In geology, diamonds are pieces of carbon crystals that were squeezed for eons, deep inside the earth's crust, and then pushed toward the surface by volcanic eruptions. But diamonds are more they're symbols of devotion, fidelity and wealth. Diamonds used to be extremely rare. That's why they were the prized property of kings, queens and conquerors. But all that changed in the late 1800s when prospectors found huge diamond deposits in southern Africa.
Since then, one company has controlled almost all the diamonds on the planet the De Beers Corporation, founded in South Africa by Cecil Rhodes. But the De Beers people haven't mined only diamonds; they've mined the American psyche to create a marketing juggernaut.
This is the story of the most enduring cartel in modern history.
On a recent morning in New York City, Tiffany and Co. held a breakfast extravaganza at its premier emporium on 5th Avenue and 57th Street. Tuxedo-clad waiters carried platters of champagne, a jazz combo played cool, quiet sounds, all a backdrop for stunning models who glittered with mesh filigrees of diamonds. With price tags soaring to nearly half a million dollars, the jewelry was part of Tiffany's new collection, called "Lace."
Outrageously expensive diamonds like these are a Tiffany hallmark but their full pedigree leads far away to the mines of southern Africa. Tiffany's icon, a 128-carat, canary-yellow diamond called simply The Tiffany, was discovered in the 1870s at the Kimberley mine in South Africa. The diamond-encrusted mines at Kimberly became known as kimberlites. And their discovery set in motion huge mining operations that continue to this day, offering the once-rare gem to millions upon millions of ordinary consumers.