by Ed Dryer
The argument has been heard throughout jewelery stores, shopping malls, kitchen tables and bedrooms for decades. “A diamond is forever! Receiving one is what every woman expects and deserves and that’s how it always has been!”
Not so fast there, historian! The truth is this… Prior to the 1930s, an engagement ring was considered a relatively rare and obscure thing. Typically, the ring was used to seal the impending marriage between wealthy and royal families. I’ll dig deeper into this process later this week when I focus on dowries. Everything changed in 1938, when a group of brilliant businessmen and their marketers began what can be considered the most prolific and permanent marketing campaign of all time. The golden age of cinema and media was just beginning. American culture quickly became spellbound by motion pictures and the glamorous individuals that starred in them. For the first time, people from all walks of life, regardless of where they were born, how much money they had or what their raising was, they had a common focus that they all could idolize.
Everyone was obsessed by the magic of film and the glitz and glamour of stars and the high society set, and that obsession did not go unnoticed. Lead executives of the diamond mining and production cartel noticed a unique opportunity to leverage the film industry to market their gemstones. The cartel’s marketers reached out to almost every famous or popular woman in film and media and provided them with diamond earrings, rings and necklaces. They contacted writers, producers and prop-masters throughout Hollywood as well, delivering prime specimans of the most lavish and incredible stones they could produce with one simple request. That request was to give their product the most flattering presentation possible, particularly in romantic stories. And, pockets lined with gemstones, they complied. Love stories of forbidden romance, where the handsome male lead slipped a velvet box into the pocket of his amore. Grand balls where stunning ladies dressed to the nines sported a millions dollars in sparklies. It was truly the dawn of a diamond age.
Because their idols were wearing them, every woman in America wanted one. Love stories, with handsome men getting down on one knee and asking for marriage while holding a small box with a ring in it, became the norm. Within ten years, anyone who wanted to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage had to have a diamond ring to seal the deal. Because of the cartel-like control of the market, diamonds were fashioned and sold to almost every class of people. Those of meager means could purchase a .25 carat stone. Wealthier individuals could show their status and their love with 1 carat stones and larger. By the 1950s, the movement expanded, and diamond sellers wanted to go well beyond the one-time sale at the time of engagement. The five year anniversary, the ten, the twenty-five. What other way to show you loved someone than more diamonds? Anyone who grew up in the 1980s can’t forget the orchestrated music and two individuals who were simply shadows where a real ring was placed on a shadowed hand. In less than a single generation, the diamond ring became something that ‘was always the norm.’
Now, to close this article, take a moment to think about all of the marketing that bombards every living being on this planet every day. There have been studies done all over the world about how the distinctive red and white combination that makes up the Coca Cola can or the curvy M of the Golden Arches are immediately recognizable by 75% of inhabitants of this Earth. As pervasive as those brands are, they’re at least overt. You know why you want a Big Mac with a perfectly carbonated Coke. The explanation of why a diamond is forever is far more subtle and nefarious. And why their cost is significantly harder to calculate is yet to come.
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