Thoughts That Hurt to Think #089 – Diamonds Aren’t Really Rare!

The largest diamond humans have discovered to date is not even on Earth. It is about fifty light years away, which makes it kind of hard for the rest of us to verify; but this is one of those cases where scientists don’t stand to profit from telling us something other than the truth. We can all believe their claims, in this example; even if they are a little far out.

Get it? Far out?

We like to map space by constellations, since there aren’t any street signs to go by out there; and this monstrous diamond is in the constellation we have dubbed Centaurus. At first scientists did what they usually do with heavenly bodies, and gave it names that were really just collections of letters and numbers. With all the other things floating around up there needing labels, it was easier to call this white dwarf star BPM 37093 or V*886 Cen when it was first discovered.

Years later, they realized it was a giant diamond. Although it technically retains the original yet unoriginal labels, those in the know soon gave this dead star a nickname. They refer to it as ‘Lucy’, in homage to the Beatles song ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. Lucy is not the kind of rock you want to wear on your finger, since they estimate it weighs in at about five million trillion trillion pounds; but maybe someday we’ll find a way to get there and mine pieces of it.

 Since there are ten billion trillion trillion carats of diamond out there waiting for us in this one spot, we would probably be silly to think diamonds are rare in the vast endlessness of space. The real novelty would be in telling people you have a space diamond, which means it clearly took a lot of money and effort to mine it. If someone made fun of you for sporting a space diamond, the best argument they could make is that they’re not really rare. You could fire back, and say that isn’t the point; space diamonds are hard to get, and therefore rare on Earth. 

Then you could remind them that homegrown diamonds aren’t really all that rare, either. Even if we pretend Earth is not in space, we should probably stop pretending that diamonds are an uncommon find on our planet. Not all that long ago, diamonds were far less popular than other gemstones when it came time to put a ring on it. Rubies and sapphires were common engagement ring stones, which seems a little more appropriate; they’re not nearly as plentiful as diamonds, after all.

The diamond engagement ring is really the result of a smashing advertising campaign, conducted by the De Beers corporation. Somehow they managed to convince consumers that every engagement ring should have a diamond, right around the same time they cornered the market on mining this not so rare mineral. According to pretty much anyone who knows anything about diamonds, there are warehouses full of uncut diamonds around the world. Most of them are still owned by the same company, and they trickle out a small supply to keep the demand even higher. This means the price of diamonds continues to soar, while the actual value of these stones constitutes a small fraction of their retail price.

Most precious gemstones go up in value as the years go by, and pure gold has always been a good decoration that doubles as a great investment. This is not the case with diamonds, however; as soon as you purchase these stones, they lose most of their value. Nobody wants to buy them back, but they also don’t want to admit they aren’t really putting much value in the stone most prominently featured in their glass cases. They might hem and haw about their reasons, but good luck getting anyone to buy a diamond for anything close to what you paid for it. 

Nowadays, the engagement ring isn’t the only one expected to have one or more diamonds in it. A woman’s wedding ring usually has them, and quite a few men get a diamond or three in their wedding rings as well. Then comes the anniversary band, which doesn’t really match the other two on the bride’s finger unless it sparkles just like they do. On top of that, we all know at least one person that loves to adorn themselves with diamonds in every way possible. When it comes to real value, the metals they are set in are probably worth more than the rocks they display; but most people don’t buy diamonds as investments.

None of this is meant to sound like I’m standing up here shouting at everyone down there. When I proposed to my lovely wife a little over a year ago, the ring I bought was white gold with a single featured diamond. This is an expected standard for engagement rings, and the last thing I wanted my fiancé to have to do was explain why she didn’t have a rock on her finger. She doesn’t like yellow gold, and neither do I; even though twenty-four karat gold has higher resale value, this was not a financial investment. Just like the wedding band she wears now, and the anniversary band she’ll be getting in a few months, this jewelry is intended to signify our union. We aren’t buying it to sell it; these purchases are made to please us, and show that we value our togetherness.

Good thing, too. Nowadays things are a little different than they were back when Da Beers made this whole situation so popular. In the following years, diamond deposits started popping up all over the world; although the company did what they could to buy all the mines, some folks just weren’t willing to sell. Now diamonds come from all kinds of different places, and the only reason the prices stay so high is because those people are playing the same game.

Australia, Russia, and Canada are all known for their large deposits of diamonds. Australia cut a deal with Da Beers, but only for traditional clear stones. The unique pink diamonds found in the area are not part of the deal, and Australians distribute them as they see fit. Russia had a deal with them, for a while; but they let it dissolve, and started mining and selling their own diamonds. Canada never thought it would be a good idea to sell their deposits to the company, and they have mined and sold their own supply from the outset.

Also, mining technology has really advanced. Those folks that claim diamonds are harder to mine than other gemstones are a few decades behind in their view of reality. The only real reason the price of diamonds remains inflated is because no one wants to collapse the market. If any of the countries with big diamond deposits were to mine them aggressively, the cost of mining would probably once again become a concern. With diamonds worth little more than cut glass, these countries couldn’t keep acting like they’re sitting on a giant gold mine.

You know…because gold has many practical, technological and decorative purposes. And it’s rare. Unlike diamonds, which are so plentiful there’s at least one in space that weighs more than our entire planet. We could probably find gold deposits out there too, somewhere; but the notion isn’t nearly as romantic as diamonds from space. I’d certainly buy one, if I could; what a great anniversary gift that would be! I could propose all over again, and say something about how since our love comes from forever and goes on into eternity I had to choose a stone that was mined from the infinity of space.

Hey NASA, could you get on this?

Talk about the ultimate fundraiser!

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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