s diamonds were not the same variety normally found cooling the skin of the obscenely wealthy i.e. the type buried deep underground and extracted by giant companies. The bracelet featured lab-made diamonds, produced by a Californian company called the Diamond Foundry. A company that, incidentally, Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in.
Lab-made diamonds, according to the companies that produce them, are “real”, in that their chemical composition is identical to that of a natural diamond. OK, they’ve never seen a speck of dirt but if it looks like a diamond and is made of, well, diamond - it’s a diamond. I won’t bang on about how they’re made - in short it involves gas and lots of heat and takes around three-four weeks. They’re sold by an increasing number of jewellers including several in the UK.
People in the diamond mining industry are, for obvious reasons, pretty freaked out by these interlopers. If young people embrace lab-made diamonds what does it mean for an $80bn industry dependent on future consumers demanding that the earth be dug up and shiny things hauled out of it? Nothing good.
The industry has hit back with a campaign called “Real Is Rare”. They insist that bits of “natural” rock will always prove more alluring than something produced by a feat of modern science. After all, what’s more romantic than something that’s festered underground for a million years. It’s a wonder old bits of bone aren’t more valuable. Or those flies stuck in amber.
It’s not surprising that traditional diamond companies are fighting back, but isn’t it time we stopped listening to them? After all, the only reason we care about diamonds at all is because of big companies - or one big company in particular. In the late 1930s mining company De Beers launched a wildly successful marketing campaign. By proclaiming that “diamonds are forever” they single-handedly embedded the notion that engagement rings must feature a diamond into the minds of the young and in love. Bank balances the world over were relieved of hefty sums of cash as men dutifully totted up three months salary, never questioning why, why, why!?
The funny things is - diamonds aren’t even that rare. They are among the most common gemstones on the planet. We have been manipulated into believing that diamonds are rare by the same big companies who created the initial demand, and who now control the market to ensure scarcity of supply. But do not forget - diamonds are used in industrial drills - that universal symbol of romance. How rare can they really be?
De Beers and others companies like them claim that the trade brings economic benefits to the communities where they operate. And yet ethically speaking diamonds still throw up huge problems. In 2002 the diamond industry, in collaboration with governments and NGOs, embraced the Kimberley Process which aims to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds. In many ways it has cleaned up the industry, but so called “blood diamonds” still exist and the KP has many critics. From a consumer perspective it remains hard to know exactly where a diamond comes from because smuggling is rife (it helps that diamonds are so small). A diamond marketed as being from one country could have originated from another - and that could be a place where child labour is common.
Lab-made diamonds aren’t the only answer to the diamond industry’s ethical problems, but they are one option for anyone interested in owning a diamond without the potential human cost. Of course you could save yourself the bother - and the cash. Emma’s tiny bracelet cost $5,890 and was outshone by an embarrassment of ink, so it hardly seems worth it. But if diamonds do feature in your list of future purchases, why not consider a lab-made version, just like the normally intelligent Emma Watson?