The Transparent Gems Of Diamonds Cultural Studies Essay

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A diamond is a transparent gem made one of the earths most common elements; carbon and it is one of the best known allotropes of carbon. The formation of diamonds began very early in the earth's history, when the condensation of solid matter into a sphere caused the centre of the planet to become subjected to incredible extremes of temperatures and pressure. It was these conditions that caused deposits of carbon to begin to crystallize deep in the earth. As the earth's surface cooled, volcanic activity forced streams of magma to the surface, carrying with it the diamond crystals. Afterward the diamond-bearing rock hardened, encasing the diamonds in vertical volcanic "pipes". However not all diamonds are found where they first came to the surface, because consequential erosion of the top soils over millions of years transported and deposited diamonds along the river banks, the shorelines or on the bed of the oceans. [1] 

The most important diamond value looked upon by man is its highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material, making it perfect for industrial applications in cutting and polishing.

"Above all other of its qualities, which at present determine its value, the superior hardness to all substances then known, seems to have impressed the Ancients." (Endlich, 1878, p. 30)

There are two ways of mining diamonds and they are Pipe Mining and Alluvial Mining. The Pipe mining refers to the extraction of diamonds from the volcanic pipes, as for the Alluvial mining it is a process where diamonds are extracted from the alluvial deposits which are sand, gravel and clay that have been naturally enriched with diamonds by soil and water erosion as mentioned above.

Background

Until the late 1800's diamonds were a genuinely rare stone found only in a small number of riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil. The entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to only several pounds a year. In 1870, however vast diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa. Almost immediately diamonds were being mined by the "tons", this inevitably caused diamonds to flood the market.

To the financiers who developed the South African mines this fact spelled imminent danger for their investments, because at the time diamonds had little intrinsic value and their price depended to a great extent on their scarcity. They feared that overdevelopment of diamond mines in South Africa and beyond, will cause diamonds to lose value and become only semiprecious gems. Quickly, the major investors realized that they need to control the diamond trade in order to perpetuate the illusion that the diamonds are rare/scarce. Hence in 1888 they created DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd., which was incorporated in the South Africa.

Shortly after its incorporation, DeBeers took control over all aspects of the world diamond trade. DeBeers a diamond cartel took many forms and it used many different names for its operational units all over the globe. In Europe, it was called the "C.S.O." or the Central Selling Organization, in London it operated under the name of "The Diamond Trading Company", in Israel it was known as "The Syndicate", and in Africa it disguised its South African origins under subsidiaries with names like Diamond Development Corporation and Mining Services, Inc. For most of the time since its inception DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd., not only directly owned or controlled all the diamond mines in southern Africa but also owned diamond trading companies in England, Portugal, Israel, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.

DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd., became the most successful cartel pact in the history of the modern trade. While all other commodities, such as the "other" precious gems, gold, silver, copper etc., oscillated wildly with the economic conditions; diamonds have continued to move upward in price every year since the great depression or better to say since the beginning of the aggressive marketing campaign employed by DeBeers in order to promote diamonds.

It is easy to conclude that the Diamond cartel had conceived their business plan with two parts; first to control the supply of diamonds, than to influence the demand. What De Beers did and are doing even today is a classic textbook example of a monopoly, for this reason they are forbidden to operate on the United States soil, stemming from the provisions in the Sherman Act, which states that "any conspiracy in restraint of trade is unlawful". Nonetheless, they were and still are selling 50% of the worlds annual diamond sales in the USA; through their various subsidiaries or American dealers who can purchase diamonds only from the cartel, what we have to realize is that this is going on since the late 1800's until modern time.

"Thought the South African source of the world's diamonds supply is still going strong, we, as a nation, sport more than half of the sparkling carbon crystals worn anywhere." (MacDill, 1929, p. 125)

Even thought their business practices are very important for the analysis of their ethical business operation, I will focus more on their marketing plan and the efforts done over a period of the last century, where they strived to control and influence the masses, public opinion and ultimately shape cultural beliefs all over the globe.

