Rohin Dhar has an article at Business Insider with which I entirely agree, arguing that the diamond market is entirely artificial and driven primarily by marketing that convinced men that they had to buy one — a very expensive one — when they get engaged or they’re a failure as a man. Here’s how the whole thing started:
We like diamonds because Gerold M. Lauck told us to. Until the mid 20th century, diamond engagement rings were a small and dying industry in America. Nor had the concept really taken hold in Europe. Moreover, with Europe on the verge of war, it didn’t seem like a promising place to invest.
Not surprisingly, the American market for diamond engagement rings began to shrink during the Great Depression. Sales volume declined and the buyers that remained purchased increasingly smaller stones. But the US market for engagement rings was still 75% of De Beers’ sales. If De Beers was going to grow, it had to reverse the trend.
And so, in 1938, De Beers turned to Madison Avenue for help. They hired Gerold Lauck and the N. W. Ayer advertising agency, who commissioned a study with some astute observations. Men were the key to the market:
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.
However, there was a dilemma. Many smart and prosperous women didn’t want diamond engagement rings. They wanted to be different.
The millions of brides and brides-to-be are subjected to at least two important pressures that work against the diamond engagement ring. Among the more prosperous, there is the sophisticated urge to be different as a means of being smart…. the lower-income groups would like to show more for the money than they can find in the diamond they can afford…
Lauck needed to sell a product that people either did not want or could not afford. His solution would haunt men for generations. He advised that De Beers market diamonds as a status symbol:
“The substantial diamond gift can be made a more widely sought symbol of personal and family success — an expression of socio-economic achievement.”
“Promote the diamond as one material object which can reflect, in a very personal way, a man’s … success in life.”
The next time you look at a diamond, consider this. Nearly every American marriage begins with a diamond because a bunch of rich white men in the 1940s convinced everyone that its size determines your self worth.
Exactly right. And that’s not even to mention the massive human suffering created by the lucrative diamond trade, or the fact that diamond rings retain very little value once they’re bought. The chances of me ever getting married are slim, but if I do I will not be buying a diamond. We need to stop falling for every marketing scheme someone concocts. No, that diamond does not express your love — your love expresses your love. And it has nothing to do with your self-worth.
And while we’re at it, buying a sports car will not get you laid. Axe body spray will not make you utterly irresistible to women. Buying the right kind of toothpaste or makeup will not fix your problems.