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Is a Diamond Really Forever?

Mon, 08/08/2022 - 14:42
The documentary "Nothing Lasts Forever" takes a deep dive into the diamond industry.
Courtesy of Kino Films and Showtime

DeBeers is an international corporation that specializes in the mining, exploitation, selling, and trading of diamonds, but it is familiar to most people as the source of the marketing slogan "A Diamond is Forever." Launched in the late 1940s, that ad campaign was in large measure responsible for the subsequent popularity of the diamond engagement ring.

As suggested by its title, Jason Kohn's new Showtime documentary, "Nothing Lasts Forever," is an intriguing look at the diamond industry from a variety of perspectives, many of which question the rarity and significance of the gemstone.

The film will be shown as part of HamptonsFilm's SummerDocs series on Friday at 7 p.m. at Regal UA East Hampton cinema, followed by a conversation between Mr. Kohn and David Nugent, HamptonsFilm's artistic director. 

Ten years in the making, the project was launched in part by a remarkable coincidence. In 2003, Mr. Kohn read an article in Wired magazine about factory-made diamonds and the threat they posed to a diamond industry dependent upon the perceived value of natural diamonds. Because Mr. Kohn was convinced that "manmade diamonds would extinguish the natural diamonds industry," he felt the topic lacked the conflict that would make for an interesting film.

Five years later, he fell into conversation with a stranger sitting next to him at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. To Mr. Kohn's amazement, that person had worked at one of the two synthetic diamond companies from the Wired article. More surprising, that company had gone out of business.

After that article appeared, the genuine-diamond industry had decided to fight, with a marketing campaign focused on the quality of natural diamonds. "They were very effective from stopping manmade diamonds from getting anywhere inside the diamond market, which is very cloistered," Mr. Kohn explained during a recent conversation.

Over the course of making the movie, which began in 2013, Mr. Kohn met so many figures in various areas of the industry that his understanding of it became "a constant evolution." It began that first year when a Google Alert led him to Dusan Simic, a Serbian gemologist, who insists that there is no difference from a gemological standpoint between natural and synthetic diamonds.

Martin Rapaport disagrees. His company, the Rapaport Group, supports "the development of ethical, transparent, competitive, and efficient diamond and jewelry markets," according to its website. Mr. Rapaport emphasizes that real diamonds have represented love and commitment to generations of women. At one point, he says his company doesn't really sell diamonds, it sells the idea behind the diamonds -- "the diamond dream."

That assertion was seconded, not surprisingly, by Stephen Lussier, a high-level executive at DeBeers, who says a diamond ring is a symbol of a wife's preciousness to her husband. 

Aja Raden, a jeweler, trained scientist, and author of "Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World," offers a fascinating, articulate, and witty counterpoint to Mr. Lussier, insisting that diamonds are not really rare and that the "diamond dream" is so much spin. 

Another voice comes from John Janik, a physicist and gemologist who has pioneered techniques to produce diamonds he claims are indistinguishable from natural ones. Moreover, natural diamonds, he says, are one of the most common gemstones on the planet.

Shot in China, India, Botswana, and across the United States, "Nothing Lasts Forever" is driven in part by the conflict between the competing narratives, but also by the filmmakers' investigation of the history of synthetic diamonds: where they are manufactured, where they are cut and polished, and whether the man-mades have entered the same stream of gemstones as natural ones. 

Indeed, the film breaks the story that mixing is in fact a reality, "but no press outside the diamond industry has ever reported on the mixing scandal," said Mr. Kohn. One article in the diamond press said that 20 percent of diamonds being made into jewelry today are synthetic.

The filmmaker has lived in the world of diamonds for 10 years, but, he said, "This is not actually a movie about diamonds. The core issues for me were always how diamonds related to larger themes of the origins of value, why we value things, where those values come from, and how stories affect these questions."

"Nothing Lasts Forever" is traveling the festival circuit, having played at the Berlin International Film Festival, SXSW in Austin, and BAM Cinema Fest in Brooklyn. While Showtime has not yet announced an air date, Mr. Kohn is hoping for a limited theatrical release prior to its launch on the network.

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