B. Ingenious and constant advertising efforts of the De Beers diamond mining cartel since 1930's has profoundly affected and shaped our popular culture within the United States and beyond. During the great depression, diamond industry experienced its first and last so far; diamond crisis, during which the price of diamonds was declining worldwide. This turn of the events has motivated DeBeers a "diamond cartel" to begin their aggressive advertising campaign, which influenced public opinion and changed cultural beliefs worldwide. They needed to change public attitudes towards diamonds and influence them to believe that diamonds have value beyond the economic worth. In September of 1938, after Harry Oppenheimer then CEO of De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, has traveled to New York City and meet with Gerald M. Lauck, the president of N. W. Ayer advertising company, the advertising plan was devised. Two goals of this campaign are; first to persuade men to buy bigger diamonds, second to persuade women that diamonds are necessity to romantic love and courtship.

II. Diamonds as symbols of everlasting love.

A. First and the most effective marketing strategy employed by DeBeers has been the marketing of diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment. DeBeers realized that in order for diamonds to become a symbol of love and courtship they had to change their meaning completely. They set out to do this trough three main ways; a. trough movies and royalty, b. news stories linking diamonds and love, c. advertising campaign.

"What was necessary was the creation of a mass mentality in which women would perceived diamonds, not as precious stones that could be bought and sold according to economic conditions or fashion, but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life." (Epstein, 1982, p. 6)

Overall impact of this campaign on the popular culture has been that diamonds are central when thinking about the rituals of romantic courtship. Today, diamond engagement rings are commonplace and are seen as the essential part of our courtship.

Since 1939 an entirely new generation of young people has grown to marriageable age. To this new generation, a diamond ring is considered a necessity for engagement to virtually everyone. (N.W. Ayers memo)

After the world war two, the diamond industry realized that they are in a desperate need of a slogan, which will represent their "symbols of love". In 1948, N.W. Ayer & Son coined a now ultra famous slogan "A Diamond is Forever". Today this slogan is seen and understood by general masses as an allusion to the eternity of love. What is peculiar about this slogan is that in reality it has actually arisen from the fear that people will place second hand jewelry back on the market, which would ultimately undercut prices of the diamonds. The prestigious US magazine, Advertising Age, in its January 1999 edition, proclaimed "A Diamond is Forever" the most recognized and effective slogan of the twentieth century.

B. Second strategy of DeBeers cartel aimed to extend the symbolic meaning of the diamond rings from the engagement to the anniversaries, which will symbolize reassurance of lasting love. Therefore in their second marketing strategy they began focusing on a 10 year anniversaries. Once this strategy proved to be successful De Beers extended anniversaries even further and began advertising campaign for their third marketing strategy/idea, which was focusing on the 25th anniversary.

Furthermore in their fourth marketing strategy DeBeers decided to expand their target market to the men as the recipients of diamonds, which as well proved to be successful. The most recent major DeBeers marketing campaign or strategy #5; is the expansion of the existing target market to the women as buyers of diamonds for themselves, doing this mainly by associating diamonds with the independence. Even though there is some positive empirical data it is still too early since the inception of this strategy, for the same to be evaluated.

Another successful promotion that falls within the frames of strategy # 1, 2 and 3, is the "eternity ring" campaign, which was presented as a symbol of continuing affection and the appreciation of the loved ones. Like wedding rings, eternity rings are a symbol of everlasting love.

"Although eternity rings are frequently given to celebrate an anniversary or other special event such as the birth of a child, there is no precise occasion for which to give this "exceptional" gift. Given as a tangible symbol of the promise to love forever, an eternity ring is a beautiful way to show the love of your life how much she means to you." [2] 

What does Thomas Shelby think is amusing about the "Eternity Ring" is that at the height of the cold war, the Russian diamonds from Siberia, which are in the eternity ring were successfully marketed and sold in USA. [3] 

Latest in the major campaign of diamond rings is the "Trilogy Ring", which is representing the past, present and the future of a love relationship.

