Why Do We Propose With Diamond Rings?
By Heath Shive
Pirates, princesses, pawnbrokers, and people all around the world know that jewels mean money.
And the most common jewel in the U.S. – perhaps the only “mandatory” gem in the country – is a diamond.
Set in a ring.
Accompanied by “I do.”
But it should also be accompanied by “Why?”
Why Desire a Diamond?
Aja Raden is an experienced jeweler and trained scientist. Raden is also the author of a highly readable book entitled “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World.” Not only does she explore the world of gems – but she tells you “why” you desire them so badly.
And she explains why Americans insist on a diamond ring.
The diamond ring is not an ancient tradition. It is about as old as the microwave oven. So how did this tradition happen?
Diamonds by the Ton!
Once upon a time, diamonds were rare. The best diamonds came from India. Their famous Golconda diamonds were so exquisitely beautiful that they set the diamond standard to this day.
But that changed in 1870, when a small boy named Erasmus Jacobs found a pretty rock in the Orange River. Suddenly, South Africa became the world’s greatest diamond mine. By 1872, a million carats were mined every year. This was 5 times as many as the rest of the world…combined!
By 1882, the diamond market collapsed. Out of this market crash, a company named De Beers Consolidated Mines gained control of South African production – production which they promptly slashed to create an artificial dearth in supply.
Diamonds Are For…gotten?
Because of the economics of Depression and World War II, people were selling their diamonds. Demand dropped.
What is a poor global cartel to do in such dire straits?
De Beers controlled supply.
De Beers now wanted to control demand.
Diamonds Are Forever!
De Beers hired the famous advertising firm N. W. Ayer to begin a campaign to make people feel the desire – no, the necessity – to buy diamonds. The advertising team was led by two advertising legends, Dorothy Dignam and Frances Gerety. These two women changed how Americans have proposed marriage for the past 70 years!
First, Dignam and Gerety created a false expectation by advertising that “a proposal is not a real proposal without a diamond.” Then they created a false standard by advertising with a slogan like “What’s two months’ salary for something that’ll last forever?”
In 1947, Gerety came up with “A diamond is forever.” Gerety’s slogan was named the slogan of the century by Advertising Age magazine!
Meanwhile, Dorothy Dignam lent out diamonds to celebrities to wear to film premieres, the Academy Awards, and the Kentucky Derby. Diamonds gained glamour in the American eye.
Americans could have that glamour too…if they just bought a diamond.
Since then, Americans have bought diamond engagement rings.
Now, De Beers controlled both supply and demand.
Diamonds Are Ridiculous?
Diamonds are not a great investment. Like all retails products, they lose a lot of their value the moment you walk out of the store. And their value is determined by artificially inflated supply and demand, so they are not stable investments either.
According to The Knot, the average engagement ring’s price in 2017 is $6,351!
Is it worth that much to you to buy into this game?
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Raden, Aja. Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World. HarperCollins, 2015.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.