Marilyn Monroe sings 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'
When I read the news in the morning nowadays, though packed with scary things, it does seems to me that the world has woken up, or is at least in the process of waking up.
Waking up to the climate crisis, waking up to the depletion of natural resources, the plastic overwhelm, the appalling ways that governments treat their people, the way humans as a whole treat marginalised parts societies (read - anyone who isn't a white cis able bodied man), to the way that we treat animals - the desperate need to be fair and less destructive is becoming a part of our everyday conversations. To say there is work to do is an understatement, but it's a start. As a jewellery maker though, it always occurs to me that one area that seems to have made huge strides of progress is the jewellery industry in general, in particular the diamond industry. Don't get me wrong, we still buy too much, too often. Which is why, at Meta, we use an on-demand business model with an ultimate aim for zero waste.
The human being's fascination with jewellery, particularly with stones such as diamonds is deeply carnal, something that we very often can't really resist. Diamonds in particular have captivated us for the last 6000 years. Discovered in India, we thought them so beautiful that they were revered and used for religious purposes - Ancient Greeks, Romands and Hindus believed they were the tears of the gods. And who can blame them? As the hardest substrate on earth, they symbolise protection and durability, which is possibly why they are still worn in engagement rings today. Ironically, however, even though they are basically indestructible their history has been so destructive.
In the 20th Century, diamonds became more readily available - this also meant a rise in their popularity and, consequently, their value. A combination of diamond mining being extremely labour intensive and the fact that they occur naturally in areas like Central Africa which had already been ripped apart by colonialisation and post colonial conflicts meant trouble for the nations where they were more prevalent. A scrabble for diamonds meant that the 'blood diamond' was born. Also known as a 'conflict diamond,' this is any diamond mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to legitimate government who use intimidation, exploitation and fear and that finance this insurgency.
The conflict diamond is synonymous with the mistreatment of miners, violence and dangerous methods of extraction which harm both miners and planet. Shockingly, up until the 1990s, 21% per cent of all diamonds were considered blood diamonds... but, happily, this figure has now fallen to just 1%.
But why? It is very possible that the 2007 Hollywood film 'Blood Diamond' starring Leonardo DiCaprio contributed to this fall - amazing that a Blockbuster can have this level of impact, but it raised awareness amongst cinema goers in the political west who would have fuelled the blood diamond industry.
Technology has also played an important part in the fight against conflict diamonds, with lab grown diamonds now more prevalent. In this way, the diamond industry has followed the pearl industry closely, and though natural pearls and diamonds are still vastly more valuable, to own either of these natural stones is seen somewhat as a taboo, with many of us now aware of the environmental and human cost. Sustainable diamonds are still real diamonds after all, but they are now grown in a laboratory - miners have not extracted them from the earth, protecting lives, avoiding the depletion of natural resources and not funding wars.
The wedding industry has also helped, promoting the trend of vintage and recycled diamonds in engagement rings.
In our recent history, diamonds seemed to have lost their way. Not long ago, owning a diamond might have gone hand in hand with greed, status and violence. But thankfully, we are now back on the right path, returning to our ancestors reverence for these special stones, treating them once more with respect and understanding what an important part of our quest to be kinder to our envioronment and society that they play.