Yes, Diamonds are Bullshit


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.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Not to mention that these days, gem quality diamonds can be made artificially. And rather cheaply.

    De Beers has since convinced people that natural diamonds are better. Because they are more expensive. It’s circular reasoning.

  2. jba55 says

    Ugh, I hate diamonds. Not only is the way they’re produced a crime against humanity but they really aren’t that exciting to look at. My sister in laws wedding ring has an opal (I think) in it and it’s much more attractive than any diamond I’ve seen.

  3. trucreep says

    tsssssssssss hsssssss!!! Huh whaa?? tssssss! Axe body spray?? hssssssssssss!! cough cough!! Oh yeah bro the ladies love this shit!!! hssss tsss!!

  4. dobby says

    Also, the price of diamonds was artificially inflated for much of the 20th century. And changing styles meant that existing diamonds were not worth much. A total racket.

  5. martinc says

    buying a sports car will not get you laid.

    Yes, it will. But you do have to actually give her the car.

  6. Alverant says

    Slightly OT
    I remember in the movie “Crazy People” the protagonist is an advertising designer who has a mental breakdown and starts being blunt in his ideas. Like in writing ad for a horror movie he says, “Not only is this movie scary it will fuck you up for life!” which makes the movie is a hit. Later on he talks about how sports cars are for men who want hand jobs. “This {points to car} is for this {points to groin}.” and the company makes flyers with “YES, I want a hand job.” printed on them.

  7. whheydt says

    My wife wanted a Moon rock, so her engagement ring has an Austral-Asian Strewn Field Tektite. What’s more, she much prefers silver to gold over the color.

    We’ve been married since 1971.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    That seems to be the underlying message of American society: everything, be it health care, housing, food, education, and in this case, affection, must be bought and if you can’t afford it, you don,t deserve it.

  9. S. W. says

    Rings are still pretty, and these days you can buy ones that are lab created, non slave labor needed. I think this will do more damage to “diamond lust” than anything else.

  10. alanb says

    “There are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal, particularly in women. Chief among these is the Mercedes-Benz 380SL.” -Lynn Lavner

  11. says

    “Buying the right kind of toothpaste or makeup will not fix your problems.”

    Nor will the right kind of clothes. Or the wrong kind.

  12. doublereed says

    “Buying the right kind of toothpaste or makeup will not fix your problems.”

    What if your problem is hygiene???

  13. suttkus says

    Buying the right kind of toothpaste did fix my problem… with sensitive teeth! Seriously, Sensodyne has been a great relief! So don’t knock the right toothpaste!

    It hasn’t helped me get a date, but I’m much less miserable lonely.

  14. Abby Normal says

    But opening a Budweiser will still attract a bevy of bikini-clad blondes anxious to play with your beach balls, right?

    This diamond story brings to mind another marketing campaign that’s had a profound and lasting impact on American culture, the women’s razor. It started in 1915 with an ad in Harper’s Bazaar, promoting smooth underarms. Before that the idea of women shaving wasn’t even on the radar. Also, radar hadn’t been invented, but that’s another story. From underarms the trend broadened to legs around WW2. And today we see pubic lice headed toward becoming an endangered species as their habitat has been decimated. Okay, so it’s not all bad. But it’s a fascinating story for anyone looking for a light research project.

  15. Moon Jaguar says

    Noted sociologists Mick Jagger and Keith Richards concur:

    When I’m watchin’ my TV
    And that man comes on to tell me
    How white my shirts can be
    But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
    The same cigarrettes as me

  16. rowanvt says

    I have never understood the fascination with diamonds. I do not think they are attractive as a large stone, only as very small accent ones. I much prefer emeralds.

  17. Drew says

    or the fact that diamond rings retain very little value once they’re bought.

    I actually have to disagree, partly, with this assertion. As with many things it’s all about who you know.

    I have a family friend who wholesales diamonds and one thing that not many people know is that the retail mark-up on diamonds is approximately 100%. The retail stores literally charge double their costs (Tiffany’s is actually about 3-4x cost). Most of this of course is greed and that there is essentially an unspoken price-fixing scheme amongst them all, but also is that, and most people don’t realize this either, jewelry retailers expect you to haggle, so they build a lot of padding into the prices.

