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How De Beers Changed Our Engagement Rings

How De Beers Changed Our Engagement Rings

The word diamond is synonymous with the engagement ring and not surprising when you see any high street store window or see the latest celebrities out-doing each other in the carat stakes.

When reading about diamonds you can’t help but come across the name De Beers and their infamous slogan "A diamond is forever”. The impact of the ad campaign of which this slogan was the result, is still with us today and there may be a generation of people buying and receiving diamond engagement rings who have no idea that they haven’t always traditionally been diamond and perhaps think that this tradition has always been the case.

I say that there may be a generation of people unaware of the origins of the diamond used for engagement rings as we are now seeing the lasting effects of what has to be one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever among an age range of people not old enough to have remembered the original campaign but yet who still buy and receive these rings. I include myself in this generation and if I was not in this industry I would have never known of such a campaign and how it has shaped our jewellery habits today.

The diamond industry had been in difficulty and so it is not surprising that as a company, De Beers would need to improve sales in order to survive as a business. The advertising agency working for De Beers made sure that the public saw Hollywood stars wearing incredible diamond jewellery so that the big gems would effectively sell the smaller gems to regular people. The stars were adorned in pieces of jewellery for highly publicised events raising the profile of diamonds in the minds of the public so they were no longer thought of as an unnecessary expense and only for the super wealthy but were portrayed as something they should be aspiring to. The ad campaigns, which promoted diamonds as lasting a lifetime and as being an investment, also featured images promoting the 4 c’s alongside beautiful artworks by the likes of Picasso and Salvador Dali. For copyright reasons I haven’t included pictures of the adverts but if you do happen to come across them via Google images, you can see how artistic and romantic they appear. We still judge diamonds based on the 4 c’s of clarity, colour, carat and cut today, so another lasting impact from De Beers that the generation I speak of are unlikely to be aware of as resulting from an ad campaign. We can see from the 4 c’s that we even aspire to not getting simply any diamond but getting the best of the best.

There is quite a hint here at the psychology that led to such a successful marketing campaign that is still effective in 2017. So cleverly, the campaign had successfully instilled the notion that to show true and everlasting love, a diamond was the way to go and it had also given the idea that the better the diamond, the closer to perfect it was, would share the message even better. This aspect does seem to be directed at the men proposing to their beloved and also is important as it is said that men are more impulsive and think less of the consequences of spending money than women and so encouraging the men to buy diamonds, as close to perfect as possible of course, would be an effective sales strategy. This campaign would also have encouraged women to expect diamonds from their suitors and strive for the best, most clear and large diamond they could.

If you think back to someone you know who told you they had become engaged, the chances are you asked to see their ring, or perhaps the ring was shown to you immediately! Would you have been surprised if it had not been diamond? I have personally noticed people asking to see "the rock” which suggests they are not only expecting to see diamond but they are curious as to how big the stone will be, as if it is some sort of competition or validation of how much the man loves his wife to be. I remember a college friend becoming engaged and us all excitedly asking to see her ring and we all seemed to be taken aback by the gold band with no stone as it was not what we were used to or what we would have expected. Even she stated she was disappointed but that hopefully in the future when their finances were improved, they could change it for what she was expecting, a diamond. Our reactions to seeing the ring in question shows just how well conditioned we became by a clever marketing campaign, which played on our psychology and nature as human beings as well as change the buying habits with regards to engagement rings.

All of this got me thinking to some of the engagement rings in my own family and how these had changed and I thought it would be nice to share these with you. As children my sister was always in love with my grandmother’s engagement ring, which interestingly she received from my grandfather prior to the De Beers campaign.

As you can see, the ring focuses more on the design of the metal and this is used as the overall focus of the design as opposed to the stones. This ring dates from during World War II and so times were tough and my grandparents were not in a position to afford a ring with large stones of any kind and so the design is clever to use the metal to create a visually gorgeous ring. This contrasts quite radically from my mother’s engagement ring whose design is based entirely around the stones. I have always been surprised and intrigued at my mother’s engagement ring since it focuses more on sapphire rather than being plain diamond. I asked her how she came to have this ring and she told me how she had chosen it rather than my father presenting her with a ring when he proposed. She said she hadn’t wanted a plain solitaire diamond and since she loved sapphire, this is what she chose. Even then it still included diamond but they do serve to emphasise the sapphire don’t you agree! This also points to the expectation that an engagement ring should be diamond but my mother went against this tradition and expectation to get something she loved. When I thought about what my mother had told me about her ring I compared the two rings and it is so clear that previous to the De Beers campaign, rings seemed to be more interestingly shaped with the metal than in my mother’s time in which she stated all diamond rings seemed to be a plain band with a single diamond at the focal point. Of course I don’t claim that these rings are entirely representative of all rings at these times but it does give an interesting insight into how things have changed. When I think about it, if I ever walk past a jeweller’s window and see the engagement ring displays there do seem to be a majority of solitaire diamond rings. Perhaps this is due to cost and perhaps it is fashion too or possibly demand.

My grandmother’s ring is now well looked after by my sister who kindly provided a rather gorgeous photo of the ring:

My mother still proudly wears her sapphire and diamond ring which is still as beautiful 40 years on.  

I loved reading about the De Beers campaign and how it impacted on our habits and expectations today.  I had never thought to question why engagement rings are almost always predominantly diamond and this article was originally going to be about the historical use of engagement rings and what they were made from until i read about the De Beers campaign and found it an interesting phenomenon.  I personally felt enlightened to read about how engagement ring habits have been changed the world over, not by culture as such, but by an advertising campaign, which i must admit was nothing short of genius.  

Created On  10 Apr 2017 16:42 in April 2017  -  Permalink


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