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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 20 No. 3 (Summer 2006)

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Markets: Continuity and Change in the International Diamond Market

Article Citation

Spar, Debora L. 2006. "Markets: Continuity and Change in the International Diamond Market." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(3): 195-208.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.3.195

Abstract

The international diamond cartel, which presides over the production side of the industry, may be the most successful and longest-lasting cartel in the world. The dominant company in the industry, DeBeers, has been around since 1880 and has been controlled by a single South African family, the Oppenheimers, since 1925. Eight countries produce the bulk of the world's gem diamonds, and most of the producing entities within these countries conform to a set of rules. This conformity is the product of over a century of careful planning and negotiation, in which DeBeers has undertaken largely successful efforts to control the diamond trade and maximize its long-term prospects. The past decade has seen the end of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of communism in Russia, the opening of major mines in Canada, and the emergence of a worldwide movement against so-called "blood" or "conflict" diamonds. While, these developments have pummeled the diamond industry and forced its central players -- most notably DeBeers -- to change the nature of their trade, these changes have not affected the core dynamic of the global diamond market. It remains an industry dominated by a single firm and an industry in which, perhaps uniquely, all of the major players understand the extent to which their long-term livelihood depends on the fate and actions of the others.

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Spar, Debora L.

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