The diamond invention … Part 1

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend apparently. But why? This is a question that has increasingly puzzled me over the last few weeks – a combined result of my interest in the Charles Taylor case, and a friend’s recent engagement and the subsequent ring showing that ensued. A bit of research in to the topic and I realised that the history of diamond marketing is convoluted, manipulative, intriguing and definitely worthy of a blog post. Turns out diamond engagement rings aren’t the traditional symbol I once thought they were. Before I continue though I’d just like to add that this post is very much a discussion of marketing techniques and cultural influence. The political, moral and economic issues concerning diamonds and all they entail are a whole different kettle of fish and not suitable for discussion here!

So here we go,

Turns out, diamonds aren’t the rarest gem stone in the world. In fact prior to 1938 they actually had little intrinsic value. Their perceived value depends upon their scarcity – an illusion consolidated and maintained by the formation of the cartel known as DeBeers Conslidated Mines Ltd (The Syndiacte) in 1888 which effectively took control of all aspects of the world’s diamond trade. For most of the 20th century DeBeers sold 85% to 90% of diamonds worldwide, controlling how many entered the market, of what quality and at what price.

However prior to 1938, diamonds were not that revered. Diamond prices in Europe had collapsed as result of the depression and looming war, and diamond engagement rings were still very much a novelty. In the USA, diamonds were more popular but often of a far inferior quality to those traditionally purchased in Europe. Combine these factors with the huge influx of diamonds on to the market as a result of the discovery of the Diamond mines in the Sperrgebiet, South Africa in 1870 and you’ll recognise that Diamond miners worldwide were in a bit of fix. Increasing sales was a top priority.

That is until the arrival of the ‘Diamond Invention’. A phenomenally clever marketing mechanism for controlling the supply and demand of those little sparklers we all place such kudos by. Introduced in the 1930’s by DeBeers Consolidated Mines and advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son, who developed a revolutionary marketing campaign that permanently impacted on society as we know it. They effectively pulled off one of the most successful marketing heists of all time. To increase sales of diamonds, Ayer & Sons decided to reinvent the diamond as the ‘gift of love.’ Building upon the Victorian trend for assigning abstract concepts to material objects (for example Kate Greenway’s wildly popular ‘The Language of Flowers’) they consolidated the idea that diamonds equal romance. Essentially they ascribed emotional value to compressed carbon – the larger and finer the diamond the greater the expression for love.

Their marketing plan was genius, involving some serious PR and advertising; capitalising in particular on the relatively new medium of motion pictures. The bestowal of the diamond as a symbol of love was written in to movie scripts and film titles globally – this was product placement on a whole new level. Radio programmes publicising diamond trends were developed, portraits of betrothed socialites appeared in magazines, photographs and stories about celebrities adorned in diamonds reinforcing tales of romance sprang in to newspapers. The Great Artists Print campaign appeared – featuring the paintings of Picasso, Derain, Dali and Duffy accompanied by poetic copy and diamonds plonked all over the place – cleverly associating diamonds with the sophisticated subtext of art and the romance surrounding it – appearing in Vogue, Time, Fortune, the New Yorker etc.

This marketing campaign did not focus on placing a brand name in the public eye. Nor did it drive to promote a direct sale, yet by 1941 sales of diamonds in the US had risen by 55%. Why? Because Ayer & Sons sold an idea – pure and simple. They developed and implanted the idea of ‘the emotional value surrounding the diamond’ in to the public psyche. An achievement in itself, they didn’t however stop there. Increasing ‘diamond desire’ was one thing but to ensure sales they needed to promote the psychological necessity of diamond ownership. Hence, they introduced a subtle (ahem) programme that included arranging lecturers to visit high schools across America and Europe promoting the idea of the need for and propriety of the diamond engagement ring, reaching thousand of girls in assemblies, halls etc.

The carat on the diamond cake however appeared with the introduction of the infamous ‘A Diamond is Forever’ slogan created by copywriter Frances Gerety and introduced in 1947. Romantic as hell, this slogan also implied that diamonds don’t crack, break or lose value. Solidly positioning the diamond ring as the emblem of eternal; love and the ultimate necessity for an engagement, it also fulfilled DeBeers’ desire to ensure that purchased diamonds were seen as cherished heirlooms rather than investments to be resold. Too many diamonds on the market and prices would (and still will) plummet. Diamonds must remain rare and retain their emotional value. In one slogan DeBeers effectively ensured control over both supply and demand, ensuring profitability within an unstable market. Except for those few stones that have been destroyed, every diamond that has been found and cut in to a jewel essentially exists today and is literally in the public’s hands. The quantity of diamonds needed for engagement rings and jewellery pieces was then and is now satisfied by the production of the world’s diamonds mines. But it was DeBeers’ slogan that ensured this was and still is the case. Cont.


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