Digging deep on diamonds

One score and 15 years ago, I was working at a large advertising agency.  Among the accounts I was assigned to work on was a jewelry chain store.  Just one problem: I knew nothing about jewelry.  In fact, I had never been in a jewelry store.

Not to worry.  The ad agency had an in-house library filled with books, magazines, and journals related to the accounts they served, so I was able to get up to speed pretty quickly on the diamond industry.  What I learned was sobering.

Like the average dolt, I figured diamonds were rare and hence valuable.  Obviously, they were something of a status symbol for females; showing off a ring to one’s girl friends is a female rite of passage, and a big “rock” enhances a femme’s place in the pecking order.  A woman’s desirability is in proportion to the size of the rock on the ring.  Of course, having no ring at all consigns a woman to the lowest caste, though no feminist would ever admit that.  A woman needs a wedding ring like a fish needs a bicycle, don’t ya know.

While wedding rings (or bands) have a long history, most of the time the purpose was not to indicate social status but to mark one’s territory.  In a sense, the presence of a ring indicates “hands off” my woman.  As a symbol of marriage, a ring need not be expensive.  The addition of diamonds to the rings, however, transforms them into status symbols.

Diamonds weren’t a big deal until 1870, when large diamond mines were discovered in South Africa.  The enormous output flooded the market, so how to keep the prices up?  Those sparkly little baubles were attractive but how to make them precious, and hence more valuable?

There were, of course, industrial uses for diamonds, but that sort of demand is pretty well fixed.  You can’t create a demand for industrial-strength diamonds, though obviously the market for them will be better during economic upturns when manufacturing is on the rise.  Creating a consumer demand for diamonds has greatly expanded the market.  But how did that happen?  Well, it started with a cartel.

In 1888 DeBeers Consolidated Mines was formed.  This corporation oversaw all aspects of the diamond trade.  Over the years, a number of their memes have become widespread.  Even people who know next to nothing about diamonds have heard of the famous 4Cs (cut, color, clarity, carats) pertaining to diamonds.

Somewhat less renowned is the story of how diamonds and wedding rings became inseparable.  In 1938 Harry Oppenheimer, son of the DeBeers founder, had a meeting with N.W. Ayer & Son, a legacy American advertising agency dating back to 1869.  Any number of slogans (e.g., When it rains it pours, I’d walk a mile for a Camel, Reach out and touch someone, and Be all you can be) have emanated from this institution.

That 1938 meeting was called because the price of diamonds was falling worldwide.  The Depression certainly played a part, but the real problem was that diamonds had not caught on in Europe.  To be sure, the upper crust were into conspicuous adornment, but there were not enough of them to keep prices high, and the masses were not interested in diamonds.  Americans were buying diamonds for engagement rings but even that market was depressed, and the diamonds they purchased were the low end of the stock.  What to do?  The supply was ample, so how to increase demand?

The plan was to interweave diamonds with love and marriage.  Sure, a low-cost engagement ring serves the symbolic purpose, but if you really love that woman, get her an expensive ring to show you just how much you love her. And if you’re a woman, the more expensive your engagement ring, the more your man loves you.  Thanks to gynocentrism, both sexes fell right into line.  It should have been no surprise.

In my advertising days, I read a number of works on motivational psychology.  Gynocentrism wasn’t a term back then, but it was always lurking in the background.  It has always been thus; gynocentrism is to motivational psychology as the deep state is to government.  They’ve always been there but until recently nobody ever talked about them.

At any rate, a multi-front advertising campaign was launched.  In the dominant media of the time (movies, radio, magazines, newspapers) diamonds took center stage, thus enhancing their desirability.

Well, merging diamonds with love has proved to be a marriage made in heaven.   The phrase “a diamond is forever” (and by implication so is love, despite ample evidence to the contrary) dates back to an advertising campaign that began in 1947.  By 1956, even James Bond was on board when Ian Fleming published Diamonds Are Forever.

