OPINION: The tradition of buying diamonds started as a marketing ploy

(Illustration by Audrey Hockersmith)

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I feel as though I should talk about a Valentine’s Day tradition that most people seem to not think twice about: buying diamonds.

“A Diamond Is Forever.” That slogan was coined by the De Beers Group in the late 1940s, and from that moment on, they solidified the diamond as the purest representation of your love for someone; the size and price of a diamond meant everything.

De Beers was first founded by some British businessmen — who happened to control the majority of diamond mines in South Africa — in 1888 as a South African-based cartel.

The founders realized if they bought out their competition and subsequently designed a fictitious story that diamonds are rare and extremely valuable — termed the “diamond invention” by investigative reporter Edward Epstein — they could control both supply and demand and become fabulously wealthy.

Over the following decades De Beers gained control of the supply of diamonds, but then came the difficult part of controlling the demand. De Beers had to worry about consumers reselling the diamonds because they would flood the market and cause the value of diamonds to fall.

An article by the Atlantic reported that in 1938, De Beers partnered up with N. W. Ayer, a leading advertising agency in the U.S., in order to “burnish the image of diamonds in the United States, where the practice of giving diamond engagement rings had been unevenly gaining traction for years, but where the diamonds sold were increasingly small and low-quality.”

And so began one of the greatest marketing and advertising campaigns to intrinsically and forever tie love to diamonds and convince men that the size and price of a diamond dictated how much they loved their significant other.

Edward Epstein wrote in his investigative report of De Beers, that “Movie idols … would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love … (and) the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved one.”

Within three years of employing N. W. Ayer and using these tactics, among others, diamond sales increased in the U.S. by 55 percent. But to solidify these growths and maintain a firm grip on controlling the demand, De Beers needed a memorable and strong slogan.

That’s when the slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” was born, and the rest is history.

Thanks to the campaign by De Beers and N. W. Ayer, it’s been ingrained into our society that this specific shiny rock is extraordinarily valuable, and so you should buy the biggest and most expensive one you can to give to someone you’re deeply in love with.

As the market for diamonds steadily increased through the 20th century, there was a push from concerned people to not buy “blood diamonds,” which were seen as controversial because they helped fuel dictators in waging wars and exploiting people.

An article from the African People’s Solidarity Committee said that, in response to this outcry, De Beers created the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) out of fear that “diamonds coming out of the war-torn areas of West Africa would flood the market and undermine their long-standing worldwide control of the price of the stones.”

This means that potentially every diamond is a “blood diamond” and was brought to you by forced labor.

So before you go out and buy diamond jewelry for your significant other, just take a moment to think about why it is that you are participating in a tradition that is based on a marketing ploy and has resulted in the exploitation of millions of people. And if you still feel pressured to buy a diamond, I would encourage buying one created in a lab.

Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.