Since I’m writing on the topic of weddings and such, I decided to look into the whole history of diamond engagement rings. This topic piqued my interest a while ago, since every (woman) friend I have who’s gotten engaged received a nice sized diamond ring with the proposal. (I didn’t, but I’ve always been an oddball when it comes to being a girl.) Two of these friends have also assured me that my husband has a duty to buy a diamond for me sometime during our marriage, a belief I find very amusing.
What’s puzzled me the most is that if you look at the list of traditional anniversary gifts, diamonds don’t appear until you’ve managed to stay married for 60 years. In the modern list, diamonds start appearing much sooner. In fact, everything appears much sooner. The consensus seems to be that the traditional anniversary gift list first appeared in 1922 when it was published by a Ms. Emily Post, the queen of etiquette. (I haven’t been able to find the origins of the modern list.)
The history of engagement rings is a pretty fascinating one worth reading. As far as diamond engagement rings go, what happened was that around 1870, diamonds were discovered in South Africa, and De Beers Consolidated Mines managed to gain control over most of the diamond supply to the world. To create demand and perceived value in the post-Depression and post-WWII era, De Beers began a very successful marketing campaign with the famous “A Diamond is Forever” phrase that you still see and hear today in ads. De Beers managed to convince the public that diamond rings were the only correct choice for engagement rings, and, what’s more, that they should be kept as heirlooms (and hence not resold, thus preventing a secondary market from being created). They even educated jewellers to instruct would-be husbands that two to three months’ salary was the appropriate amount to spend on an engagement ring.
Neat, huh? Even as a finance person, you have to hand it to the marketing department on that one!
I still think it’s interesting that diamonds are gifts given before marriage these days instead of after 60 years of being together. They’re still pricey baubles. And I’m not sure what, if anything, it means for how society is changing. For now, I myself will be sticking to the traditional anniversary list, because I kind of like the fun and challenge of finding a gift that suits the suggestion for that year. On our first anniversary, I gave my husband a subscription to Classic Cars magazine (paper), and the next year a baseball cap to his favorite Dominican league baseball team (cotton). More fun than just buying a gift off the modern list every year, right? Oftentimes the easiest way to be frugal is just to ignore convention and follow your own beat.