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Blood in Your Bling?

Blood in Your Bling?

August 30, 2007 —

It's a romantic moment that the magicians of Madison Avenue have taught us to anticipate: man on bended knee tenders a hinged, velvet-covered box along with his profession of eternal love. The ads never show this little casket erupting with scarred children and the ashes of 9/11 victims.

Sounds harsh, but that's exactly what we pay for when we purchase a diamond. Al Qaeda is one of many armed groups that have made millions from the sale of illicit diamonds, buying stones mined at gunpoint for a fraction of market value and selling them at full price. The proceeds go toward implementing their deadly ambitions.

The movie Blood Diamond is set in the 1990s in Sierra Leone, but it could easily have taken place in modern-day Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Guinea, or Liberia. The Oscar-nominated film is a good place to start if you're curious about conflict diamonds.
International Action
The international community was slow to act, but it finally produced the Kimberley Process in late 2002. The voluntary Kimberley Process Certification Scheme involves 45 countries and regional economic organizations (like the European Community), international diamond traders, and nongovernmental organizations in efforts to ensure that diamonds are legally mined and traded. It currently claims that "Participants account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds."

Still, participation is no guarantee that a country's exports are free of taint. Bureaucrats in a capital city may have little knowledge of a diamond's true origin; many have strong incentive—bribes, threats, or both—to falsify records. Even legally mined diamonds are not exactly models of fair trade. African miners may earn less than a dollar a day for their backbreaking labor.

Still Want a New Diamond?
A good start, recommended by Global Witness and Amnesty International, is to add another C to the questions (color, cut, clarity, carat) we ask diamond suppliers: conflict. If your heart is set on a brand-new, mined diamond from Africa, ensure that it is from a Kimberley Process country.

You could consider stones from Australia or Canada, if you don't mind the petroleum-intensive and environmentally devastating strip-mining process that unearths them. At least you know they were mined in fair, if still extreme, working conditions.

Check out baby diamonds, which are grown in two or three weeks from a tiny diamond seed placed in a pressurized chamber filled with carbon gas. Indistinguishable from mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds sell for around 25% less than their mined counterparts. Sales of jewelry made of these diamonds may spur development of the next wave in computing power: diamond-based processors.

Finally, why not consider an heirloom or estate diamond? They can be reset to conform to modern tastes or left in their original configuration as a nod to their origins. Passing down family jewels can be a great source of joy—and free from the worries about the ugly journey of the stone from diamond mine to your finger.

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