Selling Romance: How One Company Popularized the Diamond Engagement Ring

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Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

A diamond is forever.

Diamonds have worked their way into our vocabulary and our mythology as an unquestionable symbol of romance, love and devotion.

But the diamond engagement ring is less about tradition than you might think and more about extremely clever marketing on the part of one big company.

Why a diamond engagement ring?

The idea of swapping rings to signify commitment isn’t a new one. The practice is thought to date back to the Romans, who traded basic iron betrothal rings.

But the modern engagement ring is believed to have appeared in the 12th century. Pope Innocent III declared that weddings had to take place in a church, that the bride had to receive a ring and that there had to be a waiting period before the wedding could take place. This led to the practice of giving engagement rings to signify the betrothal.

Diamonds are an even more recent addition to the tradition.

Until the discovery of the South African diamond mines in the late 1800’s, diamonds were rare and expensive, available almost exclusively to the upper echelons of society.

Once the mines were found however, the diamond market was open to the masses. But De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd—the sole owner of the mines—realised that if people still thought that diamonds were rare (and valuable because of their scarcity), then they could inflate the price of the stones.

The diamond market, like most things, took a big hit in the 1930s because of the plummeting economy. At this time, De Beers launched marketing campaigns featuring celebrities dripping with diamonds to increase the profile of the gems, and in 1947, they coined their iconic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”.

By drawing the parallel between the strength and lasting quality of a diamond, and the institution of marriage De Beers solidified its hold on the market, not only as a purveyor of gemstones but of endless romance.

And selling the concept rather than the thing has been a boon for De Beers, which has seen the price of diamond engagement rings rise steadily over the past few decades.

According to the American Gem Society, in 1992, the average cost of a diamond engagement ring was $1,500. Today, that cost is closer to $5,000.

The diamond mining market is growing thanks to sales in emerging markets

According to a new report by Technavio, the global diamond mining market is expected to reach a value of $17.5 billion by 2019, growing at a cumulative average growth rate of 5.33%.

A lot of this growth is coming as a result of demand from countries like China and India, which historically have been challenging regions for diamond engagement rings due to the prevalence of arranged marriages. But with a rise in love marriages and premarital romance, as well as more economic freedom among women, diamond vendors are working to capture the previously untapped market.

For more on the global diamond mining market, check out Technavio’s new report.