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Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds
     

Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds

by Rachelle Bergstein
 

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From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine.

“A diamond is forever.” Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination

Overview

From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine.

“A diamond is forever.” Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagination as symbols of royalty, stars, and eternal love? But who gave us this catchphrase? Where do these gemstones and their colorful legacies originate? How did they become our culture’s symbol of engagement and marriage? Why have they retained their coveted status throughout the centuries?

Rachelle Bergstein’s cultural biography of the diamond illuminates the enticing, often surprising story of our society’s enduring obsession with the hardest gemstone—and the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure its continued allure. From the South African mines where most diamonds have been sourced since the late 1890s to the companies who have fought to monopolize them; from the stars who have dazzled in them to the people behind the scenes who have carefully crafted our understanding of their value—Brilliance and Fire offers a glittering history of the world’s most coveted gemstone and its greatest champions and most colorful enthusiasts.

Brilliance and Fire is illustrated with 16 pages of color photographs.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/25/2016
Bergstein (Women from the Ankle Down) explores the allure of the diamond business and the nefarious rise of the De Beers corporate empire. This captivating journey through recent history features intriguing characters such as Elizabeth Taylor, whose legendary extravagance is epitomized by the purchase of a 69-carat diamond in 1966; Helen Ver Standig, deemed the queen of imitation diamonds; and designer Jacob Arabo, who tapped new markets by transforming the diamond into a hip-hop social status symbol. The De Beers story begins with the shrewdly ruthless machinations of Cecil Rhodes, and continues through the wholesale invention of the modern engagement ring by the brilliant women of N.W. Ayer advertising. Bergstein outlines the thoroughness of the ad campaign—Ayer employed a “resident lecturer” for a high-school circuit tour to indoctrinate teenagers—and the establishment of the two months’ salary guideline for the cost of an engagement ring. In addition to the De Beers story, she narrates the rise of slightly less corrupt industry notables such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Harry Winston. Bergstein’s account weaves disparate elements, including celebrity gossip, South African apartheid, and global economics, into a highly entertaining product, and her criticism of De Beers is significant, balanced, and diligently researched. (June)
starred review Booklist
“Engrossing and delightful... Bergstein’s purview is so broad and her writing so accessible that her compelling exploration of fashion, greed, and the dawn of American consumerism should find a broad readership.”
New York Journal of Books
“As prismatic as a brilliant cut diamond…. This exhaustively and comprehensively researched book becomes more like a story rather than a lesson in the history of diamonds.”
Sacramento Bee
“A look at how the world became transfixed with a rock whose queenly status is largely a result of monopoly and marketing. The diamond industry probably doesn’t want you to know this, but the Sears & Roebuck catalog of 1894 included diamond rings priced from $4.50 to $121.50.”
From the Publisher
"Bergstein's account weaves disparate elements, including celebrity gossip, South African apartheid, and global economics, into a highly entertaining product." ---Publishers Weekly
The Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Bergstein…has a great ear for an anecdote and “Brilliance and Fire,” her cultural biography of diamonds, has an exotic cast of inspired entrepreneurs, brazen chancers and misguided millionairesses…exhilarating reading…Ms. Bergstein enjoyably captures the daring ”
Rapaport
“The love affair between Americans and diamonds has been going on for centuries…. From the Hope diamond to blood diamonds…apartheid to beneficiation…Harry Winston to Hip Hop bling, Brilliance and Fire takes a comprehensive look at the highs and lows of the diamond industry.”
New York Times on Women from the Ankle Down
“A fleet-footed social history.”
USA Today on Women from the Ankle Down
“A lively look at the history of stilettos, sneakers and sundry other leather- and rubber-soled objects of swoon.”
Mireille Guiliano
“If style defines the woman, and shoes a woman’s style, then ooh la la, here’s the definitive history and guide—everything from Chinese bound feet to Ferragamo, from Hollywood favorites to running up one’s credit card on the sine qua non of fashion and inventiveness of the people behind Tiffany, Cartier, Bulgari and others as they made a very common gemstone into the most coveted rock in the world…Ms. Bergstein’s cheerful, chatty approach is refreshing..”
Sam Wasson
“Across oceans and centuries, citizens and kings, the diamond has reigned as the lion of jewels. The reasons why, and how, sparkle—with intimate, historical, authoritative detail—all through Bergstein’s sweeping tale of the destructive and restorative powers of beauty, and our love affair, even obsession, with this enigmatic rock.”
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As featured in:Harper’s BazaarWall Street Journal The KnotNew York Post
Library Journal
04/01/2016
Bergstein (Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us) chronicles America's love affair with diamonds in order to understand the cultural fascination with these specific gemstones. The story begins in the Gilded Age, explaining how the diamond industry changed once plentiful jewels were discovered in South Africa. Profiled are famous people connected to the business, including mining magnate Cecil Rhodes and jeweler Harry Winston, along with accounts of notable stones and other acclaimed jewelers. Winding throughout the narrative are the continued machinations of the famed diamond syndicate De Beers, which has used its considerable power to control the diamond market. In fact, Bergstein shows that De Beers has applied its advertising prowess to shape American taste and purchasing habits, including the establishment of the diamond engagement ring tradition. The symbiotic relationship among De Beers, jewelers, and celebrities is featured prominently. Later chapters address conflict diamonds as well as synthetic and imitation gems. VERDICT A captivating look into the world of diamonds that will be of interest to all readers.—Rebekah Kati, Durham, NC
Kirkus Reviews
2016-03-30
Bergstein (Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, 2012) provides a history of diamond mining and marketing that reveals the deadly world behind this magical stone.Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) must get the credit and blame for cornering the modern-day market when diamonds were discovered in South Africa. After absorbing the Kimberley Mine, Rhodes dominated every aspect of the diamond industry, from mining to distribution to marketing. He bought up and bought out others, and when diamonds were found in Tanzania, Botswana, Lesotho and off the coast of Namibia, he controlled them, as well. His business plan was to control output and stockpile stones to ensure the rarity of the gems and raise prices. He had a complete monopoly by 1888, and his company became De Beers. Rhodes was the prime minister of the Cape Colony, founder of Rhodesia, and the author of the injustices of apartheid. In addition to this history, Bergstein has great fun exploring the customers for these diamonds, whether they were royalty, Hollywood stars, or rappers. Probably the most interesting part of the book deals with the jewelers and the crafters who knew their customers and invented new ways to adorn them. The great designers—Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston, and Bulgari—often took chances, and they paid off. De Beers' best move came in 1938 when they hired N.W. Ayer & Son to advertise their product: the company came up with the idea of diamond engagement rings and the slogan "a diamond is forever." De Beers couldn't control the market forever, however, and soon the Japanese, the Australians, and the Canadians were nibbling away. Competition, the advent of synthetic and imitation diamonds, and the conflict (or blood) diamond crisis all play a part in this fascinating story, well told by the author. Bergstein's book is an informative, well-written, and entertaining window onto another way of life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062323798
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/07/2016
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
699,772
File size:
8 MB

Meet the Author

Rachelle Bergstein, the author of Women from the Ankle Down, works at a literary agency in New York. She lives with her husband and their son in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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