Although other gems are brighter (and much, much cheaper) lovestruck men keep on buying (and women keep on losing) those fabulous little chunks of Africa that we call
ONIGHT in somebody’s front parlor some hapless young Canadian, befuddled by sentiment and soft lighting, will press a proposal and a diamond ring upon his sweetie. She’ll accept— they almost always accept a diamond— and he’ll tenderly leave her so she can appraise it under a stronger light and scrape the window with it to be sure it cuts glass.
Halfway home he’ll suddenly snap out of the trance, slap a hand to his wallet and realize he’s been had by one of the world’s oldest, most persistent and least practical customs.
Before the year is out one hundred and twenty thousand other prospective Canadian bridegrooms will also momentarily drop their guards and dole out diamond rings. At some later stage of their lives, most of them will snarl and grumble and profess to regret it, but for this year at least the diamond ring will look to them like man’s most inspired invention. A marriage today is nearly always good for one diamond, maybe two.
For five hundred years women have been mesmerized by the legendary mystery and romance of the diamond. Men usually remain mesmerized for a year or less. After that there’s as much romance in a used car they buy both on time 'and the only mystery is why, when a man needs all his wits, his friends and his cash about him, tradition makes him fork over maybe a year’s rent or mortgage the homestead for a morsel of crystallized carbon.
Chemically, a diamond is just that pure carbon, crystallized within the earth by tremendous heat and pressure. This Spartan training gives it properties far more remarkable than its power to cast a spell on a girl.
It’s the hardest substance in the world. There’s nothing like it for boring steel cylinders, for drawing tungsten (the world’s hardest metal) into filaments for light bulbs, or for breaking up rock and granite. Seventy-five percent of all diamonds mined are put to such uses. A diamond properly set into a tool can wear away two emery wheels, one and a half feet in diameter and an inch thick, before it shows a sign of wear. Diamonds are also the most brilliant of natural gems but the casual onlooker can’t tell a genuine diamond ring from a dime-store imitation. In Tampa, Fla., when somebody replaced one of jeweler Ben Brown’s $199 rings with a five-and-ten model, Brown had the phony specimen in his showcase three weeks before he noticed it.
A synthetic titanium stone now on the market has satisfactory hardness and greater brilliance than a diamond for only one tenth the cost, but the Canadian bridegroom still says he knows what he wants and the Canadian bride says what he wants is a genuine diamond.
There are no figures on diamond sales but with an average of one hundred and twenty-three thou-
Only an expert can tell the phony...
from the real, but every girl has...
her heart set on a genuine diamond...
ring. What does mere money matter at
a time like this? Don t say it, bud.
sand marriages a year in Canada it’s safe to credit most of these with at least one diamond ring. In 1951 nearly forty-five thousand carats of unset diamonds, valued at $7,324,617, were imported to Canada. In the first eleven months of 1952 another $5,972,587 worth arrived.
Roughly nine tenths of the precious gems sold in Canada are diamonds, says J. F. Ellis, president of Henry Birks and Sons (Ont.) Ltd. Ninety-eight percent of them find their way into rings, according to Adark Gross, an executive of S. Gross and Son Diamonds Ltd., a major Canadian cutting firm. At Birks’ main Toronto store, which sells many more diamond dinner rings than the average retailer, engagement or wedding rings still make up three quarters of the diamond ring sales. Bert Gerstein, secretary-treasurer of People’s Credit Jewellers, says ninety-nine percent of his firm’s diamond ring sales are engagement or wedding bands.
All retail authorities agree that the consumer seldom breaks off from his shopping to recite poetry. He approaches the matter prosaically and often buys on the installment plan. A three-months sampling of the sales of all jewelry stores, made by the Canadian Retail Federation, showed that sixty percent of jewelry was bought with cash, sixteen percent on thirty-day credit accounts and twentyfour percent on a longer-term budget plan.
Thousands of wary sentimentalists combine Christmas with a proposal, thus killing two birds with a half-carat stone. December is the busiest month for ring sales. April sales are high because the diamond is this month’s birthstone. May and June are also busy; January and July are slack.
Whether he buys in January or June, there’s one chance in two that the proposal is already over with. Over a two-months test period recently, Birks in Toronto found its diamond ring buyers were: thirty-two men with women, thirty men alone and one lone woman.
Give the woman credit, she doesn’t exchange his diamond once it’s bought at least, not right away. “Not one ring in a hundred comes back for exchange,” says Bert Gerstein. “Mind you, couples often come back a few years later and replace the original diamond with a larger stone. Some people change the stone as often as five or six times in a lifetime.
“And if the girl comes along when the ring is first bought, she may choose a different style. But if a man’s made that first choice himself, she loves it.”
