October 22nd, 2011

That’s not a diamond ring!
No, it’s not. It’s an aquamarine. It’s my aquamarine engagement ring.
It reminds me of searching for seaglass by the Atlantic ocean, of my Italian grandmother’s blue crystal candy dish, of the coast of soon to be visited Santorini.

A week before Justin presented me with this beauty, he solicited some guidance on ring selection.
Simple, I said, but with something strange or different about it. Not a diamond.

Why did I ask for not a diamond?
For one thing, everyone else has them. And a lot of people have a lot of them. By that I mean that I see women of all economic stratas barely able to lift their hands to steer their cars or swipe their credit cards as rocks and rocks and dripping rocks anchor them down.And sometimes I don’t like to have the thing that everyone else has. Growing up within a half-time custody arrangement made me belong everywhere and nowhere, and vacillate between wanting to fit in and wanting to stick out. There are certain things that everyone has that I want too: an iPhone, a golden retriever, a honeycrisp apple. But there are certain trends I don’t want to perpetuate, like Uggs in the summer. And diamond engagement rings!

I call diamond engagement rings a trend, because they are not really FOREVER. They have not been worn as engagement rings for very long, and they do not always outlive other stones. I say that, but I can’t elaborate yet. Justin was grumbling about the crooked De Beers long before we were thinking about getting married, and I overheard but I didn’t delve.

Diamonds are expensive, and I’ve never felt right owning expensive items that nobody else benefits from but me. It feels selfish. And there are some other problems with diamonds. It has to do with AFRICA. There’s a movie depicting this called Blood Diamond that I still have not seen. My mom gave a copy of the DVD to Justin a few Christmases ago. Had she known that it portrayed the diamond as an evil character, I am not sure she would have given the gift. My mom wears many large diamonds upon her wedding finger, and she is polite about my aquamarine. We sat together at lunch once, our hands resting side by side, the contrast clear. I don’t criticize her sparkling loot, but I want to know more about why the alternative I’ve chosen is a fair one.

The person who knows is Justin, and not only is he knowledgeable, he is a great teacher. We have set a date to eat at Ethiopian Diamond, to dine by candlelight and discuss the dark side of this bright stone.


Justin waxes heretic on diamonds as we sip honey wine and rip injera apart. He provides many compelling reasons not to fuel the diamond trade. I test his convictions and his love for me when I ask him if he would have bought me a diamond had I wanted one. Does he hate diamonds more than he loves me? Will this date end with me hating diamonds too? Listen to find out.

      A Diamond Is Not Forever

      Out of the Ashes of Rhodesia

      How to Be You and Me...Conflict Free!

      Would My Desire Trump Your Beliefs?

After the date I was intellectually opposed to diamonds, and satisfied to marry a man with strong convictions. But the facts– though well researched, synthesized, and presented– didn’t move me. If you want to persuade me, you need to kick me where it counts. You need to get Leonardo DiCaprio to portray a diamond smuggler in Sierra Leone, and litter the landscape with some murdered children. Luckily, the producers of Blood Diamond made that happen for me, and it was after watching this cinematic depiction of human suffering that I really felt disgusted by the diamond trade.

The movie takes us to Sierre Leone in the late 1990s, where government soldiers fight rebels in a bloody civil war. A loving family is ripped apart when the father, Solomon, is captured from this village and enslaved in the diamond fields.  Solomon finds an unusually large pink diamond and attempts to stow it away, but his captain witnesses this just as government troops invade and imprison them both. Meanwhile, Solomon’s young son, once a gentle mannered student, is stolen and brainwashed by rebel forces. We see how the Revolutionary United Front rebels are using diamonds to fund their war, trading them for arms. How within one family a son can become a cold killer while his father’s forced labor pays for the weapon.

The diamond trade becomes even seedier as we watch Danny (DiCaprio) smuggle diamonds to a South African mercenary who is employed by a diamond company executive. Landing himself in the same prison as Solomon and the captain, Danny overhears about the hidden pink diamond. He arranges for Solomon to be released from prison, and strikes a deal- he’ll help Solomon find his family if Solomon leads him to the valuable diamond’s burial spot. And why can Danny arrange a family reunion? What gives him the power? He is a white man in Africa.

The movie shows us the human cost of conflict or “blood” diamonds, and the interconnected corruption of the government, rebel forces, smugglers, mercenaries, and diamond companies. It closes with a reference to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, designed to certify the origin of rough diamonds from sources which are free of conflict and human rights abuses. Organizations such as Amnesty International question the impact of KPCS. Amnesty stated: “Until the diamond trade is subject to mandatory, impartial monitoring, there is still no effective guarantee that all conflict diamonds will be identified and removed from the market.”

Some “conflict free” diamond companies assure consumers that their diamonds originate from Canadian mines partnered with local indigenous people who benefit from the trade. The company Brilliant Earth advertises “ethical origin” diamonds from Namibia and Botswana, promising that in these countries “diamonds are helping to foster broadly-shared economic development “. Even if this is true, wearing a diamond perpetuates the consumption of diamonds overall, hence indirectly supporting traders of conflict diamonds. And don’t you know that there are other rocks that are beautiful and sparkly? Like this fool’s gold heart I gave to Justin.


6 comments to “Diamonds”

  1. My favorite quote about diamonds is from a Fiona Apple song (where most of my favorite quotes originate) it is: “I don’t understand about. Diamonds and why men buy them. What’s so impressive about a diamond. Except the mining.” I don’t know if I love that because of the phrasing, or if I don’t love diamonds.

  2. Just another reason for you to look down at your aquamarine ring and smile. 🙂

  3. Katie…it has been way too long! I miss you and I didn’t realize how much until I started reading your blog. So beautiful and inspiring! How do you find the time? Congratulations on that sparkly aquamarine. When can we celebrate?

  4. oh. ok. Then I will skip a generation when handing down all the diamonds.
    ; ) The truth is both my engagement diamonds were my husband’s mother’s. (your grandmothers) So to me they are the continuation of a bond of love. Other than my wedding band all other diamonds are passed down from loved ones who have died. So they are a tradition and they do last because they are still sparkling clear and bright throughout it all. As to the way they are distributed or procured we can talk about so many many items that have created profound tragedy to be had. Diamond beauty is not just about the mining BTW. Great story!!!! Mom

  5. I have an aquamarine engagement ring too! And I love it (we started dating in March!). Personally, and this may sound weird, but I don’t find diamond engagement rings particularly special or beautiful. They are common stones, not all that rare, and although good diamonds can be pretty, I find giant sparkling diamond rings a bit unoriginal and tacky. HOWEVER, just as with colored gemstones, it only really matters if the woman wearing the diamond ring loves it. But ITA with you, they are not at all worth what people pay for them. Have you visited Not my website, but a good one. It talks about how diamonds are an illiquid asset, not an “investment”, and how people throw thousands of dollars down the drain over them every year. That’s not the kind of symbol I’d choose to represent my marriage commitment either. Moissanite stones are interesting–they have a romantic history (coming from meteorites) and much better briliance, sparkle and fire than diamonds. If I had wanted a diamond look, I would have gone for moissanite instead. Anyway, nice post, thanks 🙂

  6. Canadian diamonds +1
    The diamond, to qualify as Canadian, must be mined – cut – and polished in Canada in order to be certified as Canadian.

    As Lulu said above as well, moissanite and Forever Brilliant Moissanite are a gorgeous substitute and viable/affordable option as well.

    Aquamarine is definitely +1
    … just make sure that you keep it clean so it always look sparkling!!!

Leave a comment