Friday, May 30, 2008

Traditional values...

Everyone knows that a diamond is forever.
Ever wonder why?

In 1947,
Frances Gerety wrapped up her work late one night, said her prayers and promptly had an epiphany. As a young copywriter for NW Ayer, the advertising agency of DeBeers, she deserves credit for having penned the famous line “a diamond is forever”. Those four words are now regarded as one of the greatest marketing slogans of the 20th century.

With a single stroke of genius Frances set the emotional hook for everyone to both cherish and hold onto their diamonds – simultaneously boosting demand, stifling a secondary market and adding tremendous extra value to these shiny baubles.

It’s not like she had nothing to work with.

No matter how or whether they’re marketed at all, diamonds have intrinsic appeal. They are unmatched in many respects, if not magical. Their very origin is dramatic, their history mysterious and their physical properties superlative. They are elemental and pure. Ever since they were first discovered, diamonds have been awe-inspiring to nobles and the hoi-polloi alike. And, they are perfectly marvelous eye candy.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that diamonds haven’t always looked so good.

Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll discuss innovations and trends in cutting styles.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Are you conflicted about diamonds?

Your girlfriend and all her friends… and her family… and her coworkers expect you to give her a nice bright, colorful and shiny rock when you finally decide to propose. Tradition says that a diamond works best.

Alas, there are always those who choose to rain on everyone else’s parade. Unless you are oblivious to the media, I’m sure you’ve heard a thing or two recently that makes you ponder a darker side of diamonds.

Diamonds are born deep within our earth. They erupt to the surface through violent volcanic explosions that seem to occur in the starkest wastelands and loneliest geographic locations known to mankind. Even then, tons of earth must be dug up, exposed and sifted before even the tiniest pebbles begin to emerge.

Let’s face it, mining of any minerals is rarely considered to be a pretty business. Historically, mining has been relegated to slaves, convicts, servants, immigrants and other less fortunate souls. Come to think of it, the only really joyful diamond miners that quickly come to my mind are the Seven Dwarfs, but their mine was in Disneyland and they had Snow White back home.

OK, but let’s not delude ourselves with fairy tales. The story of diamond mining is complex. To begin with there are two distinct methods - underground mining and alluvial mining.

Surprisingly, underground diamond mines are among the most technically advanced mines in the world. By global standards, the safety records of the world’s deepest diamond mines, at over a mile beneath the surface, are exceptional. In addition, the miners – who most probably will never see an actual diamond crystal in their entire career underground – are very often among the best paid workers in their communities.

Alluvial mining is another story. This work is mostly done by individual diggers in dirt poor countries simply using a shovel and pan. It is back-breaking work undertaken in harsh climates. But in many places – especially African countries with notoriously depleted tropical soils and bleak agricultural prospects – it is the most accessible if not the only means of earning any cash income.

Given their unique value, the wealth from diamonds can ultimately be used for cross purposes. Particularly in Africa, diamonds have been used alternately to divide and oppress people as well as to aid them in their fights for freedom and attempts to build democracy.

Perhaps the worst case scenarios were the pro-longed civil wars in West Africa during the 1990’s. On the other hand, the best case scenario is modern Botswana, whose diamond bonanza over the past 40 years has led to exemplary economic development which today includes approximately 15% ownership stake in DeBeers itself!

After exposing abuses in apparel-making sweatshops and pesticide-riddled fields throughout the world, human rights advocates have rightfully focused attention on the diamond trade. The response from the diamond industry has been top notch.

The good news is that the diamond producing countries, major diamond manufacturers and the NGO's have all come together to craft the Kimberley Process. This historic agreement promotes and ensures best-practice policies in the global diamond business. It collectively monitors working conditions as well as the flow of diamonds worldwide.

So, diamonds are still the ultimate symbol of love. They are still nature's miracle. They are one of the most common elements of life – carbon – in its rarest, densest and purest crystallized form. Millions of years old, formed under extremely intense heat and pressure, the hardest substance know to man – diamonds are enduring and timeless. Even in raw form they are beautiful to behold, but when they are cut as gems to their best advantage they are spectacular and dynamic works of art.