"Three stones. Three stories. But only one you. The Trilogy ring frames three diamonds one to represent your past, another to represent your present and the last to represent your future. The perfect embodiment of your life story?" [4] 

III. Diamonds as symbols of esteem, prestige and sophistication.

A. De beers and N.W. Ayer & Son are responsible for the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and that they "are" also an essential signs of love, esteem and prestige. Analogous to the campaign, which was transforming the diamonds into the symbols of love, a subliminal undercurrent of prestige was ever present, underlining and accenting the meaning of diamonds. For this "subliminal undercurrent" the idea was to associate diamonds with the sophisticated subtext of art and classiness. Hence N.W. Ayer also arranged for movie stars to appear at social events adorned with diamonds. The agency used its influence to modify film scripts and movie titles to feature diamonds more prominently.

"Motion pictures seldom include scenes showing the selection of or purchase of an engagement ring to a girl. It would be our plan to contact scenario writers and directors and arrange for such scenes in suitable productions." (N.W. Ayers memo to DeBeers)

In addition to Hollywood, DeBeers used the royalty worldwide to act as the "promotional agents" for the diamond industry, once again accenting prestige, esteem and sophistication. The result of these marketing campaigns is that global annual sales of diamonds rose up from 23 million US dollars in 1939 to 50 billion in 2001.

IV. Conclusion

Empirical and analytical data collected over the past decades about the DeBeers Ltd. or diamond industry in general, shows a very unfavorable and completely opposite reality than it is portrayed in our general society. Edward Epstein discovered that the real business of the diamond industry is the restriction what comes out of the ground, what got cut, how much went on the market and at the same time creating the idea that there is a great demand. Besides these unethical and illegal business malpractices DeBeers is associated with the Apartheid regime because they made use of many institutions that created Apartheid in South Africa. Another known fact is that DeBeers created mining workforce from the black people living on the land, by creating taxes for their land. Furthermore working conditions for these miners in South Africa were poor, with not much food, living in conditions where hostels had 20 people per room and all this while mining 60 hours a week. Moreover in India over 100.000 children under the age of 13, comprise a significant part of the Indian labor pool that cuts small diamonds, which ultimately makes possible for the production of cheap jewelry in the western world. The most atrocious trait diamond cartel has is its direct responsibility for influencing loss of the human life trough diamond wars. DeBeers were connected to many "conflict diamonds", dubbed "Blood Diamonds" because of the loss of human life and blood spilled in support of the diamond production and control of mines in some African countries. So how it is that these accepted "symbols of love", which come from human exploitation, suffering and even death, flourish in our society and are seen as symbols described above? To answer this we have to turn to the analysis of the advertising in general, and in which ways it affects and influences a human psyche.

First of all we have to understand that the advertising is a discourse trough and about objects. In our case the diamond story or DeBeers is a discourse of a story about love, intimacy and family, and this story is told through and about diamonds. To understand this hyper-commercialized world we have to make sure that we ask the right questions about the power of advertising. The wrong question is; does an advertising campaign increase sales of that particular product or a brand. But the right question would be in cultural perspective; how does advertising influence the way we think about ourselves, about the world, about what is good and bad, as well as right or wrong. We have to think about how advertising influences our values and our identities. And finally we have to understand that advertising talks to us about subjects that are important, but it does it trough the medium of "things".

This extremely successful diamond advertising campaign has changed very little since its inception in 1938 for the reason that it has been fantastically successful in the endeavor of influencing the demand and sale of diamonds. Three general points to draw from the diamond advertising examples are; 1. "The present" has been constructed by actions in history, 2. Advertising power is based on making sure other competing messages about products are not allowed to be heard, 3. Our ideas about things that matter to us like family, friends, intimacy, sexuality, security etc. are shaped by the broader cultural environment of which advertising is a key part.

It is said that the cartel's greatest accomplishment is that it has created and upheld the illusion that the diamonds are scarce and valuable, even though approximately 130 million carats (26,000 kg (57,000 lb)) of diamonds are mined annually. Although all these deceptive messages and beliefs are played upon us as society, we have to remember that the diamond deception is not a one-person play, because deceiver and deceived play a part in this deception collaboration.

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