Diamonds are beautiful stones which represent love and commitment, right? It might surprise you to know that, not so long ago, diamonds were destined to become merely a semi-precious stone. Industrial mining techniques began turning up much greater quantities of diamond than was possible during antiquity, driving their value down. Clearly something had to be done.

De Beers, the world’s premiere diamond producers, was incorporated to control the majority of the world’s stones. Hence they were in a position to strangle, I mean, manage the supply, driving up price. But they did something else quite brilliant in 1947: the ‘A Diamond is Forever’ campaign. By convincing the world that diamonds were a symbol of eternal love, De Beers made sure that a diamond’s resale value would remain, ahem, rock bottom.

Then there’s the problem of blood diamonds, recently the subject of a Warner Brothers movie. As laid out by Amnesty and Global Witness, the problem of conflict diamonds isn’t going away [pdf link]. Diamond-fuelled wars are reportedly responsible for over 4 million deaths in Africa, as well as displacing many more people from their homes and livelihoods.

And in any case, earth-gotten diamonds will be made obsolete by increasingly-advanced methods of synthetic diamond production. A diamond, don’t forget, is simply carbon in a dazzling crystalline structure. And its electrical and industrial properties mean that the search for affordable synthetic diamonds will continue regardless of the effect on luxury goods markets.

In short: a diamond is a beautiful stone (though moissanite is prettier in every way) with a huge cost attached. For most couples, dropping a large amount of money on a ring so early in life is a major financial burden. Money causes more stress in relationships than just about anything else. And this is all to conform to a tradition that’s a mere 70 years old! (Not that older traditions are necessarily more worthwhile, I’m just saying that this ought to be one of the easier shackles to throw off.) If you’re buying a diamond, do it because you’re foolishly wealthy and can afford to splash out on silly sparkly things. As we move on up to Valentine’s Day, think about what love and commitment really mean to you; I hope it’s more than some overpriced hunk of rock.