Sparkly rock shines light on social responsibility

There is a diamond ring for sale. It’s blue — vivid blue, to be precise — and it is expected to sell for about US$15 million at an auction in New York this October. The diamond is 10.95 carats and the size of a quarter. Believed to be from the Premier Diamond Mine in South Africa, it was last purchased in Rome in 1972 and was a gift that a collector gave to his wife to celebrate the birth of their son. It was originally purchased for US$1 million and is extremely rare. So rare, that only one in 10 million diamonds are of a quality this pure.

My question is, why is this news? Haven’t diamonds lost some of their social prestige? Aren’t these shiny stones well on their way out of style?

I mean, there is Kanye West’s remix of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” featuring Jay-Z that came out on his 2005 Late Registration album. In that song West acknowledges the conflict inherent in the diamond trade and its complex connection to hip hop style. His lyrics say: “Over there they die from what we buy from drugs / the diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses / I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless / ’til I seen a picture of a shorty armless.” It is a socially conscious song that has served to educate people about the long hidden abuse implicated in the diamond trade.

And then the following year the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio came out. There it was, played out on the big screen, the dramatized horrors of the diamond industry, for all to see. Civil wars being funded, families torn apart, violence and death — all in the name of bling.

Usually when a human rights issue such as this is not only brought to light, but portrayed in Hollywood’s light, it gets attention. Changes begin to occur on a large scale because a lot of impressionable people are watching and listening. Technically, diamonds should have lost their prestige long ago. But this is obviously not the case.

In 2006, the World Trade Organization, who are responsible for enforcing the legitimate sale of diamonds through a United Nations resolution, introduced a waiver that allows the diamond legitimization process to be bypassed. This waiver is the source of much contention, indicating that the trade in diamonds is still not clean.

Statistics also indicate that there has been a 15-20 per cent rise in the number of people buying diamonds in the last two and a half years. Can it really be like Kanye says, that it’s in a person’s soul to rock that gold? Of course not. Such essentialist claims simply let people off the hook and allow them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions . . . or more appropriately, responsibility for their money.

The truth is, there are very few people in the world who can afford to spend millions on a sparkly rock. It is those who can afford diamonds as status symbols that perpetuate the diamond trade and its current conflicts, not the masses who are listening to Kanye West and watching Leonardo DiCaprio.