Diamonds In Rough Times? Could a new movie hurt the symbolic reputation of the precious gem? BY JAMES PARK
A new movie could impact the sales of holiday diamonds.
Call it shallow, call it superficial, call it beautiful. Whatever you call it, for most couples the diamond is a symbol of marriage. But could a new movie, and the publicity it’s attracting, change that view?
"Blood Diamonds", a film by Edward Zwick and scheduled for release this December, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou as two South Africans who find a pink diamond. The film is turning heads within the diamond industry because of the fear that it may spur negative reactions in time for the holiday buying season. Those within the industry, specifically De Beers, the diamond cartel that controls most of the global diamond trade, have ramped up PR campaigns in an effort to downplay the negative effects the film might have during the holidays and possibly into the next Valentine’s Day.
Blood diamonds, or “conflict diamonds,” gained recognition in the late 90s after it was revealed that South African rebels were selling the gems to finance war campaigns, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.
But since then, the industry has done much to gain control of the situation, according to Jeff Roberts, president and CEO of the Independent Jewelers Organization. "Do I believe that it might adversely affect the trade or the industry," Roberts asks about the movie? "No, I don’t believe it will. Why? Because we as an industry have been very proactive to ensure that our industry does not support or deal in these conflict diamonds that support rebels or unrecognized rebel faction groups."
Roberts is referring specifically to the Kimberley Process, an agreement between 44 countries around the world that implements a system designed to crack down on the selling and trading of blood diamonds since 2000. "Since the implementation of the Kimberley Process and System of Warranties back in 2000 the presence of conflict diamonds in the marketplace has been reduced from four percent to less than one percent of all diamonds, a figure that is still unacceptable to us. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards conflict diamonds," Roberts says.
"I think to the extent that retailers and we as an industry can educate consumers, the effects of the movie will be minimal," says Alan J. Braverman of Premier Gem Corp., a diamond manufacturer. "Although, it's always hard to predict how Hollywood will inspire the general public to react. Oprah got people to boycott meat."
When Ann Norman, 32, and her fiancée, Sierra Leone musician Daddy Saj, got engaged, they opted not to buy diamonds. Norman says that the diamonds that were available to them in Sierra Leone could not be verified as not having come from the black market. "Saj is a political musician, and when we got engaged, the only option we had was to buy a diamond in Sierra Leone. The Lebanese sell them at very exaggerated prices and we
aren't sure if they are legit, non-black market diamonds. We most certainly would never touch the black market diamonds, and that left us with little choice unless we traveled to get it," she says. And although the couple ultimately decided on gold engagement bands, Norman, who worked for the United Nations, says the events related to the diamond industry in Sierra Leone are of the past. "That isn't to say a lot of smuggling isn't happening, because it is, but that is a different topic, and one that doesn't involve loss of life, child slavery, etc. It just means significant loss of export revenue to Sierra Leone. So we are hoping that the world understands from the film that these atrocities happened, but they are over in Sierra Leone. We hope too that it helps other nations who still are in the midst of conflict, like the Congo, Angola to follow suit and get these problems solved."
It will be interesting to see what kind of effects the movie brings to the publics eye on the sales of diamonds, however one thing it is sure to bring is the issue of diamonds and their controversial nature.