Bolton Coin STO (BFCL)

Diamonds, Disruption, and Redefinition

When we think of market disruption these days, we tend to think of the digital revolution upending a particular industry’s market. Often, this means technology transforms and/or displaces a current state of affairs in a given market, whether it be a product or a service – CDs replacing records (and are then replaced by streaming music), ride sharing largely displacing taxi cars (and maybe eventually individual car owning entirely), Netflix replacing video rental, Wikipedia replacing encyclopedias, computers displacing typewriters… the list could go on and on.

Three things are worth noting here. All three are worth bearing in mind as we enter the uncharted waters of cryptocurrency.

One, some disruptions are larger than any one market – personal computers disrupted a whole lot more than just the typewriter industry, and much longer ago railways likewise reordered the entire world economy. Cryptocurrency promises to transform nearly every industry because it transforms payment.

Two, market disruption is not always about displacement. Railways were a huge step forward in the globalisation of markets, for example, and were thus more about expansion than displacement.

And three, which is a real doozy because it affects how we understand the mechanics of all economically transformative change: disruption at its heart is something more than technological innovation. More fundamentally, disruption means redefining one’s value proposition, purpose or product. Put more simply, it doesn’t mean playing the game differently so much as it does changing the very rules of the game.

Take the curious case of diamonds. Diamonds are a unique commodity in that they never developed a derivative securities market, in part because they are not like most commodities – diamonds have no standard unit (like gold has an ingot or oil a barrel) but instead derive value because of this elusiveness (no two diamonds are exactly alike).

Which is also why the current threat of market disruption in the diamond industry is so fascinating to behold. What has happened is that technology has found a way to make diamonds from scratch. A process known as chemical vapor deposition uses low pressure in a vacuum filled with gases that react to create layers of carbon that gradually consolidate into a single stone. These are indeed synthetic diamonds, but they are not entirely fake: they have the same chemical composition as mined diamonds.

The biggest producer of diamonds in the world is De Beers, who have monopolised the market since its very inception in the 19th century. Now, after years of questioning synthetic diamonds as something of value, De Beers has launched its own synthetic diamond operation aimed at producing lower-cost diamonds for less high-end uses than wedding rings or fine jewelry (“Live, Laugh, Sparkle,” is the new ad campaign tagline), thus creating a new market while protecting its core business.

This is a beautifully tangled tale that goes back to the rivers of India 4,000 years ago and the magnificent diamond deposits discovered in South Africa in 1868 and includes the history of circumnavigation, diamond-encrusted Hollywood movie stars in during the Silver Screen era of the 1930s and 1940s, a genius ad campaign in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, and today’s booming demand for diamond wedding rings in China.

But underlying the whole epic tale is the simple truth often forgotten, during time of disruption or not: a value proposition is not just based on the inherent value of what is being proposed as valuable. It’s also about defining and then continually redefining that value. That is, it’s about telling an ongoing story. From Apple to Bitcoin to the Grand Pacific Railroad, this is a core truth, and examining the history is thus a master lesson.

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