I’m not a huge fan of these cheesy will you marry me proposal videos that are put out all over the web. But, hey, that’s just a personal opinion. You be you. In most of those cases, it’s a guy going down on his knee and opening up a little box with a sparkly diamond in it. But are we going to be able to do that for much longer?
Welcome to throw forward Thursday. My name is Graham Codrington and come with me to the future sometime, I think in the 2040s, when the world runs out of diamonds. Yes, it’s true. The end of diamonds is nigh. Right now, the world has about 6 billion carats of diamonds somewhere on the planet.
Not all of them are on somebody’s ring finger. A lot of them are in other bits of jewellery, some of them are in museums and in monarchy, crowns and pendants and so on. And quite a lot of diamonds are also used for industrial purposes, obviously massively, hardy and strong material that is used in everything from drill bits. When I was a kid, I used to have an old record turntable that had a diamond tipped needle. So used all over the place.
By the way, 6 billion carats of diamonds are about a million kilograms of diamonds. And every year, another 140,000,000 carats of diamonds are mined. At the moment, the top five countries doing that are Russia, Botswana, Canada, reasonably new Entrants, Namibia, and South Africa. And those countries also account for the biggest value of sales. So 140,000,000 carats or so coming into the world’s supply of diamonds.
And, of course, diamonds don’t get used up, right, so they’re not a consumable product. So these million kilograms of diamonds are going to be able to move around. Some of you are wearing a diamond stone that belonged to somebody else in the past. Not all diamonds go from the ground to your finger. They get reworked, they get inherited, and they get sold and bought.
But the diamond manufacturers around the world are telling us that unless we find new diamond mines unless we find new deposits of diamonds in the world, they can see only till sort of the end of the into the then they will have lined up those diamonds. Now, the diamond industry has always been pretty sharp. Back in 1947, a New York copywriter came up with the concept of diamonds are forever. The De Beers Diamond Company, which at that stage was the world’s largest diamond company, it’s still accounting for about 36 or 37% of all diamond sales, we’re seeing a massive slump in diamond sales since the Great Depression and World War II. And they went to this New York ad agency and said, help us to come up with a campaign that will sell diamonds and genius.
One of the greatest marketing campaigns of all of history was the concept of creating diamonds as engagement ring presence, that diamonds are forever, and linking that to love and relationships and marriage and so on. Yes, it’s true. Before 1948, diamonds were not given as an engagement, not even present, right? We wouldn’t call engagement present as a sign of being engaged. Before 1948 just didn’t happen.
Literally, it is within the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents and literally, it was created by an advertising company and a global monopoly, cottage de Beers. Anyway, good for them. It is now part of our culture. And what happens if we start running out of diamonds? Are we going to just give up on it?
Are they just going to become too expensive? That’s what happens, right? As the diamond supply begins to dwindle, the diamond manufacturers or the diamond miners and the diamond sellers will obviously make sure that we realise this is becoming a more scarce resource and the price will just begin to skyrocket, which will then add to the fact that this is a very valuable thing and diamonds off forever, and put it on my ring finger.
Maybe then we will need to start looking at lab grown diamonds, because actually, now we can create diamonds in a lap. I mean, diamonds are just basically compressed carbon, right? And we know and now have the machinery to be able to compress carbon to create artificial diamonds. As far as I understand, diamonds are so good that even the best diamond dealers in the world battle to distinguish between a manufactured artificial diamond, whatever that is, because it’s not really artificial, it’s a real diamond. It’s just made in a lab rather than dug out of the ground.
So we can make diamonds and we can make them, well, not cheaply, but a lot more cheaply than it costs to get them out of the ground. And if this supply issue does start to hit us in the 2030s, it will definitely be cheaper than the diamonds that exist in the world. But here’s the problem. Right now, as I am recording this in the early 2020s, not many people are interested. Not many people are interested in having an artificial diamond, whatever that means, on their finger.
They want something that’s been dug out of the ground the old fashioned way, with all the problems that that can have with it. This is a cultural thing, it’s not a technology issue. We’ve got the technology to create diamonds. It’s not actually a supply and demand issue. We can create as many diamonds as we want to.
It’s a business decision by the diamond industry to do what they’ve done for more than half a century, which is to control the supply of diamonds and make us believe that they are a lot more valuable than they actually are. And it is a social issue around what we choose to value and what we choose to do culturally in terms of showing relationships and commitment to other people. The industrial side is another whole conversation on its own. This is a wonderful example of the fact that we are not always limited by resources and technology. But sometimes when we look into the future, we realise that the limits that might appear to be there are not, in fact, limits at all.
They are entirely artificial and made up and are laced with cultural and social decisions that we could easily change. The end of diamonds? No, there will always be diamonds, but the end of the way we see diamonds. I think that might be coming sooner than we think.
Thanks for joining me in the throw Forward Thursday studio. As always. I will see you next week as we continue this fascinating end of series. See you next time, Thursday.
Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.