Friday, January 2, 2009

The Diamond Dilemma

I've never been fond of diamonds as a stone; I've actually never really been fond of many stones. Rubies seem cool, but overall, I prefer to remain unadorned. I do like my birth stone, the opal, and I have a beautiful pearl necklace that I wear on occasion. But other than that, my plain silver (slightly tarnished) claddagh ring does nicely for my day-to-day wear. The reason I'm divulging this? Is because diamonds are big business. And as much as I would love to get "an engagement Revolutionary War musket" (cuz I love history and have had favorite Revolutionary figures ever since I was in elementary school - although that is a whole other post), Emily points out that De Beers' marketing campaign "make[s] us think that a diamond - and only a diamond - represents true love and commitment". And because most of us agree on that salient point, DeBeers can also charge a heck of a lot for diamonds and make rules about how many pay periods equal an adequate amount of money to demonstrate that love and commitment through diamonds. A puny diamond - as the women I work with made clear - is almost worse than no diamond at all (what makes this assertion all the worse is that the puny diamond in question is in actuality big enough to weigh down my hand if I were wearing it, and the cumbersome nature of the ring and the cut of the ring would have been my main complaint - had the ring been on my finger).

So, I don't really like diamonds, because I don't think they're pretty. And I don't want an engagement ring - of any type of stone - predominantly for the reasons F.F. outlines here (link stolen from seeemilyblog), when she says,
"Not having an engagement ring allows me to opt out of sexist notions of a man as provider and women as passive ornament, and the sexist custom that publicly marks a woman as having been purchased and thus 'off the market' while requiring no such public statement of relational or sexual non-availability by her male partner.

Not having an engagement ring prevents Shiner from having to display his masculinity and creditworthiness for scrutiny and comment by whoever happens to sit next to me on the train."
Yes, I'm concerned about the whole blood diamondness of the whole thing as well, and it disturbs me that, as stated by Candace Gibson of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, "the scary thing about blood diamonds or conflict diamonds [is] the end result is so scintillating and so precious that a lot of people don't think about the origins of the stone". That's fairly upsetting; but while that is a very large issue that needs correcting, it doesn't implicitly conflict with the feminist proposition that women as passive parties, the ones who get the gifts and are asked the questions, is a bad thing to consistently perpetuate - as is the idea that women are somewhat akin to birds, distracted and attracted to the "oh, shiny!", and that a fairly conventional gift like a diamond bracelet or an engagement ring is the best thing a guy could possibly get a girl due to that fact. The money-grubbingness of it all rubs me the wrong way.

But then, conflict comes. Jane McGrath, another contributer to Stuff You Missed in History Class, brings up a point I've never actually contemplated before: what the diamond trade, the legitimate diamond trade, does for the inhabitants of Africa. Says McGrath: "Maybe after hearing this you could think, 'Oh well, I don't want to buy diamonds any more; I'm going to tell my fiance - or I'm not going to buy my fiance - a diamond because this might have been the origin'. And that actually causes problems in itself. If we just boycotted diamonds and cut them off cold turkey, this would actually cripple a lot of African economies that really rely on it; and it would cause the loss of jobs and everything like that. And some countries, I should say, like Botswana for instance in the past 25 years or so has been able to flip its economy around and prosper from one of the poorest to one of the richest countries." Well, hell's bells. I was thinking that forgoing the gross (both as excess and distastefulness) materialism of diamond buying and the sexist message of engagement rings in particular and almost every single diamond jewelry commercial in general would be one of those no-brainer things. A win-win-win situation, if you will, for me, my nonexistent fiance, and Africa. But no, nothing is ever that easy.

