3 Myths About Diamond Mining

When I worked in a jewelry store, I was repeatedly being confronted by concerned peers who insisted that the diamond trade was nothing but a horrible evil. While their point of view was emotionally driven by the desire for equality and compassion, these individuals were nonetheless often uninformed and uneducated on the realities of the diamond industry.  Between real-life conversations and of course the Internet, I’ve been exposed to several diamond myths. While this may be controversial, and I recognize no industry is perfect, I want to highlight the truths about our industry. One of the main reasons I love the jewelry industry is specifically because I believe in diamond mining, and I want to share some truth with you so that you will understand why.

Myth #1: 90% of the world’s diamond supply is owned by one company.

This was true once. Starting in the year 1900, before modern technologies for diamond exploration and mining, the British mining company De Beers controlled approximately 90% of the worlds rough (uncut, unfaceted) diamond supply.  Fast forward to 1929, when the Great Depression put many mining companies out of business due to low demand. Naturally, De Beers bought these companies and eventually controlled all South African production that wasn’t controlled by the government.  When World War II began, there was a huge demand for industrial diamond rough which De Beers satisfied, making them the largest supplier of industrial diamonds in the world. The company continued to grow, and for many reasons other than just intelligent global marketing tactics. They invested in diverse industries to provide capital when diamond value was low. They balanced diamond supply and demand to keep the mines open and the workers employed.  For many years, De Beers was the only pipeline for diamonds. This is a fact: De Beers was hands down the largest supplier of diamonds in the world. Notice I said was. That has not been true for 30 years. By the 1990s, diamond mining had expanded worldwide. Russia, Australia, and Canada became very competitive with Africa for diamonds and still are today. For the record, diamond mining isn’t cheap. It takes many years and millions (upon millions) of dollars to find and develop a diamond mine. Between the 1990s and 2013, De Beers’ diamond production dropped from 90% of the world’s supply to 33%. As of today, Alrosa (a Russian group of mining companies) accounts for more than 29% of the world’s diamond production and is considered to be the world’s leading diamond mining company. Say what you will about De Beers, they don’t control 90% of the world’s diamond supply. Not even close. No company controls 90% of the world’s diamond supply, there is not even a company that controls half.

Myth #2: Diamonds in jewelry stores today are likely to be “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds.” 

A few years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in an exciting movie called Blood Diamond. It was well written, fast-paced, and I highly recommend it. This movie was based on true events: a civil war between Sierra Leone’s corrupt government and dangerous rebel groups funded by the trade of locally mined rough diamonds.  This war did happen. It ended around 2002. Diamond mining existed before the civil wars in African countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola, and diamond mining has taken place in countries all over the world. Even the number of diamonds that were legally and ethically mined in Sierra Leone and Angola don’t account for more than a few percent of diamonds in worldwide circulation. Lots of diamonds come from many other countries in Africa, Canada, South America, Russia, Australia, and more.  When the evils of conflict diamonds were exposed, the Kimberley Process was formed to ensure this would not happen again. While it may not be perfect, the Kimberley Process monitors diamond trade and holds 81 governments to the ethical standards mandated by the UN. 99% of the worlds diamond supply is produced by Kimberley Process participants.  https://www.kimberleyprocess.com/ It was estimated a few years ago that less than 4% of diamonds in circulation are “conflict diamonds,” but I have seen research to suggest it’s now less than that. While it’s simply impossible to say for sure, some sources even believe that it is less than 1%.  Should we take these educated guesstimates seriously? Maybe not.  But at the end of the day, this isn’t the rampant problem the media makes it sound like. It’s not the majority, and it’s not even at risk to be the majority. I’m not saying that everyone is good and there’s no evil in the world. But statistically speaking, you may never even see a blood diamond throughout your entire life. So with that in mind, it’s even much less likely that you would accidentally buy one.  Too bad this likelihood of avoiding conflict goods can’t be said for your cotton t-shirts or the gasoline you put in your car.

Myth #3: Diamonds are not rare.

When was the last time you just stumbled upon a rough diamond in nature? If you live in the US (or anywhere really), probably never. In fact, the only diamond mine even located in the United States is in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. I’m not sure exactly what people mean when they say “Diamonds are not rare.” Maybe they’re referring to the fact that diamond mines are found on every continent except Antarctica. Maybe it’s because every fine jewelry store in the US has diamonds. I think it’s worth mentioning that the world is a big place. I’m not saying it’s unusual to see a diamond. But I definitely wouldn’t say they’re “not rare.” You can get into the semantics of “rare,” but the reality is: finding diamonds in nature is unusual, uncommon, and not only that…it’s remarkable.I believe Jewellery Advisor explains it best in her video “How Rare Are Diamonds? | Learn About Diamonds!.” She talks about how much diamond weight was recovered last year which, spoiler alert, was about 5% of the weight of gold recovered in that same year. She also explains that 83% of the diamonds produced each year are not “gem quality,” among other interesting and important points on this subject.  You don’t have to listen to me, but it might behoove you to listen to her considering she’s an instructor for the oldest gemological institute in the world.

Unmentioned above, but well worth your time to look into the research regarding, is the environmental impact of diamond mining. While I can’t generalize all diamond mining efforts, there are plenty that go to great length to restore the environment and offer aid to local wildlife, as well as contribute to maintaining vegetation and the local water supply. Again, not all mining companies do this, but many do. It’s also worth noting that some diamond mining companies help third-world communities where the mining takes place by helping these communities build hospitals, bridges, and other types of infrastructure and community support.

The Internet will try to bombard you with horrors about the industry, but there is a lot of positivity surrounding diamond mining too if you look for it.

While I don’t want to generalize or minimize any of the real problems that do exist, I hope this encourages you to ask questions, research endlessly, and think critically.