Article on conflict diamonds in New York Times:
Diamonds Are for Never?
By Mireya Navarro
MONICA GIBSON says she is not particularly political, but when
she heard about conflict diamonds on an episode of "The Oprah
Winfrey Show" last week featuring the cast and director of the
new movie "Blood Diamond," she looked down at her engagement
ring and thought not of love but of wars and violence.
Her fiance gave her the ring last summer, she said, and she
may never find out where its 24 diamonds came from. But as the
couple now shops for diamond wedding bands, Ms. Gibson said
she won't buy unless the jeweler can vouch not just for the
stone's cut, clarity and color, but also for its origin.
"So many times you feel helpless when it comes to these major
issues," said Ms. Gibson, 36, an administrator with a
telephone carrier in Pittsburgh. "I will feel I had some small
little piece in helping people somewhere."
With interest in the origin of diamonds fueled by a new
Hollywood movie that denounces the practices of the diamond
industry, and an advertising counterattack by that industry,
customers like Ms. Gibson are asking more questions about the
iconic symbol of eternal love.
The terms "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds" refer to
gems that have been used by rebel groups to pay for wars that
have killed and displaced millions of people in Africa, the
source of an estimated 65 percent of the world's diamonds. The
diamond industry maintains it has safeguards to guarantee most
rough diamonds come from areas free of violent conflict
through the Kimberley Process, a tracking system implemented
But critics say there's no independent oversight of the
industry's monitoring and that conflict diamonds still make
their way to the marketplace. The issue is trickling down to
stores and bridal Web sites as the news media, Hollywood stars
and rap songs delve into the subject.
"It's unconscionable for us for the sake of vanity to
contribute to the destruction of a country," said a bling-free
Jennifer Connelly late last month at the New York premiere of
"Blood Diamond," which also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon
Hounsou. "So I think trying to make more effective the system
of warranties is a pretty clear choice."
More people are tuning in, said Carley Roney, editor in chief
of theknot.com, a wedding Web site. "There's extensive
discussion going on our message boards," she said. "Many women
are saying, 'This is supposed to be a symbol of all things
good and I don't want to look down on my finger and think of
women and children being killed.' It undermines the entire
meaning of that ring."
There is no evidence yet of consumer flight from diamonds.
Sales of diamond jewelry in the United States have been
rising, by 7 percent last year to $33.7 billion. American
purchasers account for half the world's $60 billion in annual
retail sales. A pop quiz among theknot.com users over the last
week found a majority of respondents unaware of the term
Shane Dunleavy, 23, was among the customers last week in the
jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles, where
engagement-ring holiday shopping was in full swing. Mr.
Dunleavy, accompanied by his parents, was seeking a
princess-cut diamond. He had not heard of the debate, but his
father had. "It's like oil," Jim Dunleavy, 57, said with a
shrug. "You're still going to buy oil."
But other consumers are doing research and reacting
accordingly. Some jewelers said people have made it clear they
want only conflict-free diamonds and have asked where the
stones sold at retail were mined.
Abigail Levine, 27, a program director with nonprofit
organizations in Columbus, Ohio, said that while shopping for
a ring last September, she and her fiance agreed they could do
better with their money than to spend it on a diamond.
"We know diamond companies have marketed this concept of a
diamond engagement ring," Ms. Levine said. "We didn't want to
buy into that concept. It's a huge manipulation, really."
But in the end, even Ms. Levine could not resist, and two
small diamonds flank her blue sapphire. "We're not purists
about it," she said. "We just didn't want to support the
diamond industry in such a big way."
Bridal experts say the preference for diamonds will surely
endure because of aesthetic and cultural factors. But at the
same time, many brides have been emphasizing individuality by
forgoing the traditional for the unique or cool, experts said,
and some have ditched the diamond altogether for a colored gem
like a pink or blue sapphire. Other customers shun diamonds
from Africa in favor of diamonds from Canada, antique diamonds
or synthetic stones.
lso, many of today's couples are expressing social
consciousness in the way they plan their weddings by, for
example, asking for donations to a charity in lieu of
presents. These same couples, the experts note, are likely to
care about the provenance of their diamonds.
