The sparkly diamond ring that ends up on every newly engaged woman’s finger is a result of one company’s mastermind plan to perpetuate the myth that a diamond is a symbol of everlasting love.
The kind of engagement rings that existed prior to the late 1800s were not centered around diamonds, according to Attn. They were indeed a scarce commodity that was only known to be found in Brazil and India during that time. However, a market shift occurred when the precious stone was discovered in South Africa in 1867. Its abundant supply drove down the price of the gem, which rendered businesses centered around the precious gemstone less profitable.
It stayed that way until 1887 when a South African diamond mining company emerged. The company, De Beers, monopolized the diamond industry by employing unethical tactics that affected South African migrant workers, diamond distributors, retailers and consumers.
De Beers controlled the value of diamonds by strictly overseeing both the supply and demand of the stone. They stockpiled and managed the distribution of the diamonds in order to convince the public that diamonds were a rare and scarce commodity.
When sales of diamonds plummeted in the 1930s during the Great Depression, the diamond industry scrambled to put matters into their own hands. De Beers used a number of marketing schemes and ad campaigns in order “To create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring,” in the words of the N.W. Ayer agency.
The adornment of diamond rings permeated film, radio and print. Women, from movie stars to the first lady, were seen with the gem. A 1948 strategy paper noted in an investigative article by Atlantic Magazine read:
“We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer’s wife and the mechanic’s sweetheart say ‘I wish I had what she has.’ ”
The diamond industry exploded as society bought into the manufactured myth of De Beers’ diamond advertising campaign of 1947. Their slogan, “A diamond is forever,” became one of the most successful campaigns of the 20th century. The very act of purchasing a diamond engagement ring is evidence of how deeply ingrained De Beer’s advertising campaign transformed cultural norms.
BBC reported that while 10% of engagement rings included diamonds pre-World War II, that number increased to 80% by the end of the 20th century. Numbers from Bain & Company’s 2013 Global Diamond Industry Report indicate that couples spent an estimated $11 billion on engagement and wedding jewelry during that year.