For Anyone Born in April or Celebrating a 60th Wedding Anniversary: Let the Celebration Begin with Diamonds


 
I started writing this blog thinking “Oh, this is easy.” Not knowing how much there is to learn about diamonds, I started digging. Well, I missed my deadline…while growing my appreciation for diamonds and the diamond business. 

I hope these 4 less common sets of facts will fascinate, stretch your understanding, and affirm challenges facing the gem and jewelry industries. Expect a future blog to explore how diamonds are graded and cut, and how different cuts might meet your needs perfectly. But, I digress.

If you plan to shop for diamonds in the future, feel free to use anything you read here to ask sellers questions. By asking informed questions, sellers immediately know you want transparency and want to make fully informed decisions. Even when I shop within my supply chain, I ask about country of origin, embargoes, production standards, and how company practices protect the planet. Some of those questions are briefly answered here.

Here is what I’ve learned.

Diamonds are at the heart of our matter.
Somewhere between 1 and 3 billion years ago, the heat and pressure at the earth’s deepest mantle (est. 100 - 200 miles) compressed the element of carbon into diamonds. 

A vast supply of diamonds safely rests on that mantle today. The extent of reserves remains a mystery. We only know that eruptions of prehistoric volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates propel kimberlite rock encrusted with diamonds and other minerals toward the earth’s surface through vertical or carrot-shaped cones.
Kimberlite pipes exist in 35 countries, although mines producing the largest quantity of gem-quality diamonds exist primarily in Botswana, Russia, and Canada. Canada surprised me. The mine you see in the picture above is a world heritage site found in Kimberly, South Africa.

Shun War. Respect the Earth.  Support the 10 million people who depend on diamonds to live.
Profits sustain all businesses, including the diamond industry. Now, mandates about how to extract and manufacture diamonds clearly shape business practices. The modern diamond industry seeks to balance profits with creating positive impacts around the world. A growing number of buyers care about both. Here are a few examples.

As of 2003, the United Nations and World Trade Organization adopted the Kimberly Process. It mandates that all trade in diamonds be conflict-free and grounded in ethical business practices. The United States signed the Kimberly Process in 2003.

Whether diamonds are industrial grade or gem quality, conflict-free production requires all businesses to certify that their diamonds do not fund violent conflict or violate human rights.1 Given the peaceful nature of Canada, concern about the production of conflict-free/blood diamonds is irrelevant. 

Presently the De Beers Corporation provides certificates to retail customers that say their diamonds are 100% conflict free.2 Additionally, current estimates suggest that 99.8% of all blood diamonds have been removed from the market. However, smuggling, as well as fluid geopolitical struggles, call the definitions articulated by the Kimberly Process into question. Simply, they are not specific enough.3 Wars in the Middle East highlight where Kimberly mandates fail to adequately monitor diamond extraction and supply chains. The Responsible Jewellery Council is asking 3rd parties to tightly audit their sources of natural diamonds, especially in relation to smuggling.4 5 I am grateful that the United States government banned the import of natural diamonds from Russia as of March, 2022.6 In the diamond world, ethical practices overlap best trade practices from other industries.7 These practices require businesses to protect people as well as the environment. Now, the diamond industry tries to provide access to healthcare, as well as education and infrastructure to families that depend on the industry. How manufacturers treat children is of primary concern, since children are always vulnerable. Vital changes include institutionalizing policies that forbid child labor, build schools, and offer scholarships to help children learn leadership skills. 

The industry faces some of the world’s biggest challenges to protect and rehabilitate lands that yield diamonds.8 Owners of Canadian mines model best practices. They go the extra mile to protect people, local business, and the environment.9 Owners monitor runoff once a month at all discharge points and report results to the Canadian government. Owners also show the world how to close mines responsibly. Planning starts years before a closure. Step by step, owners find new uses for equipment while they plan how to repair the land.10 The transformation of Butchart Garden, seen below, demonstrates the power of visionary leadership.
Last and not least, responsible mine owners find ways to replace wages and businesses so local economies don’t falter.11 12 The next frontier is to protect our oceans from diamond mining.

As Precious as a Soul Mate and, if We are Lucky, Rare. 

Image by Ian McFarlane

 
The illustration below of traditional diamond cuts emphasizes treasured relationships for hundreds of thousands of couples. About 133 million carats of jewelry-grade diamonds are sold annually. One mine in Namibia produces about 30,000 carats a week.13 Consider that the business models of De Beers, Rio Tinto, Alrosa as well as other manufacturers affect supply chains, access to raw materials, and price.11 

Business practices, not rarity, shape our ability along with our desire to own colorless diamonds.15 16 To illustrate, over 70 years ago our perceptions of colorless diamonds changed. In 1947, De Beers collaborated with a New York City public relations firm to change how we connect diamonds and engagement rings. The “a diamond is forever” campaign had the marketing impact most of us dream about. Namely, in 1940 about 10% of engagement rings included diamonds, now about 80% of engagement rings feature diamonds.17 Seriously Rare. The jewelry industry is currently celebrating all manner of colored gems, but colored diamonds, called fancy diamonds, are missing from current marketing. That may be because many people don’t know about fancy diamonds, or because the cost exceeds most pocketbooks.18 Indeed, fancy diamonds exist in virtually all colors of the rainbow.19




How Fancy Diamonds Gain Color. Our earth’s mantle is probably as turbulent as the earth’s surface. When you combine heat, pressure, and turbulence in a rich mineral environment, the potential for fancy diamonds exists. The following is the color intensity gradient for diamonds: faint, very light, light, fancy light, fancy, fancy vivid, fancy deep, and fancy dark.20 Any gem classified as faint or very light is considered colorless. Any gem classified as fancy or above, is well, a fancy diamond. Price per carat soars as a gem’s color approaches fancy deep or dark. 

