By Dr George Venturini
Rarity is the principal cause of the value of diamonds. Intrinsically, they are but carbon. The word diamond, the hardest known natural material, derives from the ancient Greek αδάμας – essentially, ‘unbreakable’. Diamonds are thought to have been first recognised and mined in India, where significant alluvial deposits of the stone could be found many centuries ago along the rivers Godavari, Krishna and Penner. Diamonds have been known in India for at least 3,000 years but most likely 6,000 years.
Diamonds have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in ancient India. Their usage in engraving tools also dates from early human history. The popularity of diamonds has risen since the 19th century because of increased supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in the world economy, and innovative and successful advertising campaigns. In the 21st century, experts in gemmology have developed methods of grading diamonds and other gemstones based on the characteristics most important to their value as a gem. Four characteristics, known informally as the four Cs, are now commonly used as the basic descriptors of diamonds: these are carat, cut, colour, and clarity. A large, flawless diamond is known as a paragon.
The production and distribution of diamonds is largely consolidated in the hands of a few key players, and concentrated in traditional diamond trading centres, the most important being Antwerp, where 80 per cent of all rough diamonds, 50 per cent of all cut diamonds and more than 50 per cent of all rough, cut and industrial diamonds combined are handled. This makes Antwerp a de facto ‘world diamond capital’. Another important diamond centre is New York City, where almost 80 per cent of the world’s diamonds are sold, including at auction sales. The De Beers company, as the world’s largest diamond miner holds a dominant position in the industry, and has done so since soon after its founding in 1888 by the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. De Beers owns or controls a significant portion of the world’s rough diamond production facilities, mines and distribution channels for gem-quality diamonds. The Diamond Trading Company is a subsidiary of De Beers and markets rough diamonds from De Beers-operated mines.
Marketing has significantly affected the image of diamonds as a valuable commodity. N. W. Ayer & Son, the advertising firm retained by De Beers in the mid-20th century, succeeded in reviving the American diamond market. And the firm created new markets in countries where no diamond tradition had existed before. N. W. Ayer’s marketing included product placement, advertising focused on the diamond product itself rather than the De Beers brand, and associations with celebrities and royalty. Without advertising the De Beers brand, De Beers was also advertising its competitors’ diamond products. The campaign lasted for decades but was effectively discontinued by early 2011. De Beers still advertises diamonds, but the advertising now mostly promotes its own brands, or licensed product lines, rather than completely ‘generic’ diamond products. The campaign was perhaps best captured by the slogan “a diamond is forever”. This slogan is now being used by De Beers Diamond Jewellers.
It is particularly from Africa and Asia in the 1700s and 1800s that such riches came, by way of tributes from local potentates to the ultimate divinely-descended-Being in London. There, one could see – on payment, of course – the famous Crown Jewels. There, one can see the Cullinan, also known as the Star of Africa. And there is the Koh-i-noor; rumoured to have been found in Afghanistan, not far from the Indian border, once owned by the builder of the Taj Mahal, the Mughal Emperor Sha Jahan. It was at one time – before the discovery of the Star of Africa – considered the largest diamond on earth. Both of the world’s largest diamonds are parts of the Crown Jewels. After Queen Victoria’s death the Koh-i-noor was set in Queen Alexandra’s brand-new diamond crown, with which she was crowned at the coronation of her husband, King Edward VII. Queen Alexandra was the first Queen Consort to use the diamond in her crown, followed by Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth. India has claimed that the diamond was taken away illegally and it should be given back to India. When the Queen made a state visit to India marking the 50th anniversary of Independence in 1997, many Indians in Britain and in India, including several Indian members of parliament, demanded the return of the diamond. It remains in the Tower of London. The nations of Africa, devastated and scattered across the globe by the slave trade until 150 years ago, and then exploited by a company such as De Beers – particularly during the Apartheid regime that it supported – receive not a penny as ‘royalty’ from that exhibition.
On 20 November 1947, when Elizabeth married Philip, and despite the gloomy atmosphere of austerity and restraint, or perhaps because the public needed a public celebration, there was little resentment of the enormous expenses involved. The wedding dress, designed by Norman Hartnell – the British fashion designer who had become Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to Her Majesty The Queen in 1940, and would subsequently be Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II since 1957 – was studded with ten thousand pearls. The couple were showered with priceless jewels: a hoard of rubies from Burma; emeralds and diamonds from British Columbia; uncut diamonds from South Africa; and similar presents from all over the then still British Commonwealth. Individual admirers also sent lavish gifts of jewellery – among them a single 54 carat uncut diamond. The late Queen Mary gave the couple the gifts she had herself been given fifty-five years before, including a diamond tiara of inestimable worth from Queen Victoria and priceless diamond brooches which had been given to her by a Maharajah, when India was still the Pearl of the Empire. King George VI gave Elizabeth and Philip hundred-year-old earrings which featured every cut of diamond and flawless antique pearls once worn by Queen Anne.
It is not known – perhaps the Queen herself may not know – how many carats of diamonds she owns/holds. What is known is that the diamond market price has considerably increased recently, in fact by 20 per cent in 2011.
Since the mid 1950s the wholesale price of a one carat diamond has soared from AU$2,600 to AU$27,940, a significant gain on an investment if fortunate enough to have been gifted a few gems in 1952.
The Cullinan diamond weighed in at a staggering 3,106.75 carats. It was presented to King Edward VII and was eventually cut into nine stones, seven of which will be on display as part of the celebrations this summer. The largest, which is mounted in the royal sceptre, is 530 carats.
