Author John F. Dobbyn Reveals the Story Behind The Diamond Myth

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Award Winning Author John F. Dobbyn reveals the Story Behind The Diamond Myth

Deadly Diamonds

“…fast-paced drama, which stretches from Boston’s North End and South End to Ireland and to Sierra Leone...”

—Publishers Weekly

Diamonds are pure magic – no doubt about it. In the fairytale world we conjure, we live by the myth that these rare gems are essential to the air of romance we breathe when we propose or accept an eternity of love. After all, “diamonds are forever”.

     Unfortunately, every grain of the previous paragraph is a lie – sold and stoked by one of the greatest con artists in history. I entered the mythical world of diamonds to research the novel, Deadly Diamonds, believing every last drop of it. I came out of it stunned by the inhumanity of a greed-driven business that is parallel to none outside of hard-core organized crime.

     To begin with the most fundamental deception of all – diamonds are not rare gems. After millions of years of formation under intense heat and pressure, one hundred and fifty miles beneath the earth’s surface, rough diamonds in great numbers have been blasted in volcanic pipes through the earth’s crust and spewed out on, or just under, the earth’s surface. They lay there like Easter eggs, ready to be discovered.

     Enter Cecil Rhodes, the genius who saw, back in 1888 when the first great diamond mines of western Africa were opened, that if he could buy or otherwise acquire control of the diamond-rich areas, he could secretly horde a multitude of these rough gems. Then, by releasing them into the stream of commerce in a dribble, he could create the universal illusion that diamonds are one of the rarest gems on earth– well worth the ballooning retail price of thousands of dollars per carat (one fifth of a gram.)

     And he did. The De Beers company was born, and we swallowed the lie. The result is that the retail price has been riding the lie to more astronomical levels annually, and we pay it. But that is just pedestrian fraud on the public. To make profits that would truly feed its appetite, the company had to cut its costs to the bone. And again, it did.

     Many diamonds over time have sunk of their own weight to levels fifty or sixty feet below the surface. These have to be mined, much like mining for coal. The problem is that they are imbedded in Kimberlite. And Kimberlite frequently contains what? Asbestos. It has been reported by miners that drilling fills the air in the mines with asbestos fibers so thick that at times they can hardly see their hands.

     But is that a danger to the miners? It would seem not, since the company has proclaimed the good news that diamond mining is “one of the safest [industries] in terms of occupational disease rates”. “Lung diseases [are] very rare.” And the best news of all is, as De Beers is reported to have said, that “tuberculosis . . . is not a dust-associated disease in the diamond mining industry”.

     On the other hand, one of South Africa’s top experts on occupational health tested a sampling of two hundred retired miners from the company’s Premier Mine. Of the two hundred, how many do you suppose were suffering from serious cases of asbestosis, the result of having their lungs sliced by inhaling the equivalent of millions of tiny razor blades? Every single one of them. All two hundred. And asbestosis is a precursor to tuberculosis infection of the weakened lungs, which in their case most generally means death. As this expert stated, most miners with tuberculosis only get diagnosed within a few months of death, and therefore get no treatment for the disease.

     And the prevention of all of that carnage would have been as simple and cheap as spraying water to suppress the dust. In fact, there has been a law against dry mining in South Africa. It’s a good law, but this company got an exemption from the requirement, in part by the claim that diamond mining is safe. The unfortunate fact is that while the spraying of dust-suppressing water might have saved the lives of the mostly black miners, it would have added to the company’s cost of mining, which has been reported to be in the area of forty cents per carat of rough diamond.

        The next stage in production, the cutting factories, mostly in India, in which rough diamonds are ground on diamond wheels into the familiar cone shape with flat facets on top to capture, focus, and reflect light as if it is coming from within, presents a similar story for the workers, except for the fact that diamond dust is far sharper and harder than asbestos dust. The other difference is that small hands are required to shape small diamonds (a carat or less). Small hands can be found in children down to the age of eight. Reportedly, that adds another twenty to forty cents per carat to the cost.

     I have scarcely scratched the surface, and that is the so-called “legitimate” origin of gem diamonds. Consider what are now called “blood” or “conflict” diamonds that have been flowing into the stream of commercial gem diamonds since at least the early nineties. In Sierra Leone, for example, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), after being trained in the art of inhumanity in Liberia, has used terroristic methods against the peaceful villagers that I will not begin to describe to spare you the nightmares my research gave me. In brief, children as young as eight years old were captured, filled with drugs, and made to commit murders with AK-47s, sometimes of their own family. Why? To forge a juvenile army, driven beyond conscience by drugs, and armed to the teeth with automatic weaponry, to seize control of the Sierra Leone diamond pits. The stolen diamonds were smuggled across the easy border of Liberia to be sold for more drugs and weapons. And the beat went on.

        The RUF declared a truce in 2002, but has the capture and smuggling of diamonds ceased? Nobody so claims. The profits are too great at every level of the commerce.

        So when you and I buy a sparkling, pristine diamond to adorn the wrist or neck of the one we love, and we pay a price that is as mythical as the “diamonds are forever” mystique DeBeers has created, unfortunately the luster of the gem would be dimmed by the blooded reality behind the slogan - if we only knew.

            Boston was John F. Dobbyn’s home for the first thirty years of his life. He graduated from Boston Latin School and went on to Harvard College for a degree in Classics and Linguistics. For the next three years, he was a lieutenant in the United States Air Force as a director of fighter aircraft. After graduation from Boston College Law School, Dobbyn was law clerk to a federal district court judge before joining a Boston trial law firm. He later returned to Harvard Law School for a Master of Laws degree before becoming a professor of law at Villanova Law School, where he teaches Criminal and Corporate Law.

         Over the past thirty years, Dobbyn has had twenty-one short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and another six in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He is the author of Neon Dragon, Frame-Up, Black Diamond, and now Deadly Diamonds: all legal thrillers featuring Michael Knight and Lex Devlin. Dobbyn resides in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with his wife Lois.

Deadly Diamonds releases September 3, and will be available worldwide, through all better booksellers. ISBN: 978-1-60809-092-1, Thriller, 304 Pages, Hardcover, List Price $26.95. Visit http://www.oceanviewpub.com for additional information. Author website: http://www.johndobbyn.com/

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