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 engagement 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.
History of Diamond Engagement Rings
Anthropologists believe that the tradition of giving an engagement ring originates from a Roman custom in which wives wore rings attached to small keys, which was indicating their husbands’ ownership.
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. This spread the trend for diamond rings among European nobility and aristocracy.
During the Victorian era, 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 brides still preferred engagement rings with a mix of diamonds and other jewels, but in filigree settings.
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 together to form De Beers Consolidate 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.
Since When a Diamond is Forever?
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.
Cover image credit: Sotheby’s