We humans have an infatuation with shiny things. We’ve been decorating our bodies with pretty rocks for as long as we can remember — diamonds probably being the most famous of all. Sure, this gem may be pleasing to the eye, but under its glittery surface lie many secrets that the diamond industry does its absolute best to hide from you.

Diamonds are marketed as “rare” and “valuable,” but, in reality, this is a complete myth. In my opinion, this is the biggest shocking truth of the diamond industry and when I say “industry” I am, in this instance, referring to one company. De Beers holds what is essentially a monopoly on the production and sale of diamonds, along with an incredibly influential role in the mining, trading and transportation thereof. Because they control the vast majority of the industry, they can sell these tiny rocks for several grand apiece, thereby reaping huge profits. Holding back supply and falsely claiming diamonds to be rare in order to skyrocket prices upward, De Beers is a cartel, plain and simple.

To be fair, diamonds were legitimately rare for the majority of human history. However, when enormous diamond deposits were found all across the African continent in the 19th and 20th centuries (not coincidentally, the era of European colonization), diamonds became profoundly more commonplace. The only reason that the price of diamonds is so high today is because they are artificially made to be so scarce. It’s impossible to say exactly how much a five carat diamond would actually be worth without De Beers’ monopoly on the industry, but one thing is certain: it wouldn’t be the thousands and thousands that it currently is.

Most people have probably heard the term “blood diamond” before. But, for those who don’t know what it actually means, it is used to refer to diamonds that are mined by warlords or corrupt governments, particularly in central and West Africa. Many of these diamond mines employ children, many not yet in their teens, and make profits that go on to support oppressive military regimes.

While we have a few things in place to stop these diamonds from reaching Western stores, like the Kimberley Process (requirements implemented to prevent “conflict-free” diamonds from entering the trade), truth is that many of these shiny stones still end up getting through, due in great part to smuggling. Even diamonds that are considered “clean” by Western governments could have been mined in corrupt countries that utilize child labor. For example, Zimbabwe’s work force employs large amounts of children who operate in deplorable conditions and get paid next to nothing. But technically the country is not considered to be in a state of war, so De Beers has had no problem gobbling up their diamond supply and delivering the stones to our local stores.

As if the damage to people wasn’t enough, diamond mining has a terrible impact on the environment. Acidic runoff into rivers and streams, soil erosion and deforestation are just a few of the ecological impacts of diamond mining. And, of course, all of this comes back to once again disturb the local population, reducing their quality of life significantly through adverse health effects and ecological problems.

Another not-too-well-known fact is that diamonds can be created artificially by humans. You don’t see many of these artificially created diamonds on wedding rings, though, because some people find that they are too perfect to be believable. Consumers complain they look fake in their extraordinary shine and cut. But the truth is that if these artificial diamonds are properly made, they are the same as the “real” thing, even at a chemical level. However, because they don’t carry the same prestige or price tag, the majority of these synthetics are left to be used for industrial purposes. It’s unfortunate that we have a way to make environmentally-sound, completely conflict-free diamonds, but still pay what we do, in money and labor, for the “real thing.”

So the next time you’re thinking about throwing down a couple grand to buy that diamond necklace, pause and think about all the blood and evil that goes into making those shiny little stones. Sure, they’re pretty, but are they really worth it? Diamonds are said to be forever, so I guess that means that all the pain and suffering they cause is, too.

Jay Grafft’s only ice is in his freezer.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, January 27, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.