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De Beers: Diamonds are Forever

Thursday, 16 April 2009

De Beers De Beers is a well-known international diamond mining and trading company, but when it comes to diamonds purchase, the customers seem to be more interested in other sellers. As a matter of fact, this is terribly unfair as the De Beers Group not only has a remarkable history among other oldest jewelry companies and is probably the largest company on the world market (it controls over 40% of diamond sales turnover). Besides, De Beers gets the credit for promoting diamonds to the unreachable Olympus of fame and glory. Why, then, people neglect its products? To answer this question, we should take a look at this distinguished and versatile company from different points of view.

What are they? Are they diamond miners or a jewelry firm? Today, their mining and gem-cutting activities are hardly separated. The story began in the late 19 century: a man named Cecile Rhodes, the son of a British parish priest, a plain and unremarkable figure in those days, arrived to Africa to be a farmer. But here he fell dangerously ill with a severe case of «diamond rush» - a variation of the well-known gold rush. The only difference is that it is not pelf that one always sees before his eyes, but sparkling diamonds.

Everyone knows that Fortune is a wayward lady; there was little success in Rhodes's search for diamonds. But life is unpredictable, and for a while Rhodes occupied himself with supplying water and goods to the miners, and managed to save a small amount of diamonds and founded De Beers Company. We must admit that the man was rather modest and called his brainchild not by his own name, but by the name of the owners of the land rich in diamonds. Or, probably, he tried to add to his firm an aristocratic touch and took advantage of the name famous among the rich.

Then everything was quite unpoetical, to conquer the world market and create diamond mining monopoly was not a challenge for him: the majority of discovered deposits were situated in Africa and monopolists hurried to lay hands on them. And De Beers became pioneers in this segment that offered prospects of quick profit. The competitors had no chance to know about the existence of diamond deposits, let alone repurchase them. Surely, if you don't have a full control over the industry, from top to bottom, there is no sense to compete with a company that has it. To prevent other jewelry firms from reaching the level of the De Beers Company, the owners of the company sorted diamonds out into dark-colored boxes and summoned 100 - 200 of their richest customers, offering them to purchase those sets. They could set any price; after all it was limited only by the appetite of the managers. What could everyone else in the business do? The major investors in the diamond business realized that they had no choice but to merge their interests into a single entity that would be powerful enough to control production and perpetuate the illusion of scarcity of diamonds. There was no other seller of jewels, and reselling the contents of those boxes was strictly forbidden by the contract with the deliverer.

However, even such tycoons as De Beers relax and lose the grip of the situation at some point. Lev Levayev, one of the customers of the diamond-mining company, unexpectedly became a competitor of the old firm. He turned to own diamond mines, he managed to contract with former associates of the monopolist. This fact surely did not bring the fall of the De Beers, but they lost more than a half of diamond market.

And this was one of mistakes of the satiated and dreadful constrictor known as De Beers. They banked on diamond mining, being absolutely sure to find consumers on jewelry market. They had brilliant ideas! Take, for example, the best-known slogan of the past century «Diamond Are Forever». De Beers needed a slogan for diamonds that expressed both the theme of romance and legitimacy. An N. W. Ayer copywriter came up with it in 1948, exclusively for De Beers. Even though diamonds can in fact be shattered, chipped, discolored, or incinerated to ash, the concept of eternity perfectly captured the magical qualities that the advertising agency wanted to attribute to diamonds. Within a year, "Diamonds Are Forever" became the official motto of De Beers.  The company tried to persuade the public that a diamond was not a bauble; it was a sign of status and noble taste, that a diamond was not a thing for the select few. You may be a simple salesgirl - but by wearing diamond earrings you express your nobility. De Beers succeeded in converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. For 60 years this motto has been marching across the world, and people have bought and presented engagement diamond rings.

The overwhelming financial crisis of nowadays may a real present for the De Beers, though it sounds paradoxical. Owing to it, the demand for luxury products seems to relapse. But now the company management runs back to its famous bargaining chip - good publicity. Instead of putting down expenses they almost doubled financing of marketing department for this year. Now precious stones would be marketed as the most profitable investment, even more reliable than bank coffers. That is, diamonds are never-failing, especially in such inconsistent economical situation! But diamond mining is planned to be cut back this year - just to keep the cost of luxury goods at present level.

So De Beers, a humble company as it may seem, though staying in the background during its history, prevails all the diamond market and reigns in the hearts of the consumers. The ideas of De Beers in publicity are everlasting, as well as the stones they mine. And even the year of its foundation - 1888, seems to embody the slogan «Diamonds Are Forever»!

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