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Claire Baiz: Blood Test

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After watching the film everyone’s so afriad of, Claire Baiz predicts little fallout

(ED NOTE: We sent our correspondent, Great Falls, MT, jeweler Claire Baiz to watch Blood Diamond … not once, but twice. We asked her to write about how the movie made her feel as a viewer and more importantly how she believes it will impact her as a jeweler.) 

DECEMBER 30, 1999
THE DAY BEFORE THE WORLD ENDED

If you were like me, on December 30th, 1999 you were backing up your hard drive.

I was in my jewelry store printing two loose-leaf notebooks full of appraisals, just in case my computer went belly up with Y2K. I figured if the world went to hell in a hand basket, in the new hard-asset economy my customers might want offers on their family jewels. If that was the case, I would be ready to work out the trades, under generator power if necessary. ?Bring it on,? I comforted myself by preparing for the worst. 

My behavior is probably more typical of women and Montanans (and possibly Jews), which is why Jewish cowgirls like me do well in a crisis. I tend to fixate, mentally playing out the worst possible scenario, just because I like to be pleasantly surprised when the reality is bad, but not as awful as I had imagined.  

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Our industry loves a crisis, especially before the holidays. We’ve endured December expos?s on 60 Minutes and
20/20
, the advent of commercial synthetics and fracture filling. Now we have to deal with a brutal portrayal of an issue that we’ve known about and dealt with for half a decade. Will Blood Diamond hurt the diamond trade in the U.S.? If you held Martin Rapaport in a half-nelson he may admit that De Beers’ Supplier of Choice initiative is more of a challenge to diamond dealers than this Hollywood movie ? and the diamond industry did that to itself! 

SUMMER 2006
GETTING PREPARED

I’ve missed two industry trade show presentations on ?blood diamonds.?

Perhaps I don’t want to buy inventory and hear about conflict diamonds in the same afternoon, afraid it might feel like ordering foie gras while lamenting the chained dog outside the restaurant. 

Humor aside, this is a serious issue: As if Africa didn’t have enough problems, it has to squeeze conflict diamonds between drought, AIDS and genocide. Who’d have imagined that my family’s livelihood would be touched by suffering half a world away? 

I’ve asked suppliers all the right questions. I have assurances and some written statements. But I have a degree in history, and I understand paper is thin. As dealer statements renouncing conflict diamonds spit from my fax machine, I sigh and hope they ring true. 

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In my 14 years of business, I’ve had only two customers inquire about conflict diamonds. I was ready for them and I plan to be prepared for Blood Diamond

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2006
DISASTER NARROWLY AVERTED

The phone is ringing when I get home from my shop. It’s my daughter. Oh my God ? Blood Diamond is on Oprah

This is the woman who can single-handedly make or break authors, movies, fashions, actors, even diets. What might she do to the jewelry industry? 

Anticipating bad news, I demonstrate my emotional vulnerability by skipping dinner, balancing the phone on my shoulder and heading straight for ice cream. 

?It wasn’t that bad, Mom,? my daughter Samantha says. Oprah made it clear that less than 1 percent of today’s diamonds are so-called blood diamonds, and she discussed the Kimberley Process in some detail. 
I wonder if Oprah was wearing her gorgeous huge diamond studs on-air today? 

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7
HIGH ANXIETY

Sixty-five years ago today the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow, Hollywood might bomb my holiday diamond sales.  

In the last week there have been more than a hundred postings on the POLYGON network about the movie and the issue of blood diamonds. It’s like getting our teeth cleaned. Even if we don’t think we need it, my instinct says it’s good for us. We’re examining our industry, hearing from jewelers who have been to Africa, calling people to task and questioning our suppliers and ourselves. 

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8
OPENING DAY

No soft drink. No popcorn. No companion, no distraction. Blood Diamond opens across the nation and in Great Falls today. I am in the theater to see the movie … twice

There are only 11 people in the theater for the 1 p.m. matinee as an outline map of Africa appears on screen. Simple sentences flash orange on black to introduce the story: The conflict rages in Sierra Leone in 1994; millions of Africans who have suffered from the rebellions funded in part by the illicit gem trade have in fact, never even seen a diamond. 

The implication in these first moments is that diamonds are the cause of war. My throat is dry. Maybe I should have picked up a Pepsi at the concession stand. 

The beautiful young boy in the simple hut has hope for a better future. His father the fisherman dreams of his son becoming a doctor, but RUF (Revolutionary United Front) rebels predictably and brutally raid their village. Father is taken off as slave labor for primitive alluvial mining, and soon afterward the son is abducted into the infantry to serve the RUF.  

I am grateful this happens early in the movie. I didn’t want to dread these moments for 40 minutes, better to get it over with and deal with what’s next. 

Director Edward Zwick instantly gives us the impression that random acts of brutality are served with supper in Sierra Leone. 

The most memorable line in the movie, ?Long sleeve or short sleeve?? will never sound the same to me.  

Flash from muddy squalor to a G8 meeting where an American diplomat is pointing out that illicit diamonds are funding bloody civil war. It’s important to prohibit illegal rough, he says, before it merges invisibly with legitimate goods. ?Legitimate diamond mining supports burgeoning African economies.? In 1999, it’s stated that 15 percent of all diamonds are illegally entering the pipeline. 

