In the video below by James May Q&A, May explores the myth that diamonds are incredibly rare and possess some intrinsic value. In fact, says May, both ideas are as fake as a counterfeit necklace.
Diamonds are a form of carbon, formed far below the Earth’s surface under tremendous pressure and temperature. They’re brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions and then reburied by the elements over hundreds of thousands of years.
Finding one diamond large enough to grace an engagement ring, May says, requires sifting through 250 tons of ore. 80% of all mined diamonds are used in tools for grinding, cutting and polishing, thanks to their extreme hardness. Four times that amount of diamonds are manufactured, amounting to 500 million carats each year. That’s a hundred tons of diamonds made synthetically every year.
Diamonds are therefore hardly rare.
Gems are a slightly different story. Diamonds were first used in jewelry in India about 4,000 years ago. The Greeks and Romans also admired them. In the modern world, diamonds didn’t really catch on until the late 1800s. When the British began prospecting for diamonds on an industrial scale in South Africa around that time, diamonds came into their own. The price of diamonds probably would have come down as a result of oversupply, had the mining companies and diamond syndicates not controlled their prices. The evidence of the non-scarcity of diamonds can be attested to by anyone who’s ever tried to sell a used diamond to a jewelry shop or pawn shop. Second hand diamonds don’t fetch a very high price.
May adds that unlike gold, silver, titanium or even frozen orange juice, there’s no fixed commodity price for diamonds.
So why are diamonds so expensive? Mostly because of advertising and public perception. The DeBeers diamond company created the slogan, “A diamond is forever” in 1938. The slogan and certain Hollywood placements are largely responsible for the belief that diamonds and wedding engagements go together.