From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine.
“A diamond is forever.” Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagination as symbols of royalty, stars, and eternal love? But who gave us this catchphrase? Where do these gemstones and their colorful legacies originate? How did they become our culture’s symbol of engagement and marriage? Why have they retained their coveted status throughout the centuries?
Rachelle Bergstein’s cultural biography of the diamond illuminates the enticing, often surprising story of our society’s enduring obsession with the hardest gemstone—and the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure its continued allure. From the South African mines where most diamonds have been sourced since the late 1890s to the companies who have fought to monopolize them; from the stars who have dazzled in them to the people behind the scenes who have carefully crafted our understanding of their value—Brilliance and Fire offers a glittering history of the world’s most coveted gemstone and its greatest champions and most colorful enthusiasts.
Brilliance and Fire is illustrated with 16 pages of color photographs.
Bergstein (Women from the Ankle Down) explores the allure of the diamond business and the nefarious rise of the De Beers corporate empire. This captivating journey through recent history features intriguing characters such as Elizabeth Taylor, whose legendary extravagance is epitomized by the purchase of a 69-carat diamond in 1966; Helen Ver Standig, deemed the queen of imitation diamonds; and designer Jacob Arabo, who tapped new markets by transforming the diamond into a hip-hop social status symbol. The De Beers story begins with the shrewdly ruthless machinations of Cecil Rhodes, and continues through the wholesale invention of the modern engagement ring by the brilliant women of N.W. Ayer advertising. Bergstein outlines the thoroughness of the ad campaign Ayer employed a "resident lecturer" for a high-school circuit tour to indoctrinate teenagers and the establishment of the two months' salary guideline for the cost of an engagement ring. In addition to the De Beers story, she narrates the rise of slightly less corrupt industry notables such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Harry Winston. Bergstein's account weaves disparate elements, including celebrity gossip, South African apartheid, and global economics, into a highly entertaining product, and her criticism of De Beers is significant, balanced, and diligently researched.