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.

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.

The marketing implies, "If you don't buy her a diamond, you not only don't love her, you can't afford her."

(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.

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.  



History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
Age of Consent.
History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
Career Women.
History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
Love and Money.
History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
Plato's Retreat and Swingtown USA.
History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
A Legend With Teeth: A new film updates the age-old male fear.
History of Single Life by Ken Mondschein
How Alfred Kinsey's own sex life changed American culture.

©2008 Ken Mondschein and
Ken Mondschein is a Ph.D candidate at Fordham University and the author of A History of Single Life.

Commentarium (19 Comments)

Jun 23 08 - 2:36am

Never wanted a diamond ring. I don't see the point, unless what others think really matters to a couple. If it does, then by all means, go for it!

Jun 23 08 - 3:55am

Aw, harsh. I plan to have a secondhand stone in my hypothetical future ring; that's always seemed like a humane way to balance my social conscience and my love of shiny things. To the people who can forgo the diamond altogether: More power to you. But compromise, I think, is also good.

Jun 23 08 - 8:34am

I have to say, these dispatches are the best writing on nerve. Interesting, informative, yet always funny and sexy.

Give Ken M. a raise!

Jun 23 08 - 11:39am

I got a swanky diamond engagement ring from my mother, who'd gotten it from her second husband, and gave it to the fiance who swore up and down that she wasn't materialistic. She was, she went beserk when the ring when missing, the marriage sucked and was quickly over.
In future? Fuck diamond rings, and the girls who want 'em. I see it as a most-excellent early warning system for The Wrong Girl.
Anyone who hasn't read that Atlantic article (available free online) should do so.

Jun 23 08 - 1:28pm

I was adamant about not having a diamond for many of these reasons. Not to mention talk about wasteful... I still got some bling in the form of faux aquamarine though.

Jun 23 08 - 1:31pm

Unfortunately the diamond shuts everyone up. Living in the south, hubby and I are often suspected of some form of "marriage lite" for not displaying all the traditional signs of subjugation--wedding rings, same last names, mortgage, and so on. Sometimes I'd rather try to blend in than field all these questions about how committed I am.

Jun 23 08 - 7:04pm

Well researched, but does it say anything new?

Jun 24 08 - 6:47pm

I believe that before the diamond became the big engagement stone, it was the sapphire. My close friend has a sapphire engagement ring (her husband researched cruelty free rings) and it's beautiful.

Jun 27 08 - 9:48am

Anti-feminist? The idea of a man using three months of his salary to buy a diamond ring for his fianc

Jul 16 08 - 11:12am

I totally agree with most everything stated in this article, but I do think that there are some somewhat reasonable underpinnings of the broader culture around men making a commitment to women in marriage, symbolized by an expenditure of $$, as much as I find all of it annoying and an impingement on my liberty and wealth, meager as it is.

Our generation clearly wants to wish differences between the sexes away -- for good reason -- but the reality is that women have less reproductive mobility than men (fewer eggs than men have sperm, and a shorter period of time during which to procreate). As a consequence, a man leaving a woman after impregnating her does a woman a much larger disservice than a woman leaving a man. Therefore it's necessary to basically get the guy to do a whole series of things (spend money, make a legal commitment with severe consequences if he breaks it, etc) to decrease the likelihood that he is going to screw the woman over, because she is more vulnerable post conception. It ain't PC, but this is the bottom line.

The diamond industry has exