• Explainer

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:

  • Photo: flickr / CC0

    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.

  • Photo: flickr / CC0

    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.
  • De Beers Brainwashed People

    Now here is some truly insidious sh*t that would make Joe Camel proud. In 1947, the N.W. Ayer marketing agency laid out a strategy to inoculate young girls with the desire for De Beers diamonds with a series of lectures.

    From their own brief: "All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions."

    They installed “Why You Should Buy Our Products 101” into classroom curricula, and schools ate it up. The modern equivalent would be, “Advanced How to Fall for Pyramid Schemes” or “Intermediate Getting Phished.” Tanya Techie of The Tech Reader sums up the message of these lectures (and all of De Beers' marketing efforts) nicely:

    "...they brainwashed society into believing that not only were diamonds a rare gem, but you must buy one for the person you love or else you don’t love them. An absurd notion, but it worked."

    In the early 20th century, diamonds were so rare that the luxury of owning them belonged mostly to royalty and the absurdly wealthy, but the huge cache of diamonds that was unearthed in South Africa in 1938 changed all that. That discovery opened the door for De Beers to bilk the common man. To do that, they simply brainwashed the common woman to ramp up a desire for diamonds that would be passed from generation to generation... like secondhand smoke.
  • Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    Cubic Zirconia Is Better

    Diamonds are just crystallized carbon. Carbon is abundant, and using science, we've learned how to crystallize things... like carbon.

    In the 1970s, Russian scientists were trying to find a way to make cheap synthetic rubies for use in lasers. They accidentally made something nearly indistinguishable from a diamond. It’s called cubic zirconia and it’s made in a lab.
    Zirconium oxide powders are stabilized with magnesium and calcium, microwaved until a crust forms, and then cooled and cut to look exactly like a diamond. Even skilled jewelers can be fooled by cubic zirconia. As a generous estimate, cubic zirconia costs about a 10th of the price of diamond, but realistically, you can get it for even less than that.

    Even worse for diamond lovers, there’s a superior (meaning harder) alternative called synthetic moissanite. And get this… though the vast majority of cubic zironia and moissanite stones are created in labs, they can form naturally. Formation of natural moissanite or zirconia is very rare... more rare than diamonds.

    Also, moissanite was first discovered in a meteorite crater, which is awesome.