Do you want to know why most men believe they need to spend 2-3 months salary on an engagement ring and why some women still believe they should hold their would-be husbands to that standard? Well, you can blame De Beers.
Before the late 1930’s relatively few people bought diamond engagement rings. People sometimes gave a plain ring that was worn on the right hand until they got married then it was moved to the left, or they were given nothing more than a promise.
Side note: The reason why the wedding ring is on the left ring finger goes back to the ancient Romans. They believed that a vein in the left ring finger ran directly to the heart. So to signify the romantic link between 2 people the ring was placed on that finger. The vein was called the “vena amoris” aka the vein of love.
In 1938, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd (now De Beers Group of Companies) solicited the help of New York Based Ad company N.W. Ayer to enhance the image of diamonds in the wake of the Great Depression. They came up with a marketing plan that instilled an idea instead of specifically advertising diamonds or the company. It implanted the notion that diamonds are rare (which they aren’t) increasing their value and made them synonymous with love and in turn a measure of a mans love (based on quality and size). They did this by utilizing multiple cultural outlets like putting stories and pictures in select magazines and newspapers; conversations on radio programs with fashion designers that suggest a diamond trend; and they even had school assemblies/classes that spoke about diamonds.
Note: This timing made me realize that there may be a (more like another) historical inconsistency in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Willie Scott loves diamonds but the film takes place 1935 which is before this societally ingrained obsession had taken hold. But diamonds are shiny and people like shiny.
In the late 1940s, they started an ad campaign “A diamond is forever” despite the fact that diamonds can be discolored, chipped, shattered, or incinerated.
This instilled idea that the diamond is an eternal symbol of love translated to when getting engaged, to express that love, a diamond ring is a necessity. This ad campaign was so successful that it changed social norms, expectations, and has been passed on through the last 3 generations (a generation is about 25 years).
Note: Currently a generation is about 25.5 years. This is calculated by devising the mean age of a woman giving child birth. On average women have their first child at age 20 and their last at 31 but of course this may vary. In the past, generations were considered to be closer to 20 years as babies were had younger due to shorter life expectancy.
Have a look at movies, TV shows, social media, or think of when a friend or family member last got engaged, there is always a diamond ring, prominent in images, or someone asking, “Can I see the ring?” It is now a big part of our culture, people scoff and tut when a ring is not present at an engagement or it is deemed inferior (often means too small).
This idea is not just a North American phenomenon, to expand their market they managed to sell this notion to many other countries around the world, and it worked. Turning this already multi-million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar company before 1980.
This is so ingrained that many people, for no particular reason, know the 4 Cs of Diamonds – carat, cut, colour, and clarity. We also know that “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and that special someone is a “Diamond in the rough” (or is that just Aladdin?). We also know to be weary around Ludacris as he warns “Watch out for the medallion my diamonds are reckless / Feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace”.
Note: “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” was a song made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This film, based on a 1949 play of the same name starred Carol Channing belting out the tune. All of this would not have happened if it wasn’t for the 1912 comic novel “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Anita Loos.
Note to the Note: The dance number done in the film for “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” was partially recreated in the Madonna video for “Material Girl“
Due to the success of the campaign, De Beers continues to use the “A Diamond is forever” slogan and people still associate diamonds with an expression of love. Many companies in the jewellery and diamond industry have profited from this notion selling love and happiness in the form of expensive metals and stone to adorn a loved-ones’ body.
So the next time you go out to buy a shiny bauble for your significant other, remember this is just an idea that was perpetuated by a company so they can make their bottom line. Also, shiny baubles are pretty.