“A diamond is a girl’s best friend.”
“A diamond is forever.”
Sound familiar? Of course. They are the taglines of a brilliant marketing strategy put into your consciousness by De Beers, the international diamond company. Designed to create demand, more successful than anyone probably ever dreamed, it’s why you believe you MUST have a diamond on your ring finger if you are a married woman. (Later, I will do another post about the specifics of De Beers and how they were able to control the world market for decades, but not allowed to step foot on U.S. soil because they are legally considered a monopoly).
But I digress…. Today I want to talk about colored diamonds, or in gemology parlance – “fancy color diamonds.” Colored diamonds are becoming more and more popular and available. I feel like I see them everywhere. Yellow, pink, blue, chocolate, the list goes on. Not too long ago, I saw they were selling black diamonds. Black! When the key quality of diamonds is their brilliance and fire, how is it even possible to sell a stone in which those features are almost completely absent?
I’ll be honest, part of me thinks the diamond market is such a racket, but I have a beautiful diamond ring I wear daily. And all my married friends (with one lone exception) have diamond rings too. And they’re pretty and sparkly, no question. But are they superior to other stones? On that, I’m not so sure. But they have become the de facto stone of brides and weddings, a symbol of love, and you have to admire how the industry has been able to cultivate that image for such a long time.
Color-wise, pink and yellow diamonds have been most popular recently. Remember when Ben Affleck got Jennifer Lopez a 6.1 carat pink diamond engagement ring? The Harry Winston ring only set him back $1.2 million. Perhaps not the best example….. although she did supposedly return the ring when they broke up.
How about Carrie Underwood’s ring? This yellow ring at 5+ carats is surrounded by a halo of smaller diamonds, and it’s a real stunner!
So we can easily love pink and yellow diamonds, but what about other diamond colors? Like… brown. Or chocolate. Cognac. Champagne. Be honest, “my cognac diamond” sounds WAY better than “my brown diamond.”
Along came the Argyle….
As with all things diamonds, marketing is key to everything. Let me tell you a story about the Argyle Mine in Australia. Since it started in 1983, it has been the world’s largest producer of diamonds by volume. More importantly, it’s continually been the world’s largest source of pink diamonds. But even more importantly, less than 1% of what gem-quality diamonds come out of the mine are pink. 80% are brown. So the worldwide leading producer of pink diamonds actually produces mostly brown diamonds. I found that fascinating. Where do all the brown diamonds go, you may ask? Well, typically, they were slated for industrial use, where the diamonds’ hardness is valued as an abrasive grit.
In the early 1990’s, when the mine was at peak production, Australia and De Beers were re-negotiating their contract about how the rough (pre-cut and polished diamonds) would be distributed. In the past, Australia had given 75% of the mine’s output to De Beers. But a worldwide recession made them unwilling to make such a concession, and they wanted more freedom to market their own colored diamonds, especially to the jewelry industry within their own country. Eager to be free of De Beer’s influence (Australia felt they were overly focused on the size of the diamonds, and gave them higher priority) and looking to market the massive quantities of brown diamonds, Australia turned to India.
Brown diamonds go to market
India was a country with skilled cutters and polishers who worked for significantly lower wages. If the brown diamonds were now to be for jewelry, they needed to be cut and polished. Curious if the jewelry market would yield better revenue, the Argyle mine started marketing their brown diamonds as cognac and champagne diamonds to create mystery and allure. They reached out to the fashion industry, and pretty soon these tiny diamonds starting appearing in designs around the world. Less expensive than white (really, colorless) diamonds, and with a range of color between champagne and cognac that is pretty impressive, designers responded in lots of creative ways.
The Argyle Mine (now owned by Rio Tinto) also started a jewelry design competition, showcasing the brown diamonds.
In 2000, Le Vian® (a jewelry company) started a line of brown diamonds, and trademarked the term, so I have to write it like this – Chocolate Diamonds®.
It doesn’t hurt that brown has become a sort of fashion “it” color. So brown diamonds, in lots of different shades, are literally everywhere. My hat is off to Argyle for finding an ingenious way to market their product. And it just goes to show how trends in fashion can be influenced by things you would have never imagined. Just last year, Jezebel wrote a rather scathing piece on these Chocolate Diamonds®, prompting the industry to come back with their own piece defending them.
Marketing and demand
People don’t like to feel like they’re getting duped, and people sometimes feel like marketing is simply lying. But that’s too simplistic. The truth is that jewelry is not a need. It’s not food or shelter. To create demand, you have to market the product. That’s just business. Marketing brown diamonds as a “treat” and tying them into the food industry, which is all the rage right now with reality chef shows and culinary adventures galore, it’s just smart.
Here’s my other thought about jewelry: Buy what YOU like, and what you’ll wear. Whether it’s a diamond or something else, jewelry is really there for you, to make you feel confident and beautiful. And if a brown diamond is something you like, then you have Argyle to thank for bringing it to the marketplace.