    Anyway, if you know a wholesaler or are able to get the stones for significantly cheaper than retail the value of the stones goes up with time, and the price of stones is nowhere near as volatile as gold. Of course this (lack of volatility) could all change with the constant attempts to commoditize diamonds on the stock exchange.

    Additionally, even if you do pay retail, the stone still holds at least half of the value you payed for it. Of course jewelry stores will try to get you to part with it for much less, and trying to pawn it will always yield far less.

    In the spirit of full disclosure I’ll add in that I’ve been considering taking my friend’s business when he retires, and as such have been doing what I can to learn the business from him so you may not view me as an objective source. But I’ve seen him take stones on consignment from people who want to sell them and turn around and sell them to jewelry stores for wholesale price (again about half of what current retail is), and since most of these people bought the stones from him in the first place, and time has passed, they end up making a nice profit on the exchange.

  18. =8)-DX says

    buying a sports car will not get you laid.

    I know its not data, but I’ve met multiple examples to the contrary. Along with “working out and shaving your head”, “throwing money around”, “playing ice hockey” and “wearing smart suits”. But then I’d place these tactics alongside “getting pissed-up-drunk and having no boundaries around other pissed-drunk people”. Saying people who display higher socio-economic status have an easier time getting laid is nothing so startlingly new and surprising.

    But it depends if you value “getting laid at any cost” and definitely doesn’t mean “get’s you laid with whomever you want” or “have an exciting sex life”, “enjoy lots of romance” or “relationships become easy peasy”.

  19. cptdoom says

    Heck, even the British Royal Family moved out of the diamond tradition (or maybe never bought into it). If a sapphire was good enough for Lady Di – and was good enough to be reused for her daughter-in-law – it should be good enough for anyone.

  20. stever says

    The “more expensive is always better” meme is probably the principal reason for Linux not taking over the desktop. It crashes less often than Windows, its system-resource footprint is smaller, it’s more resistant to malware, but it doesn’t cost anything, so how good can it really be?

  21. psweet says

    Not to mention, if your house burns down, you can recover the gold, but the diamond is toast — they actually burn!

  22. says

    I disagree, diamonds are essential. How can you mine obsidian without a diamond pickaxe? All the mob-grinders in the world will never get you to the Nether!!

  23. barbarienne says

    psweet: I’m afraid I have to ask for some sources on that one. I found one that claims diamonds can burn in standard atmosphere (20% oxygen) around 1580°F, but I also know that diamonds are routinely used for stone-in-place casting, where the molten gold is more than 1800°F. So I’m not really concerned about diamonds going poof in a house fire, which typically don’t exceed 1100°F (assuming you’re not storing magnesium flares or something).

    I, personally, prefer corundum stones (ruby, sapphire), and the lab-grown sort are beautiful and waaaay cheaper than natural. They can even make star sapphires in the lab. The main way to tell lab-grown aren’t natural (assuming they aren’t marked) is that they’re too perfect. If the idea is to have something pretty and durable, I call that a feature, not a bug.

  24. CaitieCat says

    The only people I’ve ever met who like the smell of anything made by “Axe” are young heterosexual men.

    Which raises the question: why do so many young heterosexual men want to smell attractive to each other? My own theory is that many of them aren’t quite as vibrantly and exclusively hetero as they’d like, and are desperately trying to signal to other young men that they’d much rather have a cuddle and a kiss than a drink and a fight.

    Which is why so many of them get confused by the small smile I wear whenever I encounter someone wearing the beastly stuff. They don’t know they’ve just become shounen slash fiction material in my head.

    And I don’t even read slash.

    My position on shounen remains my own private business.

  25. doublereed says

    The “more expensive is always better” meme is probably the principal reason for Linux not taking over the desktop. It crashes less often than Windows, its system-resource footprint is smaller, it’s more resistant to malware, but it doesn’t cost anything, so how good can it really be?