Candace Gibson continues this line of thought when she says, "And you should know too that there are about 10 million people worldwide who subsist off revenue created by diamonds... ...And also a lot of the money that comes from legitimate diamond trade goes to combat HIV and AIDs." I think it is important for me to note that I don't actually begrudge anyone their diamond engagement rings or their jewelry; I don't wholly believe that every girl who wants a diamond has that desire completely separate from the De Beers ads and the Kay's Jeweler's ads and Marilyn Monroe:

That doesn't necessarily mean that she shouldn't get one - as long as it is a legitimate diamond certified by the United Nations' Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. I just think that along with getting diamonds for Christmas or birthdays or proposals or Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, girls should expect to not be showered with diamonds and to be responsible for buying their own. After all, if it really is about the love of a diamond and not about seeing how much the significant other is willing to spend, then that isn't too imposing a task. What I would like, though, is in addition to the buying of diamonds for every occasion under the sun we accept that not getting a diamond - and more importantly, not wanting a diamond - is not something requiring sympathy or consolation. Because diamonds may be Marilyn's best friend, but they aren't mine. For more reasons than one.

And just because there can never be too much Sarah Haskins, here's her take on the whole jewelry ad thing:


MediaMaven said...

Excellent post. This reminds me of a few things--the only time I EVER wanted a ring on my finger was when I was egregiously hit on this summer and--since the guy wasn't listening to me--knew the quickest way to get him to go away was to wave a finger with a ring on it. And several years ago I was told I was only going to get jewelery when I had a boyfriend, which, like being told that I can only eat in a certain restaurant when I'm engaged, strikes me as very unfair, ridiculous, and set up for disappointment.

I have a friend who recently got engaged, and as many of her friends are in the same engaged/about to be engaged/want to be engaged/getting married stage, I hear about rings all the time. And I just don't get it. Mainly this is because I can't tell the difference between a "cheap" ring and an "expensive" ring, and frankly, most rings look the same to me. But I'm also very practical; mortgaging your house for a ring just smacks of stupidity.

Meghan said...

Your blog on diamonds reflects thinking of many consumers today who struggle with the complexity (both good and bad) of supporting the diamond industry.

You might be interested in C5. Their "Wear Your Commitment" campaign is all about wearing jewelry that reflects your personality and values. C5 jewelry is made of recycled precious metals and ethically sourced gems including, but not limited to, lab-grown gems.

While providing consumers in the US with jewelry to feel good about, C5 is also working globally to help raise the standard of business for those on the ground in developing countries.

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Danielle said...

Hi there - this is Danielle from Brilliant Earth - I thought it might be helpful for me to offer some clarification conflict free Canadian diamonds, and fair trade diamonds.

All diamonds purchased from Brilliant Earth include a certificate guaranteeing their conflict-free origin. Our diamonds originate from one of two Canadian diamond mines in the Northwest Territories of Canada: Diavik and EKATI. All of our Canadian diamonds have certification policies compliant with one of the leading bodies for Canadian diamonds such as the Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct, Canadamark, or the Government of the Northwest Territories. Our diamonds larger than 0.30ct are also accompanied by a laboratory grading report as well as a laser inscription on the girdle of the diamond which further helps you to identify your diamond. We don’t believe that you should have to pay more for an ethically sourced product – as a result, our prices are quite competitive.

For more information regarding the diamond verification and Canadian diamonds, please visit the following links:

While there is currently no standard for fair trade diamonds, Brilliant Earth is actively working to promote the development of such standards. We are also active in various pilot programs for ethically sourced African diamonds. The mining regions of West Africa remain among the poorest in their respective countries with few benefits of the mineral wealth trickling down to mining communities. We support the development of a healthy industry for ethically-sourced diamonds as the surest way to promote social reform, providing a direct economic incentive for our industry to implement fair trade diamond practices. As part of this social mission, we also donate 5% of profits to help communities in Africa and to help build a foundation of infrastructure for this fair trade future.

In addition to our policies on ethical gemstone sourcing, Brilliant Earth uses 100% recycled gold and platinum in the jewelry we produce.

I would be excited to answer any of your questions either by phone or email, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Warm Regards,

Danielle Mainas
Brilliant Earth
t: 415.354.4632
f: 505.212.4881

John said...

Hooray for lab-grown diamonds! I saw a Modern Marvels special about them once. They are in every way identical to regular diamonds, yet are cheaper to make and don't require people to be maimed or killed. If that's not good enough for my fiancee, I should seriously reconsider my future plans.