Nitrogen exists in abundance in the atmosphere of earth’s mantle. Carbon exposed to nitrogen results in yellow or brown gems. Hydrogen and boron impurities produce gray and blue diamonds. Exposure to radiation produces green diamonds.

The fancy diamond market tends to be less controlled than the market in colorless diamonds, but availability remains key to price. Light yellow and light pink/purple diamonds seem to be more available to the world’s markets, so they tend to be relatively less expensive.21 Pink, purple and red diamonds are the rarest of all diamonds and the creation of color still stumps scientists. Unlike other fancy diamonds, gemologists believe impurities do not create the color of these diamonds. Given that diamonds are formed so deep in the earth’s structure, these diamonds are hard to study. Speculation is that the cellular structure of pink to red diamonds changes as the gem moves up a pipe.

Red diamonds sparkle at the apex of diamond price. Only 20 to 30 red gems have ever been found, and they are almost always small.22 An intense 1.56 carat gem just set a record for overall and carat price at $2.7 million dollars per carat.23

Look Up to See Really Rare.



“Lucy” exists in the sky fifty light years from earth. In 2004 astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics discovered the largest natural diamond in the universe. They named her “Lucy” after the 1967 song by the Beatles. Lucy measures 4000 km across and is 10 billion trillion carats. While Lucy is a dwarf, white star, it is, so far, the largest natural diamond known.24

This is a long blog. I appreciate your reading it to the end. Did you know there is more to learn? Stay tuned. But, for now….   "Enough is a feast.” A Buddhist proverb
 
What do you think? I love questions and comments. So, any questions, and what would you like me write about in the future?  Best, Peggy

 
 
  1. Diamonds that violate the Kimberly Process are also called blood diamonds. I use both terms.
  2. https://www.debeers.com/en-us/provenance-and-peace-of-mind.html
  3. https://www.brilliantearth.com/news/kimberley-process-not-conflict-free/
  4. https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/diamond-faqs/diamond-facts/
  5. https://gembreakfast.com/blogs/news/ethically-sourced-diamonds-what-are-they-how-to-find-conflict-free-diamonds
  6. Knowing where a gem is mined is important. For example, I depend on one company for almost all gems, except pearls, you see in my knotted designs. I reached out to the company years before transparency was popularized because the company publishes the country of origin for all gems they cut. If you asked me where a gem was mined and I don’t know immediately, I will ask and tell you.
  7. https://fairtrade-advocacy.org/definition-of-fair-trade/. Sad to note that European countries support fair trade practices better than the United States. Typical fair-trade practices include: respect, dialogue, fair wages, supportive workplaces, consumer education, practices that support the environment, community development, respect for cultural identity, and transparency. De Beers has not always operated in ways that support fair trade. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beers_antitrust_litigation. In 2001, antitrust litigation commenced against De Beers by a District Court in the United States. Charges involved questions of monopoly, price fixing, and aggressive control of the supply chain. The case was settled in 2013.
  8. https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/diamond-faqs/diamond-facts-full-report
  9. https://www.brilliyond.com.au/education/diamond-mining/ as well as https://www.iea.org/policies/16863-canadas-metal-and-diamond-mining-effluent-regulations. IEA also describes policies of countries in addition to Canada.
  10. Butchart Garden near Victoria, BC was a limestone quarry. What you see is Butchart now I’ve visited Butchart, and it is amazing. If you ever get a chance to see the garden, it offers a north star for my designs, while honoring a visionary woman https://www.grownuptravels.com/butchart-gardens-jennie-butcharts-living-legacy/
  11. https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/responsible/coexisting-with-nature-environment-in-natural-diamond-recovery/
  12. https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/diamond-faqs/diamond-facts-full-report/
  13. Schumann, Walter, Gemstones of the World, 5th Edition, Union Square & Co., New York.
  14. Here is a recent interview by the president of Botswana about the human impact of diamond mining in his country. Do you hear echoes of changing business models? See https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/interview-mokgweetsi-masisi
  15. Rubies from Myanmar (prohibited imports), emeralds, and alexandrite are rarer than colorless diamonds.
  16. As of May, 2024, De Beers and other major producers are cutting back production. https://nationaljeweler.com/diamonds-gems/sourcing. As production lags, consumer demand for the diminishing supply of finer, well cut gems including pearls stays steady. Market pricing will probably stay up for 2-3 more years. At the same time De Beers Group and Signet Jewelers are about to launch a natural diamond campaign to counter a lab grown push for zillennial engagements, anticipating a 25% increase in sales. https://nationaljeweler.com/articles/12941-signet-de-beers-have-a-plan-to-promote-natural-diamonds.
  17. https://www.campaignasia.com/article/a-look-back-to-when-de-beers-changed-the-rules-of-engagement/
  18. https://nationaljeweler.com/articles/12931-state-of-colored-stones-why-the-market-is-more-colorful-than-ever
  19. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-do-coloured-diamonds-form.html
  20. https://shop.kenanddanadesign.com/pages/what-are-gray-diamonds
  21. https://plumbclub.com/fancy-colored-diamond-market-review/
  22. https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/blog/2018/07/5-fascinating-facts-about-red-diamonds/
  23. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-do-coloured-diamonds-form.html
  24. https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/rare/lucy-largest-diamond-universe-dwarf-star/ and https://www.gia.edu/diamond

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