Professional Jeweler Archive: An Explosive Combination

May 2005


An Explosive Combination

What do you get when you combine synthetic diamonds with the conflict diamond issue? A whole lot of misinformed outrage, if a new ad campaign by a group called Diamonds for Humanity succeeds in grabbing consumer and press attention.

Diamonds for Humanity, which debuted an ad campaign in the April Harper’s Bazaar (see First Run, p. 12), is a new jewelry collection by designer Sabiha Foster. She created her jewelry using Gemesis synthetic diamonds. On the surface, no problems – the gems are clearly described as lab-grown. But the ad also promotes the idea that when consumers buy synthetic diamonds, they don’t have to have a guilty “conscience” about buying natural diamonds. “Gemesis-created diamonds possess the same DNA structure as rare fancy-colored, earth-mined diamonds – yet involve no humanitarian or environmental sacrifice,” it says.

This isn’t a new angle. Several brands tout their diamonds’ Canadian pedigree as a way for consumers to avoid diamonds from that “messy” continent of Africa (it’s never put like that to consumers, but we all know that’s the unspoken message). There’s only one problem: Africans need consumers to buy natural diamonds that come from their soil. Now that the worst of the conflict diamond crisis has been tamped down with the admittedly imperfect – yet rapidly improving – Kimberley Process Certification program, various stakeholders in the diamond industry are making genuine efforts to see that Africans derive more benefits from their natural resource (see Professional Jeweler, April 2005, p. 14).

This is a painstakingly slow and complicated process, according to many who truly understand Africa and its politics and culture, so it won’t happen overnight. But it’s the first sign of real progress on the road to a better life for many Africans. That’s an increasingly important story you need to be able to tell your customers.

What happens if American consumers decide African diamond mining is such a mess it would do the continent good if they stop buying all natural diamonds. Sound unbelievable? You never know. Dire predictions about a boycott during the conflict diamond crisis didn’t happen, and countless TV exposés seem to have done little harm either. But this ad campaign is different. For one thing, the photos are glamorous and present consumers – especially the women who read fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar – with a beautiful alternative to diamonds. The message of the ad could also put women off buying natural diamonds altogether, which is a more frightening scenario. It’s a sad truth that Americans are generally clueless about what happens in Africa and are easily led astray by manipulative misinformation.

I’m also concerned because Professional Jeweler’s profiles of various demographic groups show a consistent pattern in the young, the ethnic and the Baby Boom – three of the biggest consumer targets for jewelers – to care deeply about human rights. They’re not afraid to vote with their purchases.

Was it by chance that Sophie Okonedo, the Academy Award-nominated actress in the film Hotel Rwanda, asked for pearls – not diamonds – when choosing jewelry for the 2005 ceremonies? You have to wonder whether the experience of making that searing movie about genocide in Rwanda heightened her consciousness of African issues and she just didn’t feel comfortable wearing diamonds, perhaps due to misinformation.

Carefully follow stories about the confluence of synthetic diamonds and African diamond issues. They may turn out to be more damaging together than either is alone.

– Peggy Jo Donahue


Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications