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From Military Engagements to Engagement Rings Tracing The Path of Conflict Diamonds

Just Another Form of Carbon 

75-120 miles below the earth’s surface, extreme heat and pressure can cause carbon atoms to crystallize, forming diamonds.

Diamonds are then carried to the earth’s surface during volcanic eruptions, where they must cool quickly or turn into graphite or carbon dioxide.

Where Are Diamonds Found? ď Ž

Rough diamonds can either be found below the earth’s surface through industrial mining, or in river beds and streams through alluvial mining.

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Most of the diamond deposits currently mined in places such as Sierra Leone and Angola are alluvial, requiring only a shovel, a pan, and hard labor to mine.

The Origin of the Diamond Mystique ď Ž

Diamonds, once thought to be extremely rare, were first discovered in river beds in India in the 4th Century BCE.

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The first recorded diamond engagement ring was given to the Duchess of Burgundy in 1477, though the tradition of exchanging wedding rings dates back as far back as the 2nd century BCE.

“A Diamond is Forever” 

Diamond engagement rings were not common until 1947, when De Beers launched its famous “A Diamond Is Forever” marketing campaign in the United States.

A similar campaign ran in Japan in the 1960s, fundamentally altering the Japanese courtship ritual.

Other goals of the campaign included convincing people that diamonds are rare, that diamonds are so meaningful that they can never be parted with, that it is common and expected that a man spend at least one month’s salary to buy an engagement ring, and that diamonds are the only way to express true love.

“A Diamond is Forever” 

Around the same time, De Beers began encouraging jewelers to loan diamonds to Hollywood stars for prestigious events, solidifying the diamond’s association with wealth, power, prestige, and celebrity.

The Illusion of Scarcity ď Ž

The price of diamonds depends on the perception of scarcity. If diamonds are perceived as being rare, then diamond prices will remain high. If new diamonds flood the market, prices will plummet.

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Until the 1870s, diamonds had only been found in river beds in India and Brazil. In the 1870s, however, large diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa, allowing unprecedented numbers of diamonds to enter the open market.

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A group of diamond investors formed De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. to help control diamond production, thereby perpetuating the illusion of scarcity.

The Illusion of Scarcity ď Ž

Through its enormous wealth, power, and influence, De Beers is able to buy large amounts of diamonds whenever countries attempt to flood the market.

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Because of De Beers, the price of diamonds has remained steady despite civil wars and conflict. The average diamond ring, for example, is marked up 100% to 200%.

Easily Exploitable Resource ď Ž

In areas such as Sierra Leone where alluvial, or river, mining allows easy access to quality rough diamonds, this artificially high price has encouraged rebels to take control of diamond mining areas in hopes of making a quick and substantial profit.

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Rebel groups such as the RUF (the Revolutionary United Front), force civilians to mine for diamonds.

Diamonds Fund Conflicts 

Rebel groups use the profits from the sale of diamonds, upwards of $300 million a year, to buy more small arms and supplies so that they can sustain their military endeavors.

In the past decade, over 6 million people from Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have become refugees after being forced from their homes by diamond fueled conflict.

Millions more have died in diamond related conflicts over the past decade.

Conflict Diamonds Increase Human Rights Abuses 

Rebel cruelty in many conflict areas is well documented, and includes the abduction and training of child soldiers, amputation and abduction of males as diamond mine workers.

Diamond profits allow for prolonged conflict and increased human rights abuses in conflict areas.

And despite UN arms embargoes and diamond certification schemes such as the Kimberley Process, the illegal sale of diamonds remains a profitable business.

Conflict Free Diamonds? 

Because diamonds are small and easy to transport, it is difficult to track all diamonds leaving a given country.

Diamonds from conflict regions are often mixed with legitimate diamonds and certified as conflict free.

Though many diamond experts claim that one can examine a diamond and identify its origin down to the very mine or river from which it came, others in the industry claim that smuggling and mixing diamonds from different origins makes it almost impossible to know if the diamond indeed came from a conflict area.

International Initiative: The Kimberley Process ď Ž

In 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a joint initiative developed by governments, the international diamond industry, and civil society, was introduced to help stem the flow of conflict diamonds.

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The Kimberley Process is a voluntary initiative that requires participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict free.

The Perfect Solution? 

While the Kimberley Process has not solved the problem of conflict diamonds, it has reduced the amount of conflict diamonds sold into the open market.

Currently, violence funded by conflict diamonds is escalating in Cote D’Ivoire, proving there are serious loopholes in the Kimberley Process.

Recommendations to strengthen the Kimberley Process include increasing government oversight of the diamond industry and strengthening government enforcement policies.

Discussion Questions 

List the links in the diamond chain from the formation of diamonds to point of sale.

How does the sale of conflict diamonds prolong war and increase human rights abuses?

Explain how the perception of diamond scarcity affects diamond prices.

How does the artificially high price of diamonds affect conflict in diamond producing regions?

In what ways has American culture been affected by diamond advertising?

What is the role of diamonds in American culture?

How does the demand for diamonds among American consumers affect conflict in diamond producing countries?

Conflict Diamonds - From Military Engagements to Engagement Rings  

From Military Engagements to Engagement Rings Tracing The Path of Conflict Diamonds  75-120 miles below the earth’s surface, extreme heat a...

Conflict Diamonds - From Military Engagements to Engagement Rings  

From Military Engagements to Engagement Rings Tracing The Path of Conflict Diamonds  75-120 miles below the earth’s surface, extreme heat a...