'Blood Diamond' May Dull Gem's Gleam

leonardo dicaprio, blood diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Djimon Hounsou get caught up in a struggle over a priceless gem in "Blood Diamond." (AP Photo/Warner Bros./Jaap Buitendijk)
AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures

For diamond merchants it's the peak season for sales, CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports. but Hollywood may dull the gleam with the movie "Blood Diamond."

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a smuggler in the seamy world of arms dealing, trading weapons for diamonds during the decade-long civil war in the African nation of Sierra Leone.

"In America it's 'bling bling,' but out here, it's 'bling bang,'" DiCaprio says in the film.

To get the diamonds, rebel fighters terrorized villagers, killing indiscriminately and, in an especially brutal tactic, hacking off limbs.

"Hundreds of people running around with various limbs amputated going about, mothers cradling their newborn children without arms, it was an incredibly horrible, cruel thing to see," says Chris Hondros, a Getty Images photographer.

Hondros and author Greg Campbell traveled to Sierra Leone five years ago to track so-called "blood diamonds" from war-torn Africa to the world's jewelry counters.

"The entire purpose of the war in Sierra Leone was to steal the diamonds," Campbell says. "It was a jewelry heist is simply what it was."

The war and abuses in Sierra Leone ended four years ago, and the diamond industry says diamonds no longer fuel such conflicts. That's because of a new certification system implemented after the war.

Known as the Kimberly Process, it's supposed to guarantee diamonds are not from war zones. But a recent United Nations reports says these so-called "conflict diamonds" are today being smuggled out of the Ivory Coast. Critics charge certification has loopholes for future abuses.

"It's simple to move diamonds from one country to another. And it's just as simple now to mix them in with legitimate diamonds," Campbell says.

Ed Zwick, who directed "Blood Diamond," hopes moviegoers start asking where diamonds come from.

"Ask for ironclad verification that the stone that you buy did not come from a conflict zone," Zwick says.

Diamond dealer Ronnie Mervis says his customers already have questions. "We are more than 99 percent confident" that the diamonds they receive from Africa are clean.

With diamonds on plenty of Christmas lists, Mervis is banking on the adage that even bad publicity can be good for business.