History of Diamond Engagement Rings | De Beers a Diamond is Forever

Diamond Engagement Rings in History~ From Ownership to a Symbol of Love

The history of diamond engagement rings is fascinating, as the notion of giving your bride-to-be a ring upon engagement has gone through some major changes over the centuries. What started out as a symbol of a man’s ownership of a woman, has changed over the many years, to a symbol of love, rather than possession.

Anthropologists believe that the engagement ring tradition began in Rome, where women wore rings with keys attached to them as a sign of ownership.

The history of diamond engagement rings started as early as 1477 when Austria’s Archduke Maximillian presented Mary of Burgundy with the very first diamond ring, on record.

Mary of Burgundy set the trend among European aristocracy and nobility, however, a genius marketing strategy took the market to a new level, which set the standard- an engagement ring MUST HAVE a diamond in it. Period.


De Beers Influence on the Diamond Market in the History of Diamond Engagement Rings

Up until the mid 19th century, diamonds were indeed, rare, and had great value. Whereas once, only a few pounds of diamonds were discovered per year, that all changed in 1870 when substantial amounts of diamonds were found in the orange river of South Africa, which led to further discoveries of mass amounts of diamonds all over Africa.

Worried that the mass discovery will lower the value of these gems, companies such as De Beers took control over large areas of rich soil in Africa and established diamond mines.

The De Beers mine in Africa planned what turned out to be a genius marketing strategy, and made their mark on the history of diamond engagement rings. In the 1930’s, with the great depression, and on the brink of war, diamond sales were at a low.  The instability of millions of people out of work, and the unknown future,  affected the way people were spending their money. Diamond engagement rings were not a priority.

De Beers founder’s son,  Harry Oppenheimer , wanted to change the way people think of diamonds. Diamonds are not rare, and weren’t valued much. Buying diamonds for investment purposes was certainly not on people’s minds.

Oppenheimer went ahead and hired an ad agency, N.W. Ayera, based in New York. The job of the ad agency was to come up with a marketing strategy to increase sales, and find a way to brand diamonds as a luxury item every engaged woman must have. Basically, creating a great diamond illusion.

Although diamonds became further attainable by this time, and therefor less valuable, De Beers’ brilliant campaign managed to keep the illusion of diamond rareness in tact.


The Myth of Diamond Rareness

Photos of celebrities adorned in diamonds were released and circulated.  Magazines published engagement stories which detailed the diamond engagement rings. Radio shows had romantic engagement recaps, and fashion designers were talking about the new diamond trend… It was in the air, it was everywhere. The idea was that the diamond symbols everything in the engagement and marriage to come. The ring is the most romantic aspect of the proposal, and the American’s bought into the illusion.

Although diamonds were appearing in jewelry stores all over Europe and America in abundance, the consumers bought into the myth of its rareness. Literally.


A Diamond is Forever

In 1947 De Beers came out with a slogan which we are all familiar with now: “a diamond is forever”.
Psychology played a major role here: Just as diamonds are forever, so is marriage. The diamond symbolizes your commitment to each other forever. Without a diamond, marriage is incomplete.

history of diamond engagement rings

Are diamonds a girls best friend?

Even Hollywood was convinced of this sparkly illusion. Marilyn Monroe sang diamonds are a girls best friend in the 1953 movie Gentlemen prefer blondes. Monroe, seductively told the world that us ladies love diamonds.

The marketing strategy clearly worked.  Mine owners found themselves in a multi billion dollar industry.


Rules for Buying an Engagement Ring

At first, De Beers suggested that the amount one should spend on an engagement ring was one months salary. When the new campaign “a diamond is forever” went viral, the suggested amount of a diamond engagement ring price went up to two months salary’s worth.

If you ask me, all of the ‘how much to spend on a diamond engagement ring’ rules are silly. Spend what you can afford. Don’t start your life out together broke just because of some rules created by the industry profiting from the sale.

Once you come up with an engagement ring budget, set your priorities. You can decide together, or on your own what the most important factors to consider are. Reading up on the four C’s can help you make these decisions.

Personally, I don’t see the diamond ring as the most romantic aspect of an engagement. Don’t get me wrong, I like my ring a lot, but it is just a really nice, and yes- expensive, piece of jewelry. It doesn’t represent ownership of me, as was the concept in Rome, and the diamond doesn’t represent that my marriage is forever. De Beers may have wanted us all to believe or feel that way, however, nothing is more romantic, or exciting, as wanting to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.

History of diamond engagement rings

Yellow Diamond Engagement Ring

Set up a romantic atmosphere, tell her, or him, what you love about them, and why you want to spend the rest of your life together…. And the engagement ring is just the cherry, or may I say, diamond on top!

If you’re looking for a stone that is somewhat more rare than a colorless diamond, have a look at the Leibish fancy color diamond collection. When we were looking for a diamond ring, I knew exactly what I wanted, and that the center stone should be a Fancy yellow diamond. You can check out their engagement ring collection here


Engagement Rings in History & Where we are Now

There’s a rich history of diamond engagement rings. It’s fascinating looking back in time and finding out where traditions come from, and how they have evolved over the generations, which is a testament to how we as a people have come quite a way- from an engagement ring symbol of ownership, to a sign of love.


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