Diamond Engagement Ring History

Have you ever wondered how it came to be that in Western societies we developed a tradition of a woman wearing a diamond engagement ring as a symbol of her agreement to marry?

It is not only Western society that has this tradition. Increasingly engagement rings in other cultures are becoming more elaborate and are featuring diamonds over and above other gemstone content.

A Diamond Engagement Ring is Practical

I suppose first and foremost, there is a practical issue in that if you are to have an engagement ring with a gemstone in it, diamonds are the hardest wearing gem that you can have. So it makes sense for a ring that you are going to wear every day, that you choose a diamond.

This is not to say that other gemstones such as sapphires aren’t a great choice for an engagement ring. A sapphire isn’t quite as hard wearing as a diamond, but they still reach #9 on the Mohs scale of hardness (diamonds are #10). The Mohs scale of hardness ranks the ability of one mineral to visibly scratch another. Diamonds are actually four times harder than sapphires, but diamonds are not indestructible. For more info on this, read the following blog: Damaging a Diamond.

The Power Of Advertising

Aside from the practicality of a diamond for a ring that is to be worn everyday, it seems that we really succumbed to the allure of the enormous marketing campaign that De Beers ran in the late 1930’s. Sales of diamonds had been in decline for a number of years. When the Great Depression hit, they plummeted. Then, (and to this day) De Beers dominated the mining and production of diamonds world wide. This decline in sales hit the company hard.

So they launched an enormous campaign featuring movie stars dripping in diamonds. A young copywriter came up with the advertising slogan “A Diamond is Forever”.

This slogan is thought of by those in the industry as the best advertising line of the 20th Century. It really tapped into the concept that marriage is forever and that the diamond is the perfect emblem of this commitment. The brilliance, beauty and fire of the diamond was likened to the couple’s great love. The durability of the diamond was marketed as being symbolic of their enduring love.

Sales of diamonds skyrocketed in the years after the advertising campaign launched. Now a diamond engagement ring is generally accepted as a cultural norm.

It seems that the Archduke Maximilian of Austria really started something when he gave Mary of Burgandy an emerald cut diamond engagement ring in 1477. This is the first record of a gift of a diamond engagement ring.  Much to the happiness of jewellers today, the tradition continues.