Jewelers Fear Thriller Will Cut Into Diamond Sales

Just in time to threaten the Christmas season for jewelers, Warner Bros. is readying its release of "Blood Diamond," a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly that focuses on the bloody conflicts in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. While the film doesn't open until Dec. 15, the diamond industry has launched a preemptive newspaper educational campaign and a new Web site at

While conflict diamonds have become a hot cause in Hollywood--rapper Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" brought media attention to the subject last year--the controversy also underscores how hard it is to market messages around issues that are morally and politically complex. (A conflict diamond is one mined in a war zone and sold to finance war efforts.)

The diamond industry is hoping viewers will understand that the events portrayed in the movie, directed by Ed Zwick, are in the past. "We don't want people to think that atrocities are still happening, and we want them to understand that diamonds are an important source of income for African countries," says Carson Glover, a spokesman for the World Diamond Council, based in New York. The Kimberley Process, ratified by the United Nations in 2000, "assures that any nation exporting rough diamonds guarantees that they are conflict-free," he says. That process has reduced the number of conflict diamonds from 4 percent of all diamonds to less than 1 percent now, he says.



But once the movie hits, it's likely the diamond industry will have an uphill battle convincing consumers, with their newly raised diamond consciousness, that blood-diamonds are a thing of the past. Warner's online marketing materials for the movie--for example, viewers to Web sites for Amnesty International and Global Witness, which highlight ongoing violations in the diamond industry, as well as shortcomings in the Kimberley Process.

"We don't believe conflict diamonds ever were at 4 percent," says Corinna Gilfillan, a campaigner at Global Witness. "We think it was more like 15 percent. But the point isn't the percentage. Even a very small percentage of conflict diamonds can wreak devastation, as they did in Sierra Leone. Our perspective is that less than 1 percent is still not good enough," she says, "and the industry hasn't done all it can to address the issues." Global Witness estimates that conflict diamonds have resulted in 3.7 million deaths in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Glover declined to say whether there would be more industry ads as Christmas approached, adding that the organization was "taking it day by day."

In 2005, industry sources estimate that diamond jewelry sales totaled $33.7 billion.

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