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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sourcing of Diamonds

Conflict diamonds. Blood diamonds. These phrases are used more and more these days although the reality is that the three conflicts that were taking place in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone when the phrases originally came into being, have ended. They referred to diamonds that were used to help finance rebel groups dedicated to overturning their governments. Often the miners were forced to work and turn over their production to the rebel groups.

I get asked about this more and more lately but I think a lot of people aren't trying to look at the whole picture. First of all, it should be noted that in many areas diamonds have brought great wealth and opportunity to nations desperate for income (Botswana is a notable example). When you decide not to buy the product you actually end up hurting countries like Botswana far more then you are hurting any conflict areas since 99%+ of the diamonds out there are conflict free. You should also be aware that currently more people are dying over the search for and mining of tantalum, a product used in every single cell phone in America, then in any current diamond mining areas. Are you willing to give up your cell phones? I lived for 40 years without a cell phone and got along just fine. And what is our excessive use of oil doing to the environment and how many lives have been lost to guarantee the steady flow of oil?

I understand that jewelry, often considered a luxury, is an easy target. But I firmly believe that if you can't stand to live with the idea that a dear price may have been paid for you to get a product, then you simply shouldn't buy it at all. Everyone seems to want the product, they just want to figure out a way to get it guilt free. But here's the real truth to the matter: NO MATTER WHERE YOU PURCHASE A DIAMOND, WHETHER IT'S CANADIAN, AFRICAN, RUSSIAN, AUSTRALIAN OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD THERE IS ALWAYS A CHANCE (ALBEIT SMALL) THAT SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE PAID A PRICE TO GET IT INTO YOUR HANDS. Whenever there is a large amount of money involved, particularly where it is concentrated in small, easily transportable objects there will be crime associated with it. PERIOD. You can't get away from it. It's been like this since mankind first emerged from the forests and it's stayed that way ever since. My firm belief is that, with the Kimberly Process in place, and with the new information age meaning that bad news spreads incredibly easily and quickly, only a very, very minute amount of diamonds are actually conflict stones but NO ONE can absolutely 100% guarantee that the one they are selling isn't. You should also be aware that all diamond mining, no matter where it takes place, leaves some amount of environmental damage (although they have gotten much better about trying to minimize this).

I know that the Canadians heavily promote their diamond product as conflict free, but who's to say that some material from other countries isn't finding it's way into Canada and being cut there and sold as Canadian goods? After all, there's big money involved, THERE IS NO WAY TO IDENTIFY WHERE A DIAMOND COMES FROM, and all you can do is depend on the dealer's word.

So what's a consumer to do? Well you can live with the fact that the odds of your getting a conflict diamond (especially from companies like Lazare Diamond who were instrumental in setting up the Kimberly Process) are extremely small, and that you are helping many developing nations earn some amount of money from their natural resources. Or you can buy a colored stone, something I strongly recommend because, personally, I think a fine blue sapphire is both more striking and is far more rare than a diamond (plus you get more bang for your buck). Or you can simply forget about getting a stone altogether. There is nothing wrong with having an interesting, but stoneless, band for an engagement ring.

Recently there has been a lot of press about synthetic diamonds coming into the marketplace. While fancy colored diamond synthetics have been available for quite some time, colorless diamonds are still extremely rare. The companies producing them regularly come out and make big press announcements that they are soon going to be producing massive quantities of colorless synthetic diamonds, but it has yet to actually happen. Are they producing some? Yes. In quantity? No. The other issue with these stones is that it takes a huge amount of energy to produce them as they are produced under high temperature and high pressure over a long period of time. So you may be avoiding the conflict diamond issue, but personally, I believe that you are inflicting more environmental damage.

My personal goal has always been to achieve some balance in my life. I bought a hybrid car before the gas prices went up because I felt it was the right thing to do. I recycle. I buy my gold from a refiner that sells me only recycled metals. I started disclosing gemstone treatments over 20 years ago, long before any other companies were doing it. I try to minimize my impact on the environment. I try to contribute to as many good causes as possible. But I also know that I am not going to give up a car altogether, nor am I going to stop using diamonds and colored stones in my jewelry. The choice of course, is yours. I just ask that you think about all of the things you are doing before focusing in on only one issue.

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