    Eh, that’s more branding, brand loyalty, and like market capture. I don’t think if Linux was more expensive people would have been more interested in it.

  26. says

    I don’t even like rings. Especially expensive ones. They get tarnished. They clack on anything hard they happen to bump against. They make imprints on clay, silly putty, bread dough, or anything else mushy and/or malleable. They fall off….into the toilet.

    And speaking of hand jobs, they’re not good for those either.

    No thanks.

  27. Karen Locke says

    My weight has fluctuated so much over my lifetime (I’m 53) that I got tired of continually resizing my rings. So now they hang on a gold chain around my neck. My engagement ring is a small but pretty ruby (I told now-Husband that I didn’t want to have anything to do with DeBeers) and my wedding ring is gold chunks from a U.S. gold mine.

    I also have a garnet ring, an olivine ring — er, I guess peridot is the trade name — and a gorgeous gold-in-quartz ring. But at this point in life I don’t wear rings, or really any other jewelry. I make beaded jewelry, but I don’t wear any of it, and I haven’t worked out the mechanics of selling it.

    But I don’t do diamonds.

  28. says

    The “more expensive is always better” meme is probably the principal reason for Linux not taking over the desktop. It crashes less often than Windows, its system-resource footprint is smaller, it’s more resistant to malware, but it doesn’t cost anything, so how good can it really be?

    Yeah…probably not. For one, a Linux kernel was a lot harder to choose, set up, and use than Windows/OS up until very recently. For another, Linux doesn’t generally come pre-installed on computers you’ll see down at the Best Buy or Fry’s. For yet another, there’s a lot less you can do on Linux.

    True story (knowing that anecdote is not data): I installed a Linux partition on my last desktop and then never proceeded to use it. Why? Because I could never get it to talk to my video card. Since I mostly wanted to use that particular desktop to play video games I didn’t have any incentive to get around to fixing the problem, since none of the games I played were ported to Linux, anyway. I’ve never found any compelling reason to revisit Linux since, even though I think about doing it from time to time. I might revisit that if Win9 goes farther in the direction that Win8 has pointed, but that’s about it.

    Which raises the question: why do so many young heterosexual men want to smell attractive to each other? My own theory is that many of them aren’t quite as vibrantly and exclusively hetero as they’d like, and are desperately trying to signal to other young men that they’d much rather have a cuddle and a kiss than a drink and a fight.

    I’d say it’s probably not. Axe is advertised as “wear this, you’ll have hot women chasing you around.” Speaking as a heterosexual man, the only way I even notice what another guy smells like is if he smells really awful.

    Axe is generally within the spectrum of “acceptable guy smells,” which would be things in the deodorant aisle with names like “Cool Breeze” and “Arctic Blast.” That is to say, it’s not things named after flowers or that contain the word “lavender.” That’s because Axe has to walk that line of smelling like men expect to smell, which is not actually what women want men to smell like, but the sort of man who would buy Axe body spray doesn’t actually care, since the advertising covers the gap by telling him that if he smells like Axe women will throw themselves at him with wild abandon and he doesn’t actually know what women want men to smell like because he’s never actually asked a real woman for her honest opinion on the matter. I’d say it’s less “self-loathing homosexuality” than “frat boy obtuseness.”

  29. metro says

    I am reminded of this Saturday morning PSA from the metrochildhood.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV2NLXFSh6c

    We need more PSAs like that, and fewer of those “Axe” commercials–which I see as the male equivalent of Impulse Body Spray.

    I’m allergic to Impulse: “So when a complete stranger suddenly pukes on your shoes–That’s Impulse.”

  30. eric says

    if I do [get married] I will not be buying a diamond

    Heh, I’m tempted to take that bet. Everything you say about diamonds is true, and yet, people throw money away on lots of stupider things. IMO one of the hurdles to a successful relationship is not getting hung up on the things your partner wants but which you think are an utter waste of money. Within reason, of course, but its when you find yourself wanting to buy something for them because they’ll treasure it even though you see no sense in the purchase that you have something. Caring more about how it makes them feel vs. the objective value of the item.

