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The origin story of the diamond engagement ring

The origin story of the diamond engagement ring

Do you know the origin story of the diamond engagement ring?

I conducted a poll on my Instagram, @ivjewelry, asking people if they knew the origin story of the diamond engagement ring. I was surprised to see so few people are familiar with it! The truth is, the beginnings of this tradition aren't based in romance.


A diamond in the rough

The 1930s were a challenging decade globally. On September 4, 1929, a stock market crash in the U.S. triggered The Great Depression, and a second world war was on the horizon for Europe. You'd be hard-pressed to see a diamond on the left ring finger of someone's betrothed.

Diamond engagement rings were neither expected nor widespread in the early 20th Century. Consider this: in 1940, only 10 percent of new brides had a diamond engagement ring. By the 1990s, that figure jumps to 80 percent!

What gives? Simply put, the greatest ad campaign of all time.

De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd

In 1938, after two decades of declining diamond sales, De Beers hired advertisers N.W. Ayer & Son. The goal was to boost the image of diamonds in the States by equating them to romantic love.

Marketing activities included:

  • Distributing diamond rings to the day's influencers— Hollywood starlets and politicians' wives
  • Encouraging fashion designers to promote the diamond ring "trend"
  • Crafting diamond-centric story suggestions for newspapers
  • Enlisting pro-diamond lecturers to visit young girls all over the country, often at high schools (!)
Cushion cut diamond engagement ring with a halo setting

"A Diamonds is Forever"

In 1947, female copywriter Frances Gerety came up with the slogan "A diamond is forever" and the world was forever changed.

De Beers and Ayer were on their way to ingraining diamonds into popular culture as the pinnacle of romance, and a new generation of young women captivated by diamond engagement rings was reaching adulthood.

Boosting sales

Ayer found that women involved in picking their engagement ring would choose a cheaper diamond option. So naturally, another idea was implanted into society's psyche, the "surprise" engagement. By leaving women out of the process, there was more money to be made.

Advertisers and retailers convinced men that the size and quality of a diamond correlated with the love they hold for their future wife; nothing less than the best would do!

British, American, and Japanese men were encouraged to spend one, two, and three months' salary, respectively. Why? Because they could. A large diamond ring became a symbol of a man's financial success.

In just 40 years (1939-1979), De Beers wholesale diamond sales in the U.S. increased 91-fold to $2.1 billion.

18k yellow gold diamond engagement ring with wedding bands

All you need is love

Whether society at large knew it or not, De Beers and N.W. Ayer & Son revolutionized the diamond industry and created demand worldwide. They successfully marketed an idea- a feeling- not a company or gemstone. Diamonds are synonymous with love to this day. Nearly all of my custom design clients request diamonds for their engagement ring and wedding band.

Are you interested in a custom jewelry design? Learn more about my process here.

Thankfully, these gemstones aren't as rare as De Beers hoped we would believe. The secondhand and lab grown diamond market makes it easier than ever to create an eco-friendly ring for a range of budgets.

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