Shine on: They have cachet, but you can't eat diamonds.
A daring thief who posed as a potential homebuyer, kept his sunglasses on at all times and “sounded like Borat”, stole jewellery including a diamond Rolex watch and diamond earrings from the home of Formula One heir Petra Ecclestone.
The cash value of the heist is reported to be $1 million.
With the exception of the Rolex, which at least tells the time, the other items – the diamonds – are valued at $1 million only because we say so.
Worthy: A nice car – now we're getting somewhere, Petra Ecclestone. Photo: AFP
They perform no useful function – whatsoever and are intrinsically worth nothing.
They're just bright, shiny, little sparkly things that belie the claimed sophistication of the modern woman, who, despite her cleverness and accomplishments, despite having more money and power than at any time in history, can still be induced to ooh and aah (and other things besides) over bits of compressed carbon.
Diamonds are impressive only if we all agree they're worth money – preferably a lot of money.
Even the Rolex probably doesn't keep time any better than a Casio Ladies Poptone, available online for $16.70.
Rolexes are mainly bought by men because you can't drive a Porsche in to a bar.
On that theme, P. J. O'Rourke once observed that there were a number of mechanical devices that increased sexual desire in the human female, and chief among these was the Mercedes SL.
These fine little machines have practical and aesthetic value.
They transport occupants from one place to another in comfort and safety.
They let the sunshine in with the roof down and keep the rain off with it up.
They let friends, enemies, other road users and everyone else know that you're probably rich, or at least smart enough or desired enough, to have come by one these sought-after creations while most of the rest of us haven't and probably won't.
You can't eat them.
They don't keep the rain off.
They won't take you from point A to point B even as well as a council bus.
Just a clarification here: when I used to hang around with the ne'er-do-wells many years ago, I couldn't help but notice one of the local gangsters had a ring on his third finger which was actually a small tray of diamonds covering the length and breadth of the first joint.
It was his portable, private, post-apocalypse bank.
Each little diamond could be prised out as needed and used to bribe, purchase or put to whatever use cash would be in a more stable environment.
The Yap Islanders measure wealth with giant carved stones.
They're too big to carry around so they stay in one place.
Not necessarily the place of the person they belong to.
They can be put permanently on display in public because they're too much trouble to move easily.
It's enough that everyone on the island knows who the stone belongs to.
Rather like the woman who is obliged to leave her real diamond in the safe most of the time because of the cost of insurance and has to make do with wearing a copy.
Presumably it's enough that we know she really does own the real one.
But it has to be real.
A cubic zirconia, no matter how well cut and mounted, doesn't even come close to conveying the same cachet.
So: diamonds, like large carved rocks, are symbols of wealth as long as we all agree.
From that point on, it's really only their portability that makes them a more practical proposition – certainly for the man who wants to impress the ladies or who needs to make a run for the border.
Apart from that, you might as well wear them on the soles of your shoes, as portrayed in Paul Simon's whimsical song.
As least they're hard-wearing – guaranteed to last longer than the red on your Louboutins.