The diamond necklace ultimately delineates an ugly truth – specifically, a story of white supremacy and colonialism.
Recently, Tiffany & Co. revealed its latest campaign, starring Beyoncé and Jay-Z, along with the infamous 128.54-carat yellow Tiffany diamond and the rarely seen Jean-Michel Basquiat painting called Equals Pi. In the ad Beyoncé wore a figure-hugging black dress with sheer black gloves, and Audrey Hepburn inspired hair.
This campaign received a lot of praise from fans, seeing as it is the first time Beyoncé and Jay-Z appeared together in an advertising campaign. However, many have taken to social media to criticise the singer for wearing the famous signature yellow Tiffany Diamond.
So, why is there controversy?
This campaign is controversial because of the origins of the diamond. The famous Tiffany diamond was discovered in the Kimberley diamond mines of South Africa in 1877, which was under British colonial rule.
The black miners who operated in these mines, worked in incredibly bad and dangerous conditions, with very little pay. When the diamonds were discovered, they were classed as ‘blood diamonds’.
The UN defines this term as a gem that is mined in a war zone and utilised by militias and warlords to finance their operations.
Whilst the Tiffany diamond might not technically be a blood diamond according to the UN’s definition, Karen Attiah (Washington Post opinion columnist) argues this definition needs to be expanded.
Essentially, the older the diamond, the more likely it has contributed to the bloody and ruthless fighting of the continent’s resources. As Attiah writes, “South Africa’s conflict-ridden mining industry paved the way for apartheid.”
Tiffany & Co.’s website states that all of its diamonds are “conflict-free”. They state that they have “rigorous steps” to ensure that conflict diamonds do not enter its inventory.
Beyoncé and the brand notes:
“As global leaders in sustainable luxury, Tiffany & Co. is committed to sourcing natural and precious materials in an ethical and sustainable manner.
We have a zero-tolerance policy towards conflict diamonds, and source our diamonds only from known sources and countries that are participants in the Kimberley Process.”
Tiffany & Co.’s “Kimberley Process”, is a certification scheme that was established by the UN. This scheme aims to prevent blood diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market.
This scheme was established in 2003, more than 120 years after the Tiffany diamond was bought by the founder of Tiffany & Co.’s – Charles Lewis Tiffany – in 1878. Tiffany purchased the diamond in 1878 for $18,000 and it’s estimated worth today is $30 million.
Moreover, Africa is the world’s top producer of diamonds, as its industry was worth around $80 billion in 2015. Whilst there’s been a big effort to clean up the gemstone mining pipeline, Human Rights Watch commented in 2018 that “the trade in diamonds still gives rise to serious human rights violations”
It is difficult to believe that Beyoncé was utterly unaware of this rather ugly historical context. Beyoncé’s reps have addressed the recent criticism that she has received with the following statement:
“Beyoncé is aware of the criticism and is disappointed and angry that she wasn’t made aware of the questions about its history. She thought that every final detail had been vetted, but now she realizes that the diamond itself was overlooked.”
Furthermore, Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, defended her daughter with the following statement:
“How many of you socially conscious activists own diamonds? I thought so! Well, guess what did you go to try to check to see where the diamond came from?
Probably not…So when you guys get engaged you won’t have a diamond, you gonna put on a sterling silver band, and you better check out where it came from and the origin of where [it] came from”.
However, Tina Knowles’ statement doesn’t address the point. This is a history that the Carters should have known about – especially given that it’s common knowledge. Beyoncé actively and consistently addresses race issues and both Beyoncé and Jay-Z have spoken out about the exploitations of Africans.
One Twitter user stated:
“this is not just ‘a necklace’ it’s a blood diamond that was mined off the blood of south Africans, if they didn’t meet their quota their hands and feet were mutilated or were just killed”
At a press release, Tiffany & Co. says that the partnership with Beyoncé and Jay-Z:
“reflects [its] continued support of underrepresented communities” and has pledged $2 million in scholarships and internship programs for Black colleges and universities.
Many have taken to Twitter to express their opinions:
One person noted:
“Lady Gaga wore that diamond necklace and it was all love but as soon as it lands on Beyoncé’s neck y’all suddenly remember where it’s from and how it’s a blood diamond”.
Another user commented:
“Beyoncé’s doing Tiffany’s campaign wearing a blood diamond doesn’t sit well for her brand ESPECIALLY given her African influenced work in the past few years”
One user tweeted:
“Okay so we can drag Tiffany for owning a blood diamond but I just want to say that y´all only now know it’s a blood diamond when it’s Beyoncé wearing it and not when Audrey wrote it or lady gaga. I digress…”
But, it leaves us to wonder – what exactly are Tiffany and the Carters attempting to sell? Is it aspiration?
Are they trying to imply that everyone – no matter our colour or background – aspires to look like Audrey Hepburn from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and wear white colonial diamonds, no matter where they came from or what they represent?
Do they want us to ignore the history of colonialism and racism?