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Why Are Diamonds So Expensive? Part 2

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

This sentiment, while horribly dated, speaks volumes about how we value diamonds in our culture. It is common knowledge, as well as common practice, that if a man loves a woman, he buys her a diamond ring. Universally recognized as a symbol of love and commitment, the diamond engagement ring has become inexorably tethered to the institution of marriage itself.

The first recorded instance of a diamond engagement ring can be traced back to 1477. While some would have you believe that the diamond ring is a long-standing historical tradition, the diamond engagement ring as we know it today is a fairly recent phenomenon, only really becoming the widespread tradition we know it as today in the last century.

So, how did an obscure gesture from the 1400s become the common practice we know today?

In our last blog post, we talked about how the De Beers group was able to gain monopolistic control over the world’s supply of diamonds, and how they leveraged that control to their advantage. In this post, we will focus on marketing tactics they used to guarantee a consumer base to generate demand for their product.

Promotional poster for the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, from the Internet

Promotional poster for the 1971 James Bond filmDiamonds are Forever

By the late 1930s, due to the decline of diamond sales after the Great Depression, De Beers was desperate to increase marketing strategies. So they hired N.W. Ayers & Son to advertise their diamonds using newspapers, magazines, films, and even high school lectures.

This campaign was orchestrated to push the idea of the diamond engagement ring. Effectively, they were able to equate diamonds to love in the American subconscious. By the mid-40s, the sale of diamonds in the US had increased 55% over the previous decade.

In 1948, a young copywriter at N.W. Ayer named Mary Frances Gerety coined the slogan:

“A diamond is forever”

At first glance, this seems simple and benign; an obvious reference to the “indestructible” properties of diamonds. The genius of this slogan, and in De Beers follow up campaigns, lies in the subtext. Not only does the slogan encapsulate the promise of security and eternal romance that comes with owning a diamond, but it also implies a diamond is to be bought and kept forever.

A De Beers ad campaign for "A Diamond is Forever," photo from the Internet

Promotional material from the de Beers A Diamond is Forever ad campaign

This coupled with superstitions surrounding buying engagement rings of failed marriages discourages consumers from buying second hand. This further secured De Beer’s hold on the market for engagement rings. The slogan has been featured in De Beers advertisements since 1948 and continues to be used today.

Over the decades, DeBeer’s has proven how effective a strategic marketing campaign can be. They were able to leverage social norms, attitudes, as well as emotions to their advantage in creating demand for a product the public didn’t know they needed. Equipped with this knowledge, you may decide for yourself whether or not to uphold the value diamonds still have in society. Despite their past, the fact remains that they are stunning. But if you choose to partake in their beauty, we only ask that the diamonds you purchase are ethically sourced and traceable.

Article by Xavier Messado

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