The bland diplomat who bookends the movie brings up good points, even if it’s more of an Inconvenient Truth moment spliced into the drama. It’s made clear that any substance of value means strife and violence in Africa: ivory, rubber, gold, diamonds. And as two-thirds of the world’s market for diamonds, the U.S. needs to help exclude conflict diamonds from the global marketplace.  

Watching Blood Diamond is like watching a gruesome Grand Prix. Diamonds are not the cause of conflict in this movie ? they are the high-performance vehicles that allow vicious rebels to conscript and dismember innocent victims, many of them children. Corrupt governments in turn attempt to regain control by funding armies bolstered by a big corrupt diamond distributor called Van De Kamp. Jockeying for position, funded in part by ?blood diamonds,? the deadly race seems endless. 

I’m beginning to see why the Diamond Promotion Service fought so long and hard in advance to mitigate the effects of this movie. If Blood Diamond has a single villain, it’s the fictional Van De Kamp Company, which puts profits above all else. Its executives publicly oppose conflict diamonds, yet turn a blind eye to atrocities and privately support whatever faction suits their needs. Ouch. 

Diamonds are not rare, the movie reminds us, but to keep prices up, supply is controlled ? and stored in a huge underground vault in London. 

The plot itself is convincing. The violence is raw but not patronizing. Leonardo DiCaprio does a fine job as Danny Archer, who believes the purpose of escaping a brutal childhood is not to save others from your fate, but instead to profit from the experience by trading in misery as an adult. Maddy Bowen, the feline-eyed magazine reporter, well-played by Jennifer Connelly, is looking for names, dates, and a Pulitzer Prize, and is supposed to be attracted to Archer, though I couldn’t see much chemistry in the clich? dialogue. 

The soul of the movie is Solomon Vendy, portrayed by Dijmon Hounsou, the fisherman whose family is torn apart by a war and a diamond. If this character can be called primitive, it is only because he is closer to the source. Vendy, articulate in silence, sparse of speech, is a one-man Greek chorus, reminding the audience what we will do for those we love.  

Everyone’s worst enemy is the white Colonel Coetzee, played by Arnold Vosloo, who pulls his soldiers’ triggers in any direction for a hefty percentage of the spoils. Archer owes this colonel money for a diamond deal gone bad: In return the colonel will take the mythic blood diamond that he believes Vendy has hidden. 

This movie is primarily about what happens when we make decisions based on greed, opportunism and hunger for power. It’s about dehumanizing relationships that were once precious to us: family, country and tribe. It’s about seeing people as pawns. It’s about what happens when we give away guns ? ultimately they are aimed at us. 

Diamonds are the precious reality and the precious symbol here. Blood Diamond is a Hollywood version of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl for the 21st century, with a real precious gem as the metaphor in both works. 

With the increasing popularity of natural fancy color diamonds, the pursuit of the pink diamond in Blood Diamond may have an unintended effect, actually increasing the mystique. After all, fancy color diamonds are the world’s most concentrated form of wealth, and diamonds themselves are a cash equivalent. Like I tell my customers, ?When a despot is chasing you, you can’t carry your hut on your back. If you have a diamond you can at least grab it and run like crazy.? In war-torn Sierra Leone in 1999, where stock certificates might have been used to light fires, having a diamond may have killed you, or it may have set you free. 

The film ends with a coda and a song. The coda flashes: ?There are still over 200,000 child soldiers in Africa … Sierra Leone is conflict free.? The rap tune ?Diamonds From Sierra Leone? by Kanye West booms over the credits as we leave the theater. Resist the urge to leave early. Listen. 

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9
THE DAY AFTER

The true test of a movie is sleeping on it. Perhaps it’s because I prepared so much for it, or that I think DPS overreacted on its own behalf, that Blood Diamond feels like a small blip on Santa’s radar this Christmas.  

Perhaps it’s because I sat through two back-to-back premiere showings in my town of 55,000 people and only 27 people altogether watched it with me.  

Regardless of the reasons, industry introspection is a good thing. I’m glad I pressured my suppliers into giving me their documentation for conflict-free sources. I’m glad I can answer questions customers might ask, and to offer options to buyers. I appreciate the postings on POLYGON, the DPS e-mails and the firsthand accounts. I know our industry is trying, and I know it’s not perfect.  

As a jeweler, I’m dusting off my Y2K attitude and taking stock of my assets. First, my active trade in estate and antique jewelry means that if bad stuff happened when these gems were mined and mounted, at least there is no one alive today to complain. Second, I have a relationship with Gemesis, the folks who synthesize diamonds in Florida. Finally, I am a mere 90-minute drive from Canada, which has been ?clean diamonds? for half a decade. 

My advice to my fellow retailers? Go see the movie. Print out the downloadable DPS consumer brochure e-mailed to retailers in early December. Read it, comply with it, and keep it handy. 

BREAKOUT

MOVIE’S MESSAGE

Claire’s conclusions: 
Diamonds aren’t the villains, although a certain large distributor doesn’t come off so well. 

The movie is primarily about what happens when people make decisions based on greed and hunger for power. 

Listen to what the film has to say – there are messengers for jewelers. 

Keep your DPS brochures close at hand.

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