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In the 1960s, De Beers extended its efforts overseas. Japan, for instance, went from being a country of arranged marriages to a billion-dollar-a-year diamond market. The discovery of enormous mines of small, high-quality diamonds in Siberia in the late '50s meant not only that the Soviet Union had to be taken into the cartel, but that the diamond pushers had to create new markets, insisting that we shell out for "eternity" rings, "trilogy" rings (for the past, present and future of a relationship) and the more recent "right-hand" ring for "independent" women. (Or, as Ron White of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour translates it, "A diamond — that'll shut her up!") In other words, the diamond script is profoundly anti-feminist. Even the right-hand ring, which sounds prima facie pro-woman, is really just clever marketing touching a raw nerve in single women with lucrative careers.
Of course, in De Beers' defense, the pitch has to hit a receptive audience. Male engagement rings, popularized in the '20s, never took off in the way that men's wedding bands did. The marketing works because it ingeniously plays on men's complexes about love, status and money — if you don't buy her a diamond, it implies, you not only don't love her, you can't afford her. The diamond ring is not only a symbol of commitment, but of status. What's more, the script is one of near-prostitution where the woman passively (or passive-aggressively) hints that a gift of diamond jewelry would be welcome.
Nor does much seem to have changed since Epstein wrote his article and apartheid fell in South Africa: De Beers, which still controls about 40% of the world diamond market by value, agreed to pay a $10 million fine for manipulating the price of industrial diamonds in 2004, and recently settled a class-action lawsuit on price-fixing. De Beers' parent company Anglo American has also been accused of trading in conflict diamonds and underwriting human-rights abuses in order to continue unfair and environmentally-damaging mining practices. In short, diamonds not only aren't a girl's best friend, they're also bad for human rights and the environment. Worse, they're a symbol of the same conspicuous-consumption consumer culture that reduces human relationships to a bank balance. With a thousand and one creative ways to show your love for each other — claddagh rings, pornographic medieval badges — a diamond-free engagement band shows love for the rest of the world. n°
(Or, as Ron White of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour translates it, "A diamond — that'll shut her up!") In other words, the diamond script is profoundly anti-feminist. Even the right-hand ring, which sounds prima facie pro-woman, is really just clever marketing touching a raw nerve in single women with lucrative careers.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Ken Mondschein is a Ph.D candidate at Fordham University and the author of A History of Single Life.|