How James Bond made diamonds sexy


Diamond mining in Botswana

by Special Correspondent
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE American marketing journal, Ad Age, judged it the greatest corporate tag of the 20th century. De Beers’ slogan, “A diamond is forever.”

It was dreamed up by a copywriter shortly after World War ll, but didn’t catch on until, in 1956, author and former British spy Ian Fleming used it as the title for his fourth James Bond novel.

At the time, the head of de Beers in London was Sir Percy Sillitoe who had previously been chief of MI5, the agency in charge of Britain’s domestic intelligence (MI6 handles the foreign stuff). Sillitoe had lost the trust of government when, on his watch, three of his officers turned out to be Russian spies and defected to Moscow, led by Kim Philby.

Now at de Beers, Sillitoe gave Fleming access to company reports on stones being smuggled out of South Africa in vast numbers.

As with all the Bond novels, the book was a best seller and de Beers became a household name. In 1971, a film using the same title starred the late Sean Connery as 007.

“Diamonds are forever” remains one of the best-known lines in the business world. But as demand grew both for jewellery and industrial use, it was tempting to find a cheaper source of what is really just carbon, heated and compressed under tons of rock.

How long is forever?
Early attempts to do the same in a laboratory had mixed results. Hard enough to cut glass but with a yellow tinge and not what a bride might want on her finger. However, in recent years it has reached the stage where, to the naked eye, even experts struggle to tell a manufactured stone from the real thing except by the price tag: lab-grown diamonds, known as LGDs, sell for a lot less.

In 2023, de Beers posted a 36% drop in sales on the previous year and the company’s owner, Anglo American, said the brand had lost $1.3bn in value. In the same year, Anglo suffered a 93% drop in profit. The company is diversified but had problems across several divisions aside from de Beers.

The loss of diamond sales has been a blow to Botswana where they account for 80% of the country’s GDP.

In February, Australian mining house BHP made an offer to buy Anglo American but the approach was rebuffed. However, Anglo has since said it will sell both de Beers and its platinum fields in South Africa.

The proposed sale will take well over a year to come about and a buyer will need to conduct the usual process of due diligence, adding a further delay.

In the Financial Mail magazine on 20 June, David Shapiro of Satsfin Wealth said he was “worried about Anglo American”, urging investors to sell their shares in the company.

Ironically, the rise in LGDs and corresponding drop in price for the real thing has made Botswana’s diamonds more affordable while the cost of man-made stones remains the same. The narrowing gap between the two may yet save the trade.

Ian Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964, aged just 56. He wrote 12 Bond novels, a collection of short stories and the children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Like his fictional spy, he smoked and enjoyed martinis, “shaken not stirred”. And he maintained a lifelong fascination for diamonds.

– CAJ News

scroll to top