    What will likely save you is that I imagine you’d generally be attracted to someone who feels similarly about jewelry in general, and is not likely to want one. But if you think your opinion of your partner’s taste in trinkets, doodads, and collectibles is going to win the day (or even should win the day)…think again. :)

  31. mobius says

    Axe body spray will not make you utterly irresistible to women.

    What? No! Please tell me it isn’t so.

  32. magistramarla says

    My engagement ring came from my husband’s family, and has the date 1861 and a name engraved inside. Since there was no woman with that name in the family, we think that the wedding ring might have been used to pay for a uniform, since his family owned a factory that made uniforms for the Union army during the civil war.
    We had it evaluated by a jeweler, who told us that the “diamond” was really a very high-quality cut glass stone, probably from the turn of the last century. We assume that my hubby’s grandmother probably had the stone added.
    I’m more proud of this ring and its history than I would be of any ring that my husband could have bought in a jewelry store. We managed to buy gold wedding bands that perfectly matched the band of my ring. At that time (1976), gold wasn’t as expensive as it is now. Mine was $35 and my husband’s was $45.

  33. dangerousbeans says

    @ eric (31)

    i think you are missing the fact that a partner (well, a partner worth keeping) is unlikely to ask you to do something you are ethically opposed to. my girlfriend knows that i would probably cook her meat if she asked, but she knows how i feel about eating meat and won’t ask.
    I think that Ed’s hypothetical wife would probably understand that Ed is opposed to getting her a diamond, and would probably compromise (and if she really wants a diamond probably buy one herself).

  34. garnetstar says

    barbarienne, not all diamonds oxidize at that temperature: the rate of oxidation depends on the perfection of the surface of the diamond. If the surface is relatively free of defects, oxidation will be very slow and much higher temperatures are needed to see it decay.

    Diamonds are one of the most abundant of gems, even among semi-precious stones. Diamonds are not rare, they’re immensely inflated in price by buying up the market and holding them, etc., as was mentioned above.

    Synthesis of diamond and other gemstones produces gems that are equal in quality to any natural ones, but DeBoers claims that “synthetic diamond” is different, and that they can tell the difference by some kind of spectroscopy. So you get less by buying a “synthetic”.

    No, they can’t. A “synthetic” diamond is exactly the same as a natural one. As was said, it may only be too perfect than is usually seen. There is no method that can scan a diamond and determine its origin.

    Making diamonds isn’t even that hard, I’ve made them (poor-quality ones) without special equipment. Back in the sixties, General Electric made them from peanut butter. A nice party trick.

  35. says

    I think you were right on target up until this point…

    And while we’re at it, buying a sports car will not get you laid.

    Kinda presumes that all women share similar values, doesn’t it?

    This statement provoked some questions in my mind that I’m curious how you would answer.

    1. Do you dispute the idea that displays of material wealth increase your social market value?
    2. What exactly do you think “does” get a man laid?

    I’d contend that the range of values women hold is as wide as the number of women that exist. I’d further contend that women’s values change over time. (These contentions apply to men s well of course, but I’m speaking to your specific comment from the POV of a hetrosexual man).

    So it’s

  36. says

    Which raises the question: why do so many young heterosexual men want to smell attractive to each other?

    Possibly to convince each other that they’re smelling attractive to women? And/or perhaps because they think women like the same smells they like?

  37. says

    I would have been annoyed if my now-husband had gotten me an engagement ring. We’d been together nearly a decade and owned a house together. I needed a fancy ring like I needed ebola. It would have been money taken out of our joint accounts to buy me something I’d most likely lose. No thanks. If we had, whatever, two months salary burning a hole in our bank accounts, we would have used it to take a nice trip, do improvements on the house or, more likely, invested it so we aren’t surviving on cat food when we’re old.

    Of course, we only married so we’d have all the legal rights that come with it (joint ownership of property, visitation rights at hospitals, blah blah) so it wasn’t about some grand gesture of our undying love, just a legal contract to make things official. ROMANCE!

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