Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Romancing the Stones"

“Romancing the Stones”, by Mark Tungate, is an overview of diamonds in terms of their historical, financial and emotional value. Tungate begins by introducing the reader to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, an institution dedicated to the trade of precious stones. Tungate states that he aims to: “find out how the diamond industry works, and where Antwerp fits into the scheme of things”. He counts on his encounter with Philip Claes, the chief corporate affairs officer, to develop his understanding of the industry.

Firstly, Claes explains how diamonds were created: essentially a mix of crystallized carbon, magma and erosion. The discovery of these precious stones provoked different reactions and beliefs varying according to cultures. Whilst the Indians venerated them for their ability to refract light, the Romans believed they detained the power to protect its owner from the plague. Then, from Marco Polo to World War I and II, history gradually favored Antwerp to become the centre of diamond trading.

Tungate approaches the market’s competitors, notably De Beers and its legendary presence in the industry. After monopolizing the market, it was forced to “loosen its grip on (the) diamond market”, yet their scrutiny and renowned slogan “a diamond is forever” enabled them, to the dismay of competing firms, to readily establish themselves in the consumers’ mind. However, it is Antwerp’s “renowned diamond polishers” that enables Antwerp to maintain its significant status in trade. The diamonds in Antwerp “are graded according to the four Cs – carats, clarity, colour and cut”. If they satisfy the graders’ requirements, they are granted the certificate of authenticity. Tungate explains how these grades are measured and attributed, before describing the individuals involved in the process. Tungate also describes how the premises are secured in order to prevent theft, and the radical measures taken in the case of such behaviour.

The scandal surrounding conflict diamonds is approached when the author questions Claes about the movie “Blood Diamond”. Surprisingly, the latter admits it is very accurate, before describing the measures that have been put into practice in order to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the market as much as possible (the Kimberly Process Certificate).

Lorenz Baumer, a well-known jewelry designer located on Place Vendôme, is interviewed by Tungate and explains that “fine jewelry is unique” because it has “an emotional resonance that few other products possess”, underlying the importance of jewelry as an “experience”. Baumer explains that, when copies are made from luxury brand’s clothing, one way of reinforcing their notion of being “the real thing” is by making jewelry. The discrete and “ephemeral” process of making and selling his creations is explained. Finally, Tungate writes about Marie Helène de Taillac, a jewelry lover with a “predilection for coloured gemstones”, who explains that “in the business, experience and credibility are everything”.

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