So, perhaps, a series of new meanings should be given to the word diamond in the hands of the head of the Battenberg-Windsors: such as their self-defined word ‘proper’, the word ‘unalterable’ – meaning by that sclerotic, the ‘unbreakable’ grasping of the English monarch and her Family, the ‘untamed’ greed which characterises The Firm, along with the other word of threat and intimidation, for which the Greek original word could readily be translated into: “I tame” or “I overpower.” Because nothing in this obsession for owning precious stones could explain, let alone justify, the profligate use of public money and the indifference to suffering of the people – in Little Britain as well as in the countries from which such stones were originally taken.
In the end the possession of so much tells quite a lot about the owners; it certainly brings to mind the notion of hypocrisy, a hypocrite being – in Ambrose Bierce unforgettable definition – “one who, professing virtues that [she] does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what [she] despises.”
This state of affairs is particularly grave if one considers the enormous, personal, other wealth of the Queen, her disposal of public property – often intermingled with State property, and the profligacy of the members of The Firm. Elizabeth II is the Queen of Diamonds – par excellence.
For days in 2012 the British public was subjected to saturation coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
This diet of carefully choreographed royal propaganda, which included minute-by-minute coverage of 1,000-boat pageant on London’s river Thames and an official pop concert at Buckingham Palace, ensured that any serious news was all but excised.
The mounting economic crisis in Europe, the death of another British soldier in Afghanistan – the 417th to have died since the 2001 invasion, were reduced to footnotes.
The tens of millions of pounds spent on the Jubilee was in stark contrast to the demands of the ruling élite that working people – the target of the most severe austerity measures since the 1930s – were expected to make ‘sacrifices for the good of the nation’. And the real cost of the celebrations, including the extra public Bank Holiday, is still not known.
Much of the expense was assigned to ensure a security lockdown of London. For the Thames Pageant event alone, 13,000 security forces were mobilised, including members of the Royal Navy and Marines, as well as police officers.
Over the previous month, London’s 40 square miles had been systematically swept by security forces, including police frogmen carrying out an underwater search of the Thames, to counter the so-called “terrorist threat”. This is in addition to the biggest mobilisation of the armed forces in London since the second world war, already in place in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
The pop concert organised outside Buckingham Palace plumbed new depths of sycophancy and deference. Performing were multi-millionaire musicians including Elton John, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, in an anticipation of Trumpian reality TV.
In the process of these celebrations, all manner of the crimes of British imperialism were brushed under the carpet. In May, the Queen hosted a tea party of international Sovereign Monarchs to celebrate her Jubilee. Amongst the attendees were the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, fresh from their bloody repression of opposition protests in Bahrain.
At the 23 May Royal Academy ‘Celebration of the Arts’ event to commemorate the Jubilee, Bono, lead singer of rock band U2, thanked the Queen for her reign and visit to Ireland the previous year. This is the same band whose 1982 recording of the ‘Sunday bloody Sunday’ song – about the slaughter of thirteen innocent people in Derry in 1972 by the occupying British army – was rated as one of the best political protest songs of all time. Donald Trump, where are you?
What exactly was being celebrated here? A proven real estate dealer such as Trump would understand what follows:
- According to a 2012 report by Brand Finance – which “specialises in Brand Valuation and the valuation of Intangible Assets”, the tangible assets of the Royal Family, including the Duchy of Cornwall with around 133,658 acres, over 23 counties, were worth an estimated £18 billion (AU$32,113,803,092 in 2018).
Today, even more so than in 2012, the financial and social gulf between the United Kingdom’s rich and the rest of the population is at record levels. The Sunday Times Rich List, which tracks the wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 people, recorded their combined wealth in 2012 at £414 billion. The Queen herself was estimated to be worth more than £300 million – a vast underestimation.
The Financial Times was forced to note in a comment that since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, “society has become far more unequal. After tax, the richest 1 per cent now have 9 per cent of all income, compared with 3 per cent in 1977.”
Now the social position of the working class is being subjected to an even sharper decline as a result of the government’s austerity measures. Millions are without work. Pay cuts and freezes are the norm, while the destruction of social provision – implemented to fund the multi-billion-pound bailout of Britain’s banks in 2008 – means many, still today, being denied their right to health care, education and social benefits.
In the capital, soup kitchens now feed thousands of people every day, including emaciated and starving children.
Despite the media’s best efforts to present the population of the United Kingdom “as all being in it together”, a single episode from the Jubilee made plain the real state of class relations: that of the already mentioned episode of a group of long-term unemployed people from Bath, Bristol and Plymouth having been bussed into London and forced to work as unpaid stewards during the Jubilee, as part of the government’s so-called ‘Work Programme’. Is this ‘the vile scum’ to whom, or which, the conservative MP was referring ?
The pouring of vast political, financial and human resources into the Jubilee celebrations took place at a time of widespread alienation amongst the mass of working people and youth from the political parties and state institutions.
Support for all the three main political parties had collapsed, while much of Britain’s ruling élite – as well as their police – had been exposed through their relations with financial oligarchs, such as Rupert Murdoch, as deeply corrupt.
No doubt the promotion of the monarchy as an institution supposedly above all this stench was – and remains intended – intended to remedy the tragic condition of the people. (R. Stevens, ‘The Diamond Jubilee: A glorification of wealth and privilege,’ 6 June 2012, wsws.org).
Who was footing the bill for the Diamond Jubilee and how much is being paid for by the taxpayer? No reliable answer ever came – just the traditional, insipid muddling-through.
Was all this hullabaloo worth it? And how much is the Queen worth?, are next questions which come to mind. Precise, honest answers are difficult, nay impossible.
Continued Saturday – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 6)
Previous instalment – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 4)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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