De Beers opens first store in U.S. amid pagentry and protests

The first American De Beers LV store opened on showy Fifth Avenue, New York, on Wednesday night, against a red carpet backdrop and heckling protesters, Reuters reports.

The opening of the company’s flagship store in the United States is seen as a significant step for the world’s largest diamond producer, which has directly returned to the American market after an absence of a half-century.

The South African company has faced antitrust cases in the United States since 1945. Last year the company pleaded guilty in federal court to a decade-old price-fixing charge, paving the way for the 124-year-old company to again compete directly in America instead of using intermediaries.

A total of 30 protesters heckled guests arriving under laser lights made to mimic diamonds, Reuters reports. Members of advocacy group Survival International, who insists the evictions of the Gana and Gwi bushmen by the Botswana government are linked to diamond mining, reportedly shouted “shame on you” and “cultural genocide” across a noisy Fifth Avenue.

Feminist Gloria Steinem joined the picket line, reportedly saying the store opening “was another step in the exploitation of the U.S. market.”

A De Beers statement handed out at the New York store’s opening said it was unfair to target De Beers LV, as it was an “independently managed retail venture” and separate from the diamond mining company, Reuters reports. It added the De Beers Group, which is a shareholder in De Beers LV, had not sought the removal of anyone from the reserve where the bushmen lived.

But for many of the guests and celebrities who attended the opening of the store, where items will cost anywhere from several hundred to millions of dollars, any controversy went unnoticed.

One attendee, actress Lindsay Lohan, gushed over the possibility of wearing one of the famed diamonds, Reutesr reports.

Asked about what she thought of the bushmen controversy, she told Reuters: “I don’t get involved in any drama.”