On all counts the diamond qualifies handsomely as a symbol of constancy. Three years ago DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd., the great South African combine, compiled these price ranges for the guidance of retailers: one-quarter carat stones, $80-
$215; one-half carat, $210-$500; one carat, $560$1,200; two carat, $1,200 - $3,000. It’s about the same today. Variations in color, clarity and cut account for the width in price range for each stone.
A carat is the accepted weight measurement for diamonds (not to be confused with “karat” which refers to gold). One ounce equals 141% carats. At that rate, anyone wishing to surprise his wife with a pound of A-l, one-carat diamonds should write a cheque for $2,721,600. Each carat weight is divided into 100 points for commercial purposes. A price tag reading “.25” means your gem is one-quarter carat. A diamond is graded A, B, C, D and E for color; 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 for degree of /lawlessness. An A-l stone is the best.
Blue-white is the best diamond color, then white and so on down to stones tinged with yellow and brown. Jewelers dislike the term “blue-white,” though, because a true bluish diamond is rare. The Gemological Institute of America says that of live hundred diamonds examined at random, only one showed a trace of blue. Often a customer may think he sees a bluish tint because the diamond readily reflects the color of a blue wall or light. For this reason the diamond dealer likes to examine stones by ordinary north daylight.
Another vital factor in a diamond’s value is the accuracy in cutting and polishing, which brings out the maximum brilliance. For the popular “brilliant” cut it has been found that, other factors being equal, fifty-eight facets exploit a stone’s brilliance the best.
All of these things govern the price range of the diamond you buy. Retail markup on a diamond may run as high as one hundred percent, but the jewelers insist their relatively low turnover justifies it. A tobacconist may turn his stock fifty times a year, thus making fifty profits on his original investment. The jeweler may make only one and a half turns a year.
“A jeweler must keep a very expensive stock on hand,” Jim Green, director of jewelry arts at Toronto’s Ryerson institute of Technology, adds. “His insurance costs are higher than those of most other businessmen. Settings change in style from time to time. He may have to reset a large amount of his stock to keep up with fashion.”
Unlike the hesitant bridegroom, retailers and importers can’t shop around for their diamonds. They have one source of supply and they have to take or leave what they’re offered by the wholesaler. About ninety-five percent of the world’s diamonds come from Africa. A few are mined in Brazil, British Guiana and Venezuela. Even Canada had a diamond rush in the Val d’Or, Que., district in 1950. Thousands of claims were staked after two drillers wore out two diamond-tipped drills in trying to break through some unknown substance deep in the earth. Experts still think a diamond fortune lies hidden somewhere in northern Canada.
Practically all of the large South African mines are owned, controlled or leased by DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd., and its affiliates. One fabulously rich mine is owned by Quebec-born Dr. John Thoburn Williamson who made his strike in 1940 and has since taken out about thirty-five million dollars’ worth of diamonds. Williamson marketed his stones through the DeBeers syndicate for five years, dropped his dealings with them for two years, but resumed an agreement last June. Gem diamonds are marketed in Lon-
don by the DeBeers-controlled Diamond Trading Co. Ltd. From time to time the company notifies a select group of customers that a showing of diamonds will be held in London. The customer probably has a broker in London and cables his application for a “sight.”
On “sight” day the buyer is shown one package of rough diamonds of varying sizes and quality, worth approximately what he has said in his application that he wants to spend. This is his allotment, to take as a complete package or leave. Few reject their packages because they don’t want to be struck off the list.
The syndicate sets the price on rough stones and has a simple means of making it stick. If times slacken, gem stones aren’t put on the market at reduced prices—instead, production is cut back.
If the price seldom drops in a hurry, it doesn’t go up in a hurry either. One Canadian firm even puts a two-year guarantee on its diamond-ring sales: within the time limit the customer can turn in his old diamond and be credited with its full cost price on a larger stone.
Naturally the man who has to pay three hundred dollars for a carat of the lowest quality is more concerned with whether these stable prices are fair. The diamond industry answers that diamonds are hard come by; that on the average it gets forty-six carats of unsorted diamond material from three hundred and fifty tons of gravel and rock and that this culls down to twenty-three carats of rough gem diamonds and, eventually, to only one good carat of cut gem.
Even the rivals of the diamond industry aren’t altogether sure what would happen if the law of supply and demand were allowed to work unchecked and unimpeded.
“Poor-quality diamonds might drop quite a bit in price though they’d never drop to the dime-store level,” says Dr. Robert Carter, a Ph.D. in chemistry with Tany Gems Ltd., makers of titanium stones. “I don’t think topgrade diamonds would drop much in price, if any. They might even increase in price under free marketing.”
