Anthropology professor Susan Falls, author of Clarity, Cut, and Culture: The Many Meanings of Diamonds (NYU Press), talks with JCK about her research into our culture’s view of the gemstone.
JCK: Did anything surprise you in your research?
Susan Falls: There was a lot of variety in terms of what people thought about diamonds. I thought the marketing would mirror the way people talked about them. But once people had them in their hands and on their bodies, they were creative in how they talked about them. A lot of people told me they felt that diamonds would absorb the characteristics of the person who wore them. That is why they didn’t want to inherit the diamond of someone they didn’t like; or if it was someone they liked, they felt the diamonds would bring those qualities to them.
JCK: Some people in the industry fear that the younger generation does not have the interest in diamonds that prior generations had.
SF: There was a point in time when I felt like my students were rejecting them out of hand, about when the Leonardo DiCaprio movie [Blood Diamond] came out. Now that issue is dying down. The diamond industry has done a really good job responding to it. My students who are in their teens or 20s have no qualms and fully expect to wear a diamond ring. I think the changing ideas about marriage and the rituals around marriage are more of a challenge for the industry. The cultural side of things is changing right now, and people are looking at what constitutes an appropriate engagement ritual.
JCK: Any thoughts on how the industry should talk about diamonds?
SF: People imbue diamonds with all sorts of characteristics. They become these magical talismans. I don’t think people are aware of the special characteristics of diamonds. When I talk to people about how old they are or that they might have come from the seeds of meteorites or how they came out of the ground and the geological circumstances involved, they didn’t know any of this and are really interested.