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Kai Ryssdal: Diamond sellers all over the world will be pleased at the news out of Liberia today. Mines and markets — diamond mines and markets — opened there for business this morning.
Six years ago, the United Nations imposed trade sanctions over former president Charles Taylor’s use of blood diamonds to finance his war in Sierra Leone. Today, diamond demand is at an all-time high. So high that one diamond dealer in New York is running a pretty pointed ad campaign in the New York Times. In all capital letters it reads, “I need your diamonds.”
When Marketplace’s Sean Cole saw that ad, he figured a lot of those diamonds have stories to tell. And he was right.
Sean Cole: If diamonds have a job other than looking nice, it’s to symbolize something — a commitment or just a moment. Which is probably why we’re so superstitious around them. And why they’re so hard to let go of.
Trista Swing: It was a teardrop setting in the center. . .
Trista Swing’s first engagement ring was hand-designed by the guy who gave it to her. They got married in Texas when she was about 20.
Swing: And I think eight months into the marriage, my husband told me he was a homosexual, so . . . and wanted a divorce.
She tried to return the ring, but the store said she could only exchange it for something more expensive. So she kept it — in a green plastic easter egg, for five years.
Swing: I would try it on every now and again, and that’s when I would sort of remember everything that had happened. And I would just look at it and think, “God, that’s an ugly ring.”
She thought about selling it, but she knew she wouldn’t get much money at a pawn shop.
Andrew Fabrikant: Fabrikant. This is Andrew.
And she didn’t know about guys like Andrew Fabrikant, who deals with cases like this all the time.
Fabrikant (on phone): We’ll look forward to meeting you.
Fabrikant: There’s a guy with an engagement ring. You know? And I don’t know what his circumstances are. And it’s not my business to ask, but he’s either trading it up for his wife or trading it in for his next one.
Fabrikant specializes in estate jewelry, buys it and then sells it to dealers and directly to the public. It’s his firm, Fabrikant Fine Diamonds, that put that ad in the Times.
But selling your old jewelry can be like selling your memories. And while Fabrikant empathizes — and hands out tissues now and then — he says diamonds are meant to be enjoyed. And they don’t appreciate in a drawer.
Fabrikant: The emotional side of it is something you have to sort of approach by logic. Logic dictates that an asset not growing should be used.
I asked Fabrikant if every diamond has a story. He said yeah — some happy, like the client who sold him her jewelry, gambled the proceeds and won $150,000 for her kid’s college tuition. And some horrible, like the client who sold her engagement ring so she could pay to fly her husband’s body back home. He died while the two of them were on vacation.
Fabrikant: I held onto the diamond for quite a long time, in case she wanted to buy it back from me. And she just decided in the end not to buy it back and just to let it go, but . . . I was only in the business about three months when that happened, and I still cry I think when I discuss that story.
And then there are the stories that start sad and end happy, like Trista Swing’s story. In short, she moved to Boston, met a guy and eventually went back to the jewelry store with him to trade in the old ring for a new one. His name’s Tim Swing. They just got married.
Tim Swing: I kind of saw it as a 1,500 coupon that I had just won. And so I was pretty thankful that it was stowed away somewhere, ’cause we are poor.
Trista Swing: So this top row facing up is one row of diamonds and then there’s another . . .
The thing I love about this story is that Trista’s old ring changed from a symbol into a commodity, and then she and Tim traded it in for another symbol.
They had the new symbol appraised later on. The jeweler said it was poorly set and overpriced. But they didn’t care.
Tim Swing: I was like, “This is the ring I proposed to you with. If it’s not worth what we paid for it, then that’s not its intrinsic value anymore anyway. Let’s keep it, because it’s our ring together.”
Trista Swing: I wouldn’t consider either one of us like perfectly-cut people, so it’s more fitting for us.
In Boston, I’m Sean Cole for Marketplace.
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