Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hart: Diamond—History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair


I worked in the 70s for DeBeers Diamond in South Africa, so I approached the book Diamond by Matthew Hart with more than a grain of skepticism. But the cover with its map of the Frei Staat, from Vryburg to Haut Kraal Station, from Paapkuil to Bultfontein, centered on Kimberley, drew me on. And the Rule of 33 clinched my choice.
...The Indian mines were alluvial digs. That is, the diamonds had risen from the upper mantle in pipes, and over millions of years had washed into rivers, where people found them. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Brazil supplanted India as the biggest diamond producer, and the Brazilian deposits were also alluvial. The fact that prospectors today ransack the world for pipes is due not only to recent advances in prospecting science but also to the succession of events that began in Africa, and raised the empire that shaped the modern diamond world.

Hart's book more than fulfills the promise made by this initial paragraph on page 33. From historical diamonds and their royal owners, the discovery of Kimberlite and the gradual growth of knowledge about the provenance of this adamant gem, and the 19th-, 20th- and even 21st-century conflicts they fueled, the book moves to modern efforts to find these ancient stones, and details the product's marketing and sale as jewelry and industrial stone.

If the book has a flaw, it is the sometimes-dizzying time changes rung by Hart as he tells of this "cold-blooded love affair" with diamonds. We may be in 1999 Antwerp as DeBeers mails out its marketing plan for the coming year: Which millennium are you waiting for? Next we hear the tale of Alexander, trapping diamonds in the fat of sheep carcasses, watching for them to be eaten by giant vultures, which then "expel" the stones into the hands of his waiting men. Then we go to Bombay in 1850 for the embarkation of the Koh-I-Noor for shipment to London. Then—swoop—we're in Manhattan at Christie's in 1997 as Eva Peron's brooch containing the intensely-yellow "Sun of May" diamond comes on the block.

Still, the book is a fascinating in-depth look at the industry that brings us engagement rings and polishing grit, and every diamond product in between. And if Hart missed the Irish connection and radio-satellite component creation, well, that's a truly esoteric use of diamond. I forgive him the omission.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Magnetic Wristbands said...

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11/22/2011 9:33 PM  

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