Titanium is not yet a formidable rival of the diamond, although in 1950 a University of Toronto physicist found that a titanium stone has a refractive index of 2.60—giving it a greater brilliance than the diamond, whose refractive index is 2.43. Titanium ranked at seven on the Mohs hardness scale, hard enough to scratch glass if its owner ever feels like putting it to the test, but three points below the diamond’s rating of ten. Titanium resists acids and alkalis and, in a long-wear test, held up favorably foith the diamond. It sells in Canada for about one tenth the price of a diamond. A one-carat titanium stone mounted in 18k gold costs approximately $69. The makers of the new stone say they’ve sold nearly ten thousand in Canada within three years. But the diamond trade thinks—and hopes—that genuine diamonds will hold their own if only for their sentimental value and centuries of tradition.
Women sometimes break out in goose-flesh when told a proferred diamond has been clasped in the depths of the earth, perhaps since the beginning of time, waiting to adorn their fingers, but there’s nothing about a rough diamond to arouse such excitement. It looks somewhat like frosted glass and requires a lot of cutting and polishing before it becomes a gem.
Every diamond has a grain. If it meets with the cutting plans, the stone is cleaved along this grain—an extremely delicate operation. The diamond is carefully studied, then nicked with another diamond to start the
cleave. A chisel-like steel knife is held to the nick and a sharp tap on the chisel splits the stone.
In 1941 cleaver Adrian Grasselly
successfully cut the two-million-dollar Vargas diamond in New York. But risk of a mistake was so great that, reportedly, Lloyd’s of London wouldn’t insure the operation. In 1908 when Hollander Joseph Asscher first at-
tempted to cut the Cullinan. world’s largest diamond, the cleaving knife broke. Asscher took a deep breath —he was tapping on 3,024 carats
worth roughly a million dollars - tried again, was rewarded with a perfect
cleave and fell over in a faint.
Cuts against the grain must be sawn by a phosphor-bronze blade with a cutting edge of diamond dust and olive oil. Next, the stone is “girdled,” trimmed into its round shape with a diamond-tipped tool. Finally the facets are ground against the diamond impregnated face of a whirling disc.
The cutter’s skill at this stage must and can be amazingly accurate. In 1950 the International Trade Fair in Ghent, Belgium, showed the world’s smallest diamond, smaller than the head of a pin yet bearing fifty-two polished facets.
Cutting and polishing is done on a small scale in Canada. The major cutting firm is S. Gross and Son which finishes quarter-carat and larger stones in a cluttered little two-room factory in downtown Toronto.
To most males of settled age, however, the true enigma of the diamond ring is not who makes it, where it came from, or how much it cost, but why the hell it keeps getting lost. Peering under the bed for a missing diamond, reaching down the drain for a missing diamond, or turning the baby upside down for a missing diamond is an experience few donors of diamonds have been known to escape. Women lose diamonds in washrooms, washing machines, lawns, and dogs. Nine years ago, New York detectives finally located Mrs. Jean-Pierre Stern’s missing dinner ring by turning the fluoroscope on G ranga, her Doberman pinscher. Granga had gobbled up $4,000 worth of diamonds and rubies. In 1947 a woman in Hollywood found her missing ring stone wedged in her dog’s paw. Arthur Brunck, of the Home Insurance Company, has found diamond rings in drainpipes and, frequently, in the fibre trap of washing-machine drains. Women often leave diamond rings lying on public washbasins.
All this does not mean that your wife doesn’t love her diamond if she loses it. The love affair between women and diamonds is five centuries old and shows no sign of dying. Diamonds were mined in India as far hack as 600 B.C. and rings have been mixed up with romance even longer than that. Rings are said to be an adaptation of the caveman’s custom of binding his mate’s wrists and ankles with grass.
Diamonds and rings finally got together around 1500. Agnes Sorel, a French beauty who fell for King Charles VII of France in 1444, was the first to discover that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Before that the gems were worn only by kings or idols. When Agnes stepped out at court one day, ablaze with diamonds, Charles turned around for a second look.
The success of the Sorel gambit inspired other young courtesans and the rout was on. Henry VIII, a fast man with a proposal at all times, found it prudent to keep several diamonds in his personal stock of two hundred and thirty-four finger rings.
Only a few men have tried to stem the tide of diamond rings through the years. Young Englishmen of the seventeenth century gave their sweethearts rings cut from the fingers of heavy leather gloves, but it didn’t last.
Inscriptions on plain metal bands were another attempt to get around diamonds. A master at this was John Thomas, Bishop of Lincoln, who’d been married four times when he came up for another turn in 1753. He inscribed this thought on the betrothal ring: If I survive I’ll make
But these feeble uprisings have been firmly squelched. In the average Canadian home the diamond ring is here to stay -at least until Honey Bunch drops it in the mix-master again. *