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The Shocking Story Behind the Diamond Engagement Ring

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 27, 2022 3:03 am

The Shocking Story Behind the Diamond Engagement Ring

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 27, 2022 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Tom Zoellner purchased a diamond engagement ring and proposed. His girlfriend said, "yes" and then, suddenly, walked out of his life making Tom the owner of a used engagement ring. Instead of hitting the self-help shelves of his local bookstore, he hit the road to discover the true worth of this shining gem and then wrote The Heartless Stone.

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De Beers would then be able to stabilize the market by creating both the supply and the demand for diamonds worldwide. Tom Zollner is a journalist and professor who lives in Los Angeles. He wrote the book, The Heartless Stone, A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire. Here's Tom with the story of that journey.

My name is Tom Zollner, and when I was 32 years old, I entered into what is a fairly common rite of passage for a man in America. I asked somebody to marry me, and I gave her a diamond engagement ring, because that's just what you were supposed to do. And I knew very little about diamonds.

I studied up on it as best I could, which wasn't very deep. And I learned that there's this tradition out there that you're supposed to spend two months of your salary as a benchmark, sort of a sliding scale for what's expected. And I wanted to do what was expected.

So I figured out what I could afford. And her name was Ann. I bought her a diamond ring.

I say was because the engagement broke up. And I made the owner of a used diamond ring. And I learned, wow, there's really not a lot to do with this. I didn't want to let go of it for emotional reasons. And I also learned, if I was just going to sell it back on the used market, that there really is no used market. And as the ring just sort of sat there in the back of my closet, I began to wonder more and more about it.

And it might have been a way of channeling the grief over the lost relationship. But I began to look into diamonds in a way that was a little bit deeper and a little bit different than I did when I was researching what to buy. I wanted to know, well, where did this come from? And so this took me on what you might call a quest.

It lasted for 18 months. And in that time, I went to 16 different countries on the globe to try and understand where diamonds come from and why we hunger for them. So I'll tell you just a little bit about where I went. First, I went to a place called the Central African Republic, which is a diamond producing nation at the heart of Africa. It's one of the poorest countries on the globe. It's ranked number 10 in terms of diamond production among all countries. And yet, it is poverty of some of the worst kind, political instability of some of the worst kind.

And those two things, unfortunately, go together. I went out to the back country and learned how diamonds are mined for guys who are making less than $1 an hour to comb through the soil, very dangerous work, sometimes in violent conditions to find these pieces of carbon, which are brought up to the Earth's surface through these volcanic tubes of what's called the kimberlite. And so you find them in the river bottoms at some of the most primitive mining imaginable. And some of these diamonds emerging from such miserable conditions still find their way to the US market. I went to Angola, another nation in Africa, of course, which has been racked with, had been racked by civil war, largely funded through the smuggling and the sales of diamonds. I went to India, which is the headquarters, the Indian state of Gujarat, polishes the majority of diamonds in the world. And I saw the conditions in some of these factories where child labor is used to get the diamonds into the glittery shape that Westerners have expected.

I went to Russia to see the birthplace and still the headquarters of the synthetic diamond industry, a way that machines have been built to recreate the heat and the pressure and the Earth's mantle that create the diamonds in the first place. And then I took a long look at the marketing history of the diamond, the way that these shiny pebbles have been sold to Western consumers through the genius. And I say that word with a certain amount of respect, but also advisedly, the genius of the corporation called De Beers Consolidated Mines, which cornered the market in South Africa in the 1890s, thanks to the scheming of an Oxford graduate named Cecil Rhodes, for whom the Rhodes Scholars are named. Cecil Rhodes founded the De Beers Corporation and hit upon the inside that the way that you create high prices for these little minerals is that you just simply create artificial scarcity in the market, which is what he did and what De Beers continues to try and accomplish, even though it no longer dominates the market as it did today. So it was not only a hive of artificial scarcity.

It was also a marketing factory. It was the De Beers Corporation that created this idea out of whole cloth and invented custom that a young man is supposed to spend two months of his salary on his sweetheart's engagement ring. That turned out, it sounds like something from Charles Dickens, but it's actually a complete marketing fable. And it was also out of the De Beers idea factory with the help of a New York ad agency called J. Walter Thompson, this idea of the eternity of a diamond, the poetry surrounding this trinket.

I look back at some of the ads that were created in the Great Depression to convince American men that this is what they needed to do, just to spend money, even in the midst of a depression. And the ads all centered around the idea of temporality and of mortality and of the idea that this diamond is going to survive you. It's almost rather morbid, but this was a successful advertising strategy, and it was out of this notion that your diamond will last beyond you. That's the brilliant slogan was coined, a diamond is forever. The diamond engagement ring.

How else could two-month salary last forever? A diamond is forever, De Beers. So just to give respect where respect is due, there is something chemically unique about a diamond.

As it goes on the Moz scale of density, it is a 10 out of a 10 scale. Almost no other mineral, in fact, no other mineral, has the ability to slow down light within the chamber of its interiors. This is why a diamond sparkles so well. The speed of light at 186,000 miles per second has slowed down to 77,000 miles per second within a diamond, which is why it sparkles. And when you polish it in a particular configuration, the effect is really dazzling.

I have no issue with that. But to slow down the light in some ways is a metaphor for the diamond itself. It is a chamber of slow light and emptiness, because at the heart of the diamond, which was my conclusion, is mythology. The mythology that society has spun around it and the individual mythologies that we put around diamonds, the story we tell about them, which is, in fact, in its most prominent feature, the story of our engagement, the story of our marriage, one of the most mysterious and frightening and lovely and potentially heartbreaking things that we get to do. The genius of De Beers and the diamond industry was that it was able to set up a toll booth right at the entrance to this adventure. And this, for me, is the true legacy of the diamond. And at the heart of the book that I wrote called The Heartless Stone.

And you've been listening to Thomas Olner, journalist and professor, his book The Heartless Stone, The Story of the Diamond, here on Our American Stories. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, next gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you.

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Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-05 17:33:35 / 2022-11-05 17:36:38 / 3

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