Diamonds are for suckers. They always were. Thirty-five years ago, you could buy two books that explained, without the slightest bit of hyperbole or misdirection, how an absurdly secretive cartel and a cooperative mass media turned an easily-duplicated stone with primarily industrial worth into an indispensable signifier of middle-class success.
As fate would have it, I read one of those books right before getting engaged, and I took absolutely seriously. As a consequence, my first wife’s engagement ring was a quarter-carat pawn-shop special, just a bit under $250 after tax. To her credit, my bride didn’t complain too much, even as our friends and acquaintances went to the altar with a full carat or even the two-carat honker that a friend’s sister received from a construction worker in the midst of a boomtown year.
“The bigger the ring, the shorter the marriage,” I laughed, and I wasn’t wrong. I was also correct about just how worthless a used diamond ring is. By the time we officially divorced fifteen years later, some of our friends had already managed to buy, and sell, a second set of rings.
Right around then, my girlfriend of the time suggested out of nowhere that $15,000 would be a nice number for the engagement ring she expected me to put on her finger. “You have to be kidding,” I replied.
“But I’ve seen you spend that much on a guitar,” she snapped.
“Yeah, and I could sell that guitar for something more than a nickel on the dollar.” Alas, the engagement never came to pass. The current Mrs. Baruth wears an heirloom from a deceased relative on her left hand, while I rotate through an ad hoc collection of titanium and silicone rings designed to be lost in a set of gloves or at a skatepark without sorrow. I feel good about this. Diamond engagement rings are a scam.
Yet most Americans, if pressed, will admit that they believe at least somewhat in the value of a “natural” diamond. That belief is on the way to being utterly shattered.
The supply of diamonds has always exceeded the demand, but now that the deBeers monopoly has collapsed it is only a matter of time before most unexceptional stones become completely worthless. Accelerating this development: the Chinese ability to grow flawless diamonds in a lab.
The Chinese diamonds are reportedly so good that it takes equipment costing “tens of millions of dollars” to authenticate a “real” diamond beyond suspicion. (The diamond at the top of this article? Fake.) But wait, there’s more. Various hackers and maker-types have been creating diamonds in microwaves for some time now, and the secret is out. You could buy your future wife a diamond so close to perfect that no jewelry store or pawnshop in the world could discover the difference — or you could make your own diamond in a microwave and let her find out after your divorce.
To begin with, a diamond is simply the process of heat and pressure applied to carbon. It’s not a piece of Brazilian Rosewood or even Michigan Maple. It’s not a living thing, it was never a living thing. It’s not even rare. Take the same carbon dust that makes your tires black instead of milky white. Put it in a microwave under certain circumstances. Boom. There’s a diamond.
Furthermore, the human story of a diamond is pretty horrifying no matter whether it’s a “conflict diamond” or a “blood diamond” or just a Russian diamond sitting under a million others just like it in a de Beers vault. People spend their lives digging underground for a tiny piece of carbon that could be made in a microwave. This has nothing to do with the kind of skilled labor and precision effort that is involved in a PRS Private Stock guitar or a Vacheron Constantin watch. It’s simply human misery, compressed and heated over the years until diamonds arrive. All of the human artistry in the diamond business happens after the fact, when the cutter gets it, and he can cut a fake diamond the same way he cuts a real one.
Last but not least, in order for a diamond to get from Africa to your girlfriend’s finger it has to pass through some of the most corrupt, sleazy, disgusting hands known to man, all of whom take a cut of the profits at your expense. If you want to know how much profit they get, simply try pawning your engagement ring. Then subtract what the pawnshop offers you from what you paid. That’s the margin.
There’s markup all through the jewelry business, of course. A while ago, I bought Danger Girl a pendant from Tiffany that probably cost three or four times what the equivalent weight in Credit Suisse gold bars would have been. The markup in the diamond biz, however, isn’t a 300% markup. It’s ten times that — or more. The finest two-carat raw diamond the world has to offer is worth about three grand on the wholesale market. How much does the diamond miner get for finding it? Under a dollar a day. Half of them are children.
It won’t happen all at once, but the diamond scam is bound to collapse eventually, along with the whole moronic engagement-ring industry on which it depends. That’s good news for virtually every human being on the planet. We shouldn’t have a society where women wear symbols of oppression and misery proudly on their fingers. They should just hold those symbols in their hands and look at them all the time, the same way everybody else who has an Apple iPhone By Foxconn’s Suicide Factory(tm) does. If diamonds truly are forever, then let them be forever forgotten.