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Miscellany
Miscellany

Why Are Diamonds So Expensive?

Diamonds are found in abundance in nature. Diamonds have no instrinsic value. Still, diamonds are expensive! Why? The reasons are explored in a well-written article: Have You Ever Tried To Sell A Diamond? by E J Epstein. The article was published in The Atlantic in February 1982. Summary of the article:

1) Monopoly: The DeBeers Family of Companies controls the supply of diamonds worldwide through a monopoly. Maintaining such a stronghold for over a century makes an interesting corporate saga. The company successfully negotiated threats due to newly discovered mines worldwide through purchases, closures and exclusive government contracts.

2) Marketing: The association of diamonds with expression of everlasting love is one of the most successful marketing campaigns of the 20th century. Interestingly, the name 'deBeers' never appeared in these campaigns! The whole idea was to impress upon the public mind that diamonds reflected love, proportional to the size of the diamond. The marketing campaign is described lucidly by Epstein.

3) Reselling: Re-selling a diamond is difficult; the secondary market for diamonds does not exist through tight controls on wholesale and retail stores by deBeers. Thanks to decades long marketing campaigns, sentimental barriers exist in sellers' and buyers' minds. Sellers are reminded that "Diamonds are Forever" and buyers do not want "used diamonds" for engagement rings. So even though diamond prices rise over time, diamonds are actually a poor investment unlike gold and silver.

Further Reading

a) The latest threat to deBeers came from artificial man-made diamonds. Read the story of Gemesis covered at wired.com.

b) Book: The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire (304 pages, 2006) by Tom Zoellner. Link to Google Books. This book traces the history of deBeers entry into worldwide markets.

c) Diamonds, Gold, South Africa by Richard Cowen at UC Davis — this is part of series of articles for a course in Geology.

d) DeBeers' advertising campaign "Diamonds Are Forever" (dated 06/05/2006) -- short summary of deBeers advertising campaign.

e) Diamond Music — an album by Karl Jenkins has been used in deBeers "A Diamond is Forever" campaigns since the mid-1990s. YouTube: Palladio (3:30) — a beautiful live performance conducted by Jenkins himself.

f) This article got attention on 24 Feb 2013 at Reddit: What are some big marketing successes that rely on lies?

23 Oct 2008
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