"In general, more people have a greater sense of the world
around them and how their actions affect that world," said
Millie Martini Bratten, the editor in chief of Brides
magazine. She said there's an attitude "not to have a wedding
that's all about me."
"Blood Diamond" depicts how diamond companies ignored
atrocities committed in the 1990's by rebels in Sierra Leone
who sold rough diamonds to buy arms. The World Diamond
Council, which represents producers and dealers, has responded
with ads and a Web site, diamondfacts.org. The council
stresses that more than 99 percent of diamonds now come from
conflict-free sources, and that diamond revenue today is
mostly used in African countries for health care, education
and other benefits.
"You're looking at a very, very small percentage of the world
supply that can be considered to be from a conflict zone,"
said Carson Glover, a spokesman for the World Diamond Council.
"Consumers can feel very confident in their diamond purchase."
But international human rights groups like Amnesty
International and Global Witness, which first publicized the
issue of conflict diamonds in 1998, say dirty diamonds still
reach the market because of smuggling and weak controls by
some producing countries, and that consumers have no surefire
way of telling if a diamond is clean.
A spokeswoman for Global Witness noted diamonds are still
coming from conflict areas like the Ivory Coast, and that a
recent General Accounting Office report found fault with the
way the United States was enforcing the tracking system. (The
organization's Web site is blooddiamondaction.org.)
Tom Zoellner, who researched the industry for his book "The
Heartless Stone" (St. Martin's Press, 2006), said the
Kimberley Process doesn't concern itself with objectionable
practices like the use of child labor in India, where most
diamonds are polished. But he said because many Africans
depend on them for their livelihood, a boycott is not the
answer. The best defense against dirty diamonds, he said, is
to ask questions.
Rights groups suggest going to retailers who can show a
guarantee that the diamonds are conflict free.
Most stores don't have a policy, a survey by the human rights
groups showed. Some jewelers don't consider it their job to
know the origin of their stones. "I'm not here to save the
world," said Raymond Moutran, a jeweler for 27 years in the
Los Angeles jewelry district. "I'm here to make life
"One guy wanted to know if the diamond was from Africa and
whether it was from an area where people are tortured," Mr.
Moutran said. "I said, 'I don't know.' He didn't buy. I don't
need to lie to make a living."
Another longtime jeweler, Russ Varon, the chief financial
officer of Morgan's Jewelers in Torrance and Palos Verdes,
Calif., said most of the stores' diamonds come from African
mines through cutters in Israel, and that about two years ago
invoices from his suppliers started showing up with a
statement saying they are conflict free.
But Mr. Varon acknowledged that this document is no guarantee.
"I truly don't know the story of what's going on over there,"
Last Sunday, Mary Alice Borello, 53, walked into the Morgan's
in Torrance looking for a 25th wedding anniversary present.
She and her husband, David, left with a gold band with two
carats' worth of channel-set diamond baguettes. She didn't ask
questions about global conflicts.
"The question is, should we be concerned as consumers," Mrs.
Borello, a playground supervisor from Redondo Beach, Calif.,
said later. "You'd hope that people who are in the jewelry
business would only purchase their diamonds in a legitimate
way. That's what I would expect from them."
More education is needed all around, Ms. Roney of theknot.com
said. Even among those who care about diamond origin, some
assume, incorrectly, that any diamond from Africa is dirty.
Knowledge sometimes come in funny ways. Lorne Walker and
Laurel Greenidge of Seattle, both 26, said they heard of
conflict diamonds in 2004 from a comedy-club routine by Bill
Maher. Ms. Greenidge, who works for a publishing company,
researched the issue and was horrified by accounts of diamonds
being used to pay for wars.
When Mr. Walker, a medical student, went ring shopping, he
knew it would be "a conscience issue" for his fiancee, he
said. He bought a Canadian diamond with a certificate.
The couple married in August. "I didn't want to look down at my
ring every day and wonder did it support the death of somebody
faraway or was it mined by someone who's underage and should be
in school," Ms. Greenidge said. "When I look at it, I think of
our relationship and love and happiness and ever after."