Blast from the past: Diamonds are nobody’s best friend but the De Beers cartel

I vaguely recollect a documentary I watched as a kid – diamonds the size of golf balls were rolling up on African beaches while armed patrols made sure nobody picked them up. I couldn’t find it on the interwebspheres, so I was probably dreaming …

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.

Dug up from The Atlantic, circa 1982, is the fascinating story about how one of the most abundant gems in existence was turned into rare treasure.

It took no alchemy … just marketing. Maybe the most brilliant (and long-lived) campaign ever executed. It’ll take more time that the average blog post, but read the whole thing anyway.

MG signing off (to cast illusion aside in favor of reality)