“There was a time when love didn’t equal diamonds,” I explain to a girlfriend whose boyfriend is all but guaranteed to be her fiancée soon. She’s freaking out about whether he’s going to pick the right ring. I’m freaking out because I didn’t think my girlfriends did this.
“But everyone asks to see the ring,” She protests, “It’s the first thing they ask.” This is a disgusting and true statement.
“That’s totally untrue,” I lie. “Not all women like diamonds. Not all women should like diamonds. They’re not exactly good for the environment. The diamonds,” I clarify, “or the women.”
She shakes her head. I’m hopeless. She turns back to the Tiffany ad, which started the argument.
There was a time when love didn’t equal diamonds. Diamond engagement rings weren’t common before the beginning of the 20th century. Before the diamond boom fiancées sometimes gifted a thimble as a promise to wed in the near future (albeit not an exciting choice - quaint none-the-less). But when large diamond mines were discovered in South Africa in the late 1800, diamond giant De Beers had to figure out how to increase the demand for diamonds or watch the price of the once rare jewel plummet.
In 1937 De Beers hired N. W. Ayer one of the most successful advertising agencies in the U.S. to rehash the diamond’s image. N.W. Ayer attacked on multiple fronts including diamond lessons in home economics classrooms and script doctoring Hollywood movies to include scenes of starlets ecstatically receiving huge diamond rings.
But, the real magic happened in 1947 when a single female copywriter named Frances Gerety typed the phrase “A Diamond is Forever.” The multi faceted slogan endowed the diamond engagement ring with the power of eternal happiness, and whispered to families to hold onto their diamonds. Resale was out of the question. Diamonds could only be passed down. Ms. Gerety’s saying saved the market from an influx of second hand rings.
By the time Marilyn Monroe belted “">Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” the diamond engagement ring was de rigueur. An ingenious advertising campaign had melded love and diamonds into a single entity, so much so that today the Tiffany’s engagement ring webpage has an app for people in love. Those of you who thought you were in love without this app were delusional.
“Diamonds… that’ll shut her up.” – Comedian Ron White
With an almost 100 year media blitz mingling materialism with affection it’s not hard to see why many ladies love their rings. But it’s also true that not all women like diamonds. I’ve met some. They’re endangered, so finding them in North America is akin to finding one of the aforementioned rough carbon rocks in a riverbed. They certainly don’t have a strong media presence. Googling “women who don’t like diamonds,” only led me to women concerned with the fact that diamond engagement rings are “boring” and “common.” They want to stand out. “Suggest that your fiancée picks another stone,” one website proposes.
Unfortunately, mining any gemstone, including diamonds, isn’t good for the ecosystem surrounding the mine. To launch into an expose on the harm diamonds inflict on the environmental and humanitarian causes would be extensive and at this point clichéd. They’ve been done. Movies starring Leonardo Dicaprio have been done. Environmentally the highlights of diamond mining include: removal of topsoil, CO2 from heavy machinery, toxic runoff, and wildlife displacement. If possible, the human cost is worse. For example: “conflict diamonds” fund rebel groups in countries like the Congo and Sierra Leon. Rebel groups like to recruit child soldiers.
The World Diamond Council points out that diamonds offer economic growth, and with the introduction of the Kimberly Process 99% of diamonds are conflict free. However, in Sierra Leone and other diamond rich West African nations there is very little infrastructure in place to enforce environmental or humanitarian regulations.
In reflection, I don’t think my rant would have made my friend feel better or solved the problem of her fiancée finding the perfect ring. Like all relationship issues compromise is needed. They can compromise on ring size and style. I compromised by writing this instead of saying it. Anyone who wants the romance of a diamond, but wants to be a positive environmental steward can go vintage. After all, a diamond lasts forever.