BookBrowse Reviews The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner

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The Heartless Stone

A Journey Through The World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire

by Tom Zoellner

The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 304 pages

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A panoramic and unflinching look at the modern diamond industry

From the book jacket: The Heartless Stone journeys across six continents to uncover the secrets behind one of our most luxurious and costly status symbols. The book takes you inside illegal mines in Brazil, diamond smuggling rings in Africa, exploration rigs above the Arctic Circle, the sweltering polishing shops of India. You will meet De Beers executives in London, high-tech tunnel drillers in Australia, advertising gurus in Japan, starving soldiers in Angola, chemists in Siberia, dealers in Belgium. They are all part of a vast economy which supports the most sustained, expensive and successful advertising campaign in history.

Comment: Diamonds are not particularly rare in nature, nor do they have any intrinsic value, so how did they become the symbol of our deepest feelings of romantic love and commitment? Tom Zoellner ably answers this question by taking the reader on a fascinating journey around the world  to reveal the bloody story behind the shiny gem found in the jewelry collections of 7 out of 10 American women. 

Zoellner leaves no stone unturned as he investigates every facet of the diamond business, past and present.  He reveals how closely connected the diamond industry is to so much of the conflict in modern day Africa, and how the much vaunted Kimberley process (that is meant to ensure that "blood diamonds" don't reach the Western market) is fundamentally flawed. He takes us on a fascinating jaunt to Australia where brown diamonds, originally considered inferior, have been rebranded "champagne diamonds" and are selling in great quantities in department stores across America.  We meet people making a very nice living manufacturing diamonds in Russian built pressure chambers (and we're not talking itty bitty industrial diamonds here but diamonds up to 5 carats), and travel to the far north of Canada where $1.2 billion of raw diamonds are pulled out of the tundra each year.  Then he takes us full circle back to India, where the first diamonds were excavated centuries ago, into the modern-day stone mills where diamonds are faceted by thousands of workers paid 10 cents per stone.

The De Beers Company is a consistent presence throughout the book.  Although their influence is now somewhat diminished, for more than a century they ran a text book marketing campaign that ensured they earned vastly inflated prices for their shiny little rocks - first by buying up the newly discovered South African diamond mines so that they effectively controlled the market, then by creating the impression of scarcity by ruthlessly controlling supplies; and then, in their pièce de résistance, commissioning one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history to create the tradition of giving diamonds as engagement gifts; which includes the famous "diamonds are forever" advertising campaign and sponsoring movies such as Gentleman Prefer Blonds (1953), To Catch A Thief (1955) and The Pink Panther (1963).

This review was originally published in June 2006, and has been updated for the June 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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