At any rate, the very notion of getting married without a diamond ring became unthinkable in America.  Eventually, foreign ad agencies were brought in to sell the concept in other countries.  In Brazil, for example, men and women wore a simple band on the right hand after engagement and simply switched it to the left hand after the ceremony.  A perfect wedding of simplicity and symbolism!  But not terribly profitable.

Now think about engagement rings.  These also date back to ancient times, but like wedding rings, they were simpler.  It could have been a gold band, or it might have been a ring, a bracelet, or an anklet made of braided grass.  That might have been all right in its day, but now we’ve got all those diamonds available.  Let’s not let those rocks go to waste!

Another market waiting to be created and exploited was male wedding rings.  They are common today but that has not always been the case.  My father (born 1914) never had one, and I don’t recall my grandfather (born 1896) ever wearing one.  Wedding rings for men did not catch on till the second half of the 20th Century.  Now they are essential.  A man who refuses a wedding ring today would be suspect.  If a man has one and doesn’t wear it, he must be on the prowl for extracurricular action.

The fusion of love and diamonds was a success, but why stop there?  Unfortunately, since diamonds were forever, i.e., indestructible, they do not need to be replaced.  Even worse, they were often passed on as heirlooms.  Some men even recycle their mother’s rings and offer them to their prospective brides.

Thanks to the permanence of diamonds and their reliable supply, the resale market is not robust and not likely to improve.  If dead women are sometimes buried with their rings on, it really doesn’t make much difference to the market in the long run.  A growing population could keep demand high but with the stagnation of wages over the past several decades, people might decide that diamonds, albeit forever, are not for them, and jewelry would revert to being adornments of the wealthy.

The diamond mines in South Africa are far from tapped out, but the discovery of diamond mines in Siberia threatened to flood the market and depress prices.  So DeBeers had a tete-a-tete with the erstwhile Soviet Union and brought them into the cartel.

Now if you’re convinced that diamonds are for suckers, what are the chances that you could convince a young woman to accept a diamond-free band for an engagement and/or wedding ring today?  Probably not good.  If you’re going to ask a girl to marry you, you better get down on one knee and whip out a ring with a rock when you pop the question.

Buying a diamond ring makes no economic sense, but if you don’t do it, you are a tightwad, and a man who does not spend his money on his woman is no better than a man with no money to spend – at least before marriage.  After marriage, the man’s assets are easier to attach.

In 2015 the average cost of a wedding ring was $6,113.  In 2016 the average price of an engagement ring was $4,758.  That’s almost $11,000 per relationship.  Oh, wait, let’s not forget men’s wedding rings.  They averaged all of $468 in 2015.  Gender equality, anyone?

Just imagine how much money has been thrown away on these trinkets since the cartel and the ad agency folks went to work.  No matter how you calculate it, the amount would be staggering.  In fact, one has to wonder how many desires have been implanted in clueless gynocentric men’s heads thanks to ad campaigns.  Diamonds certainly don’t qualify as a need, any more than cologne, hip attire, sports cars, or any of the other goodies modern men waste money on; none is a need, but without advertising, would they even qualify as a want?

What will the diamond industry do if the marriage rate continues to plummet?  As effective as ad agencies are, I seriously doubt that they can ever find a way to sell modern marriage to growing numbers of red-pill men.  Come to think of it, anyone working as a wedding planner or earning a living in family law courts may have to seek out other work in the future.

I suspect some totally different advertising campaign will arise to keep diamond demand up.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see ad agencies come up with campaigns to persuade women to buy their own jewelry and leave men out of the equation altogether.  Maybe the target demographic will be the growing number of women who have hit the wall without a mate.  Ladies, you can fill the void in your life with something shiny and overpriced.  Show the world you don’t need no man to buy you jewelry.

The ad agencies know what makes women tick.  I think they can convince them to buy their own bling.  Hell, if you can sell torn blue jeans, tattoos, and purple hair dye to women, you can probably sell them anything.

 

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