Last updated on October 9, 2020
The tradition of giving a ring as a sign of engagement isn’t practically a new one. But if your loved one proposed you with a diamond ring, you can thank De Beers. The reason diamond rings are so popular nowadays is a massively successful advertising campaign from one of the biggest diamond companies in the history of the world. Is the history of diamond engagement rings that surprising? Let’s find out.
History of Diamond Engagement Rings
Anthropologists believe that the tradition of giving an engagement ring originates from Ancient Rome. According to Roman custom, women wore rings made of ivory, flint, bone, copper, and iron to signify mutual love and obedience.
Gold rings were later found in the ruins of Pompeii, a preserved ancient Roman city, which proves the precious metal became a popular choice in the common era.
The Roman wives were also known to own two rings – one made of iron worn at home and one in gold worn in public to impress people. The choice of metals was not accidental. Iron was meant to symbolize strength and permanence, while gold was used as a symbol of wealth.
The official meaning to an engagement ring was given in 850 when Pope Nicholas I declared that an engagement ring represented a man’s intent to marry a woman with gold, the most popular metal at the time.
According to records, the very first proposal with a diamond engagement ring was made to Mary of Burgundy by Archduke Maximillian of Austria in 1477. The ring featured elongated cut diamonds mounted in the shape of an “M”. This spread the trend for diamond rings among European nobility and aristocracy.
During the Victorian era (June 20, 1837 – January 22, 1901), it was popular to ornate engagement rings with a mix of diamonds and other gemstones, precious metals and enamels. Often these rings were crafted in the shape of flowers and were called “poesy rings”.
In the Edwardian era (1901 – 1910) brides still preferred engagement rings with a mix of diamonds and other jewels, but in filigree settings.
In fact, diamond engagement rings did not become that popular until 1947 when De Beers, the biggest diamond company in the history of the world, launched an advertising campaign. The slogan “A diamond is forever” has changed the world of the jewellery industry and made people dream of a diamond engagement ring.
Since When a Diamond is Forever?
In the 1870s miners began discovering huge veins of diamonds in South Africa, and diamond market ice was finally broken. As diamonds had quickly become a pretty common commodity, mine owners realized they should make a new plan if they want to keep the high price of the gem. In 1888 several major South African mines merged to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. The merge gave chance to effectively control the flow of diamonds from South Africa onto world markets. As a result, diamonds became rare and more valuable, so their popularity as the gem on engagement rings began to rise.
In the late 1930s, De Beers rolled out another brilliant marketing plan. They turned to New York advertising company N.W. Ayer for help in convincing Americans that they desperately need diamonds. The agency got Hollywood’s biggest stars to wear diamonds and encouraged leading designers to talk up diamond rings as an emerging trend.
The plan worked beautifully. In the first three years of the campaign American diamond sales increased by 50%. This was one of the most effective campaigns of all times.
In 1947 De Beers launched another campaign for diamond engagement rings with the slogan “A Diamond is Forever”. The campaign was meant to make diamonds with their brilliance and unbreakable chemistry, emblematic of the eternal commitment of marriage.
Between 1939 and 1979, De Beers’s advertising budget soared from $200,000 to $10 million per year. And it was worth it, as over the same period wholesale diamond sales in the United States grew from $23 million to $2.1 billion.