kottke.org posts about diamonds

Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?Aug 30 2011

From the Feb 1982 issue of Atlantic Monthly, an article by Edward Jay Epstein on how diamonds became so popular and so valuable.

By 1941, The advertising agency reported to [De Beers] that it had already achieved impressive results in its campaign. The sale of diamonds had increased by 55 percent in the United States since 1938, reversing the previous downward trend in retail sales. N. W. Ayer noted also that its campaign had required "the conception of a new form of advertising which has been widely imitated ever since. There was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea -- the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond." It further claimed that "a new type of art was devised ... and a new color, diamond blue, was created and used in these campaigns.... "

In its 1947 strategy plan, the advertising agency strongly emphasized a psychological approach. "We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to ... strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring -- to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services...." It defined as its target audience "some 70 million people 15 years and over whose opinion we hope to influence in support of our objectives." N. W. Ayer outlined a subtle program that included arranging for lecturers to visit high schools across the country. "All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions," the agency explained in a memorandum to De Beers. The agency had organized, in 1946, a weekly service called "Hollywood Personalities," which provided 125 leading newspapers with descriptions of the diamonds worn by movie stars. And it continued its efforts to encourage news coverage of celebrities displaying diamond rings as symbols of romantic involvement. In 1947, the agency commissioned a series of portraits of "engaged socialites." The idea was to create prestigious "role models" for the poorer middle-class wage-earners. The advertising agency explained, in its 1948 strategy paper, "We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer's wife and the mechanic's sweetheart say 'I wish I had what she has.'"

It's fascinating to watch the advertising beast change its tactics as the diamond monopoly's needs shift with new supply, new markets, and unexpected success.

How to steal $100 million in diamondsMar 13 2009

Wired has a great account of what some have called "the heist of the century", the robbery of an Antwerp diamond vault thought to be impenetrable. The story was pieced together by reporter Joshua Davis from police reports and from talking to the thief who coordinated the whole thing. True or not, this is a fascinating read.

The Genius led them out the rear of the building into a private garden that abutted the back of the Diamond Center. It was one of the few places in the district that wasn't under video surveillance. Using a ladder he had previously hidden there, the Genius climbed up to a small terrace on the second floor. A heat-sensing infrared detector monitored the terrace, but he approached it slowly from behind a large, homemade polyester shield. The low thermal conductivity of the polyester blocked his body heat from reaching the sensor. He placed the shield directly in front of the detector, preventing it from sensing anything.

With the benefit of hindsight and after watching too many heist movies, the vault security is hilariously inadequate. Both the magnetic security system on the door and the main alarm system were both easily defeated by essentially short circuiting them with bits of metal, just as MacGyver might fool a window alarm with an aluminum chewing gum wrapper. (via waxy)

A photoessay that follows the path ofDec 07 2006

A photoessay that follows the path of a diamond from the mines of Africa to the Western jewelry store. "In Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, miners work for food but receive no wages" and "last year, grooms spent nearly $4.5 billion on engagement rings". See also the interview with Edward Zwick, director of Blood Diamond. "By putting your credit card down, you're essentially endorsing the practices that are involved in getting a resource. This place and that place are, in fact, interconnected." (thx, blake)

Nice piece about Stephen Kilnisan, the self-appointedJun 22 2006

Nice piece about Stephen Kilnisan, the self-appointed historian of NYC's diamond district, the block-long diamond capital of the US. "One of them pulls out a pouch containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds. They haggle for a while, then the handshake. Deals are still made on handshakes here."

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