We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Clarity, Cut, and Culture

The Many Meanings of Diamonds

Susan Falls

Publication Year: 2014

Images of diamonds appear everywhere in American culture. And everyone who has a diamond has a story to tell about it. Our stories about diamonds not only reveal what we do with these tiny stones, but also suggest how we create value, meaning, and identity through our interactions with material culture in general.

Things become meaningful through our interactions with them, but how do people go about making meaning? What can we learn from an ethnography about the production of identity, creation of kinship, and use of diamonds in understanding selves and social relationships? By what means do people positioned within a globalized political-economy and a compelling universe of advertising interact locally with these tiny polished rocks?

This book draws on 12 months of fieldwork with diamond consumers in New York City as well as an analysis of the iconic De Beers campaign that promised romance, status, and glamour to anyone who bought a diamond to show that this thematic pool is just one resource among many that diamond owners draw upon to engage with their own stones. The volume highlights the important roles that memory, context, and circumstance also play in shaping how people interpret and then use objects in making personal worlds. It shows that besides operating as subjects in an ad-burdened universe, consumers are highly creative, idiosyncratic, and theatrical agents.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (195.1 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (167.1 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.1 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more

Preface: The Emptiness of Diamond

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.7 KB)
pp. xi-xvi

My grandmother, whom we called “Nonni,” used to wear a ring adorned with a big, winking diamond. I liked to touch that gemstone, given to her by my granddad after they were married in the 1920s; I remember being fascinated by its rainbow lights. She always called it a “friendship ring,” to distinguish it from her engagement ring, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (79.7 KB)
pp. xvii-xx

This has been a long project in the making and would never have been completed without a great deal of generosity, guidance, and help from many people. First of all, I would like to thank those who shared with me their diamond stories, both during the period of intensive fieldwork and ever since. ...

read more

Introduction: Little Rocks

pdf iconDownload PDF (540.4 KB)
pp. 1-26

In one sense, diamonds are just little rocks. But they are extraordinary rocks, jam-packed with value and significance. This book explores what diamonds mean, how those meanings come about, and what our interactions with these stones can tell us about ourselves and our relationships with material culture, especially mass-marketed, mass-produced, and mass-consumed commodities. ...

read more

1. From Rock to Gem

pdf iconDownload PDF (489.8 KB)
pp. 27-56

Once they are cut and polished, diamonds are quite valuable—especially considering how small they are. But how do we get from “just a rock” to “such a gem”? Where does a diamond’s value come from? How is its value defined, produced, and recognized? What is “value” anyway? ...

read more

2. Valuing Diamonds

pdf iconDownload PDF (329.6 KB)
pp. 57-76

How are differences in price orchestrated and maintained when, to look at them, most diamonds look virtually identical? What’s the difference between an investment-grade stone and “junk”? The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) creates meaningful discriminations through a highly contrived grading system that is then mapped onto a grading sheet called a “certificate.” ...

read more

3. A Diamond Is Forever

pdf iconDownload PDF (167.4 KB)
pp. 77-104

As ever more diamonds have been mined over the last seventy-five years, the industry has needed to develop a market willing to absorb new stocks (while making sure that there was little or no resale value). To achieve this, De Beers has spent millions of dollars each year on advertising through its marketing arm, the London-based Diamond Trading Company (DTC), ...

read more

4. Diamonds and Emotions

pdf iconDownload PDF (147.5 KB)
pp. 105-128

I met Corinne, an educational psychologist in her early thirties, through a mutual friend. When she sat down for our interview she immediately said, “Oh, diamonds, humph. I think diamonds are strange.” When asked to elaborate, she began talking about her husband, Brent, and her family in relation to diamonds. ...

read more

5. Diamonds and Bling

pdf iconDownload PDF (291.5 KB)
pp. 129-157

This is a chapter about ostranenie (from the Russian остранение), or defamiliarization. Normally a poetic device associated with literature that forces us to see everyday, ordinary things from a new perspective, ostranenie makes them seem unfamiliar or strange, thus reframing our experience of them. ...

read more

6. Diamonds and Performance

pdf iconDownload PDF (136.4 KB)
pp. 158-178

Carla and Gene, successful thirty-somethings, live uptown. Carla writes children’s books. Gene is a novelist. Carla and I scheduled a meeting to talk in a bar in downtown Manhattan. She arrived wearing a suit and lugging a briefcase overflowing with papers. After some small talk, Carla told me that when she and Gene were first married, ...

read more

Conclusion: The Fullness of Diamonds

pdf iconDownload PDF (149.2 KB)
pp. 179-190

When I started doing research for this project, I was surprised by the variety of ideas, images, and metaphors in consumers’ stories that diverged from the ad-based associations with class and romance that I had expected. Going far beyond those symbolic associations, people treat diamonds as if they have personalities, ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (103.9 KB)
pp. 191-198


pdf iconDownload PDF (146.2 KB)
pp. 199-210


pdf iconDownload PDF (340.0 KB)
pp. 211-216

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (42.8 KB)
pp. 217

Susan Falls teaches anthropology at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

E-ISBN-13: 9781479877430
E-ISBN-10: 1479877433
Print-ISBN-13: 9781479810666
Print-ISBN-10: 1479810665

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014