The Diamond Empire - Recap

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This episode of Frontline takes a look at the Diamond Empire.

Will Lyman shows us footage from a gala with Elizabeth Taylor in spring 1002. He remarks how many of the women are wearing diamonds, and the gala is an aids benefits. He tells us how the perception is that diamonds are rare when they are not. “The myth is that diamonds are valuable because they are rare.”.

Lyman shows an interview with Edward Epstein who discovered that diamonds aren’t are at all. He explains that diamond extraction was common. What wasn’t well documented is that the diamond business went out of its way to restrict others from not just extracting them, but who gets to sell them, when and why. Lyman in his own words says “this is the story of how one family gained controlled of the world’s diamond trade”.

We move to New York which is one of the world largest markets for diamond. In 1994, Lyman described it as a ten billion dollar industry. Lyman says very few diamond people will talk to them, but they manage to get an interview with William Goldberg who sells and trade diamonds. We get to see footage of how diamonds are made. Lyman explains how these diamonds are valued by carat, cut, weight, clarity, and color.

We see promo ad for DeBeers, a south African company. Goldberg described how DeBeers restricts the sites for extracting diamonds, and extracting them requires a large sum of money to be paid first. Lyman explains how DeBeers in located in London because as monopoly they can’t operate in the US. All site holders must come here. Epstein explains how DeBeers grades their diamonds.

We move to Johannesburg, Africa where we learn the history of the Oppenheimers. The Oppenheimers as Lyman states “in two generations have built one of the powerful industrial cartels in 24th century”. DeBeers, Anglo American, are controlled by Oppenheimers who have a virtual monopoly in diamond industry. Lyman explains how the diamond mines in Africa are the heart of the diamond business. He explains how alluvial diamonds can be picked up on the shore lines. The supplies of diamonds is large. Lyman explained that the true rare diamonds were around 1871 Kimberly, South Africa. Lyman said the Kimberly find was huge John Rudd former directors of DeBeers tells the story of how his great grandfather and a business associate, Cecil Rhodes dealt with the DeBeers claim. Rudd bought out all the Debeers claim giving him control of the diamond cartel at its early state. With this Lyman, explains he could restrict access, control prices. However, diamonds were found in the german area of African. Earnest Oppenheimer surveyed the territory and found the richest alluvial diamonds in country. Oppenhemier used black natives as slave labor to get the diamonds. Oppenheimer became rich and called his diamond company the Anglo American who became a rival to DeBeers. Earnest was chairman of DeBeers. Epstein explain where diamonds can be found, but DeBeers strategy and motto was make diamonds look rare. Little mines came out to mine but were bought by DeBeers. However, alluvial diamonds (diamonds that can be found on land) presented a different problem. DeBeers sent graduates to set up shops where they could buy diamonds from the people to prevent smuggling.

Fouad Kamil who worked to investigate illegal diamond trading for cartel tells us his experiences. He says he did torture and beatings to get any info for the cartel. DeBeers denies all allegations.

By the 1950s, the cartel had enormous power. The rise of black nationalization in Congo during the 1960s threatened it. The Cia had one well known nationalist killed during a coup. Patrice Lumumba was killed and was replaced by Mamouta Cieko. Maurice Templesmen from DeBeers meets with US embassy to talk with Mebouta, and Oppenheimer to stitch a comprise with Oppehemier and Mebouto regime.

Mebouto creates a wealthy empire while the people of Zaire remain poor. Lyman explained that problems arose in diamond mines nonetheless such as in Angola.
Even when the Justice Department investigated Earnest Oppenheimer for illegally closing mines but nothing came about. We are told how DeBeers to give US military access to industrial diamonds during WWII. However, evidence is found that Nazis smuggled diamonds from Congo in Africa. However, DeBeers did eventually sell their diamonds to military but as declassified documents show they were overpriced.

We look at other ways that DeBeers increased their empire. Lyman explains how DeBeers set up offices in Hollywood and made business endeaveors in Movie and TV business. Hollywood companies working with DeBeershad their movies made to have the word diamonds in their titles, other times actors had specific scenes to show off diamonds. We move on to look at DeBeers marketing strategies made not just to sell their diamonds, but so that their diamonds after being bought wouldn’t be resold.

We shift on how diamonds are found in other places like Siberia. DeBeers seeing a threat to their business by the Russians secretly decided to do business with them. They did it secretly because they didn’t want appear to be dealing with two rivails-The South Africans or Russians. Lyman explained how the cutting of diamonds while important is usually done by people working for low wages. Lyman explains how in India there are a large mass of cutters in India working for low wages, many of which are children. To validate, we see actual footage of children working in sweatshops to carve diamonds.

In 1979, a large supply of diamonds are found in Austrailia. DeBeers wanted control of that too. They bought up large stocks in Austrailia and threatened to increase their diamond prices in country. Eventually DeBeers gains business with Austrailia as well.

The next segment of the episode details the of the Justice Department to bring London based DeBeers to justice. Lyman explains the legal hurdles in doing this.

After this, Lyman explains how heavy-handed tactics by DeBeers and African government taxed people who lived on the land eventually forcing them to work on mines as slaves.

Last segments of the program deal with more of DeBeer’s influences in governments from all countries it associates with.