Why Do We Do The Whole Diamond Engagement Ring Thing, Anyway?

It’s sparkly, it’s clear or it’s colored, it’s cut in more ways than one person could dream up, it sits on your finger like a golf ball or a just-the-right-size bauble, it’s a girl’s best friend — twinkling alongside many a wedding proposal has been a diamond. And a lot of the time, these chunks of bling cost a pretty penny. So why do we do have this shiny ritual? (And someone please explain how a diamond can be a best friend? It can’t even talk.)

In a lengthy look into diamonds, the fine folks at Priceonomics.com are definitely anti-diamond, yes siree. And they use much stronger language than my mother would approve of if I employed it here.

“But they’re so pretty!” you might be saying of looking askance at diamonds and the whole engagement tradition. Or, “My girlfriend will have my manhood if I don’t present her with a shiny diamond ring when I pop the question.”

It aaaaaall started back in 1938 when De Beers decided it should — before then, Americans didn’t always exchange engagement rings. Especially during the Great Depression when sales of such fancy baubles were on the wane because there was a Great Depression going on, for goodness sakes.

What’s a jewelry company to do to get back on top? Hire an ad man, of course. Get Don Draper on the line and all that.

Gerold Lauck and the N.W. Ayers advertising agency hopped to work, and they all knew that convincing men was the first step to success. (Via a 1982 Atlantic article cited by Priceonmics):

Since “young men buy over 90% of all engagement rings” it would be crucial to inculcate in them the idea that diamonds were a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. Similarly, young women had to be encouraged to view diamonds as an integral part of any romantic courtship.

But hey, maybe smart, independent ladies didn’t want one kind of ring — maybe they wanted to be unique? Just turn’em into a status symbol, “an expression of socio-economic achievement.”

To do this, the ad agency simply looped movie stars into the deal, and had them use diamonds as a symbol of love AND coolness.

From the marketing materials:

Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman.

The De Beers marketing folks even reportedly decided on a rather arbitrary number for men to think about spending on a diamond ring — two month’s salary. Pulled that one out of thin air, it sounds like.

And that’s all she wrote, basically.

Combine the fact that a jewelry company kicked the whole thing off and that a diamond as an investment is a poor one — it’ll depreciate in value, and as such isn’t much of an investment — and we’ve gotta wonder: Are they worth it?

Probably not, say the fine folks at Priceconomics.com. But that’s not going to change much.

“Today, over 80% of women in the US receive diamond rings when they get engaged. The domination is complete.”

Just try to bring this up if you ever go ring shopping, which we’re sure you still will. Or have. Because come on, they’re so pretty…

Diamonds Are Bullshit [Priceonomics.com]