26 Reasons Why Diamonds Are for Suckers

If you clicked this list, you already know it in your heart: Diamond engagement rings (and diamonds in general) suck. You might not know why, and you might not be able to explain it to the person begging you to give them one, but you know it. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the spectrum and you think the tradition of giving diamond engagement rings is something hallowed, historical, and healthy.

Well, it's not. To put it simply: Diamonds aren't worth it. The diamond engagement ring tradition is a modern development - and a dirty one. It was invented not by our venerable ancestors, but by a devilishly clever marketing firm and a maniacal, power-hungry diamond company. Giving a diamond ring to your beloved doesn't symbolize your everlasting love, but helps rich people make even more money on a worthless, abundant natural resource.

When it comes to the good and bad of buying diamonds, the cons far outweigh the pros. Don't let fake nostalgia be your guide; arm yourself with knowledge.The history of the diamond trade is a long and dirty one that you should know about before you spend your cash.  And in case a crucial point gets lost in the shuffle, here are the two syllables you need to understand every item on this list: De Beers.

De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., aka The De Beers Group of Companies, aka The Syndicate, aka Diamond Trading Company, aka Diamond Development Corporation, aka Mining Services, Inc... they're all the same thing.  It’s the cabal that, until recently, controlled the entirety of the diamond market on Earth. All of it. They've jacked up prices, supported evil mining practices, and brainwashed you, the customer. And that's just an abbreviated list of all the negatives that come along with purchasing your beloved a ring. Reasons against caving to the diamond fallacy are as common as diamonds themselves.

Don't buy a diamond. Here's why:

  • It's Not Tradition, It's Marketing

    The practice of using a diamond ring to an symbolize engagement was uncommon as recently as the 1930s, since pretty much nobody of average means could dream of affording one.

    The idea that every marriage required a diamond ring was invented by the people who make diamond rings, a company called De Beers. Their marketing changed a semi-precious, not-very-rare gem into one of the most expensive purchases a person will ever make (beside a house). And they did that because they'd just found a ton of diamonds in South Africa in 1938. In fact, they found so many that the supply threatened to surpass demand and crash the price of the stone. De Beers desperately needed to guilt, trick, cajole, and finagle people into buying their rapidly depreciating stash of rocks before everyone realized that diamonds were no longer scarce.

    Enter the N.W. Ayer marketing agency and the most successful marketing campaign since organized religion (the individual parts of which are discussed in other spots on this list, but their greatest hit is probably still the slogan, "diamonds are forever").

    To quote our hero Edward J. Epstein: “The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance.”

  • Diamonds Aren't Rare, They're Hoarded

    In the late '30s, the diamond industry was in very real danger of petering out. The diamond engagement fad had very little traction and diamonds were considered a nice, but not all that exciting gem. Prices dwindled as more and more mines were discovered and the De Beers Group of Companies stumbled onto a series of motherlodes that threatened to turn diamonds into mildly fancy pebbles...and that’s where the truly Machiavellian genius of these guys kicks in.

    They’d found so many diamonds in South Africa that, all of a sudden, they controlled the vast majority of diamonds. This gave them the power to crush the existing diamond-mining industry and take full control of the world’s entire supply. They bought up everything in South Africa and then made a deal with the Soviet Union to control large deposits in Siberia. 

    With their monopoly entrenched, they could cut the supply and convince the unknowing populace that the shiny rocks were hard to find.
    Diamonds aren't rare, they're hoarded. In only people knew that they are forking over wads of cash for something that would be close to worthless if not for the maniacal genius of De Beers.

  • The Grading System Shifts to Suit the Supply

    Up until the early 1960s, De Beers had sold the idea that bigger diamonds were better symbols of love. This allowed them to sell their supply at the highest prices by emphasizing their size.

    That all changed when a ton of itty-bitty diamonds was discovered in Siberia in the 1960s. De Beers moved quickly to align with America’s least favorite country at the time, the Soviet Union, to hush up the discovery and find a strategy to distribute rocks that were, when considered within the reigning diamond valuation paradigm, pretty crappy.

    They invented a new marketing campaign and grading system that emphasized concepts that no one had previously cared about: quality, color, clarity, and cut. Then they could sell sh*tty Soviet diamonds for the same amount or more than their bigger (but still sh*tty) African diamonds.

  • Diamond Engagement Rings Are Not Really a Historical Tradition

    The role of diamonds in marriage proposals seems so ingrained and incontrovertible that you might think they've been playing that role for hundreds of years.

    Dead wrong, my friend.

    The diamond engagement ring as a phenomenon started in the late 1930s, but really took hold in the 1950s. Through that lens, the practice is younger than baseball, bikinis, and the boob tube. We invented manned flight, atom bombs, and duct tape before we fell for the diamond scam. Even slinkies are older than diamond engagement rings.

  • They're Too Expensive

    To quote author Edward J. Epstein"De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression.”

    To paraphrase the would-be politician Jimmy McMillan, the price of diamonds is “too damn high.” It's too damn high because De Beers controls the entire pipeline from mine to point-of-sale to aftermarket. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, De Beers operated as a de facto monopoly, which (once their marketing campaign had established rampant demand from thin air) allowed them to set prices as high as they damn well pleased.

    The “tradition” of spending at least one month's salary on a diamond engagement ring isn’t really a tradition at all. It’s a marketing invention of De Beers. The collective male ego (or more accurately, insecurity) fell for that line of bullsh*t so thoroughly that subsequent materials suggested a man should spend at least two month's salary. That went so well, they've tried to make it three

    The system is perfect. No matter how much you make, they want a scalable and devastating amount of cash.

  • Conflict Diamonds Ruin Lives

    In the 1980s, De Beers controlled 85% of the world’s diamonds. Even today, your chances of finding a diamond that didn’t go through one cartel or another are pretty slim. In fact, some estimate that a quarter of all diamonds sold today are blood diamonds. Congratulations, you are supporting savagery, slavery, and bloodshed half a world away!

    Also known as conflict diamonds, this small supply came mostly from Africa, and shockingly enough, was not controlled by De Beers. See, when you are a rebel army in say Angola, Sierra Leone, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is hard to get a credit card to buy weapons, fund your war machine, and terrorize the populace. That is where transparent chunks of carbon come in very handy. Unlike rare resources, a lot of diamonds aren’t that hard to mine. In fact, the hardest part is simply making sure De Beers doesn’t want to buy them. And De Beers wants to buy diamonds from just about anyone.

    The diamond funded Civil War in Sierra Leone killed 75,000, displaced millions, and devastated the country to the point where it is still entirely dependent on foreign aid.

    The rebel tactics included torture, amputation, mutilation, rape, and murder of the very people the perpetrators claimed to fight for.

    Even De Beers has to draw the line somewhere, but don’t think for a second that they didn’t find a way to capitalize on the situation. As political pressures shined a light on the violence surrounding conflict diamonds, De Beers fired up its marketing monster to lump all competing diamonds in with the conflict diamonds. This allowed them to charge premiums for their “Conflict Free” diamonds. Now reduced to controlling only 66% of the supply, De Beers positioned itself as controlling 100% of the “Conflict Free” diamonds, appealing to trendy progressives willing to pay more to justify turning up their self-satisfied noses.