If you wish to express your love with a diamond, you are definitely on the right track as far as I’m concerned.

Today the best diamonds are cut precisely for beauty, by the most skilled artisans using state-of-the-art techniques. They come from high quality rough crystals, supplied through non-conflict sources. They are independently graded for color, clarity, weight and above all exemplary light performance. They bear inscriptions attesting to their authenticity and provenance. They are sold at only the finest jewelers. They remain the crème-de-la-crème of all gemstones.

Trust me, the symbolism and beauty of a diamond still has the power to warm your girlfriend’s heart.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rare Red Diamond from Arkansas

Interesting video popped up today of a natural red diamond from Arkansas. If you didn't already know it, diamonds come in all colors of the rainbow - one of the rarest is red. You can read more in my post on fancy colors from almost exactly a year ago today.

Even cooler than the color, which if you ask me looks more like a brownish brick red, is the fact that this diamond was found in the US.

Of all places, the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, AR can actually lay claim to being the world's most rare diamond mine, because it is open to the public and for a modest fee anyone can take away whatever they happen to find. Only in America!

There are just a few ground rules at this park in the bucolic pine woods of southwestern Arkansas, ironically located only about an hour north of the town called Hope and a mere 10 miles over on Rt. 19 to Delight, the birthplace of Glen Campbell.

Rule #1: You can bring your own shovel and pail, but you have to fill any hole you dig the same day. This keeps amateur diggers from going pro by coming come back day after day to dig their own personal glory holes. It also prevents the holes from any serious danger of collapsing. And, did I say you have to shovel by hand, the old-fashioned way?

Rule #2: No mechanical help.

If you can't tell, I love this place. You can get lost in the southern hospitality all by yourself. You can bring the whole family. You can camp overnight. Best of all, you can really dig diamonds. And, yes they've found a few more that are notable and valuable.

The largest was the Uncle Sam (1924) at 40.23 carats in the rough. The most political was perhaps the 4.25 carat Kahn Canary Yellow diamond rough worn by Hillary Clinton at his nibs' presidential inaguaration. The finest no doubt was the Strawn/Wagner rough (1990) that I got to see when it was found weighing in at 3.03 carats. It was eventually cut to finish at 1.09 carat as a true AGS 0/0/0 - graded Ideal cut, D color and flawless.

For a Thorough and Accurate History of Genuine Diamonds in Arkansas, check out Glenn Worthington's excellent book by that title.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jenna's Gem

Congratulations are in order.

I just saw a picture and a story about the diamond that Jenna Bush received in her engagement ring.

For once, a celebrity diamond isn't just all about its enormous monetary value. It seems tradition still holds value in diamonds, and maybe politics does, too.

Apparently her beau, Henry Hager, was looking for a "classic, conservative" style ring to feature a diamond that used to belong to his great grandmother. It's a highly emotional testament, I'm sure, and a wonderful idea.

The ring became a coordinated effort completed by various merchants and craftsmen in due secrecy and near record time - no doubt hints about a Presidential connection surely expedited the entire process. Of course, I'm the most interested in the diamond itself. Apparently it was an "old European" style that was repolished. I'd love to know why.

The conservative thing to do would've been to preserve the heritage of the original cutting style. Because the diamond was "nearly flawless" - which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron - perhaps it was simply repolished to remove any external blemishes incurred in the last couple of generations. That would be awesome, because old European diamonds are well-known to display a relatively high amount of fire, especially when compared to some of their more lackluster "modern" counterparts.

My guess is that the diamond was recut to modern round brilliant standards - with scientifically derived proportions, polish, and symmetry. Not that I would mind; I've always been a tad, shall we say, progressive. I spent a large chunk of my career remaking old-fashioned cut diamonds, taking them to the next level. And now, I prefer they all look brand spanking new - the latest and the greatest.

If anyone does know the full story of Jenna’s diamond, please let me know. I'd love to know more about the original diamond as well as how it actually turned out.

PS. I can hardly wait to see what kind of working-class diamond Chelsea will get in the future.