saying no to diamonds

A couple of months ago, Sarah got engaged. She declined to get an engagement ring (she doesn’t elaborate on her reasons). This, in my opinion, was an excellent decision. Why? Since then, I came across an Econ-Atrocity BulletinTen reasons why you should never accept a diamond ring from anyone, under any circumstances, even if they really want to give you one,” which seemed like a good time to remind people of why diamonds are a Bad Thing.

The extensively footnoted Bulletin empahsizes the human rights and economics angles:

  1. You’ve been psychologically conditioned to want a diamond
  2. Diamonds are priced well above their value
  3. Diamonds have no resale or investment value
  4. Diamond miners are disproportionately exposed to HIV/AIDS
  5. Open-pit diamond mines pose environmental threats
  6. Diamond mine-owners violate indigenous people’s rights
  7. Slave laborers cut and polish diamonds
  8. Conflict diamonds fund civil wars in Africa
  9. Diamond wars are fought using child warriors
  10. Small arms trade is intimately related to diamond smuggling

A couple years ago, Anil Dash’s daming indictment of the business, “Diamonds are for never,” hit on the sleaziness and misogynism of the ads:

But how can you look at a list on the industry’s own marketing website and see “Of course there’s a return on your investment. We just can’t print it here.” and not be aware that they’re selling, along with war and market dominance, dysfunction. Want your materialistic, easily-misled wife to stop being such a frigid bitch? Buy her a diamond! Did your husband decide to increase your consumer debt in order to buy you a pair of earrings that were mined at gunpoint by children in Africa? Reward him with grudging sex and a temporary cessation of your relentless nagging!

The best resource for this, hands down, is the 1982 Atlantic Monthly essay, “Have You Ever Tried To Sell A Diamond?” by Edward Jay Epstein. It’s long, like every Atlantic Monthly piece, but also very much worth your time. Here’s the lede to get you started:

The diamond invention — the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem — is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value — and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems.

There is hope, however: Wired‘s “The New Diamond Age” offers a glimpse of a cartel-free future.

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  1. Might as well put gold on that list as well. There was a great NYT article about how gold has become so scarce that 2 tons of earth are moved and soaked in an electro-chemical solution to extract each ounce. Rap stars of the world despair.

  2. Correct on all counts, and diamonds are a lot more common than De Beers might want you to think. US and Canada have plenty. Have you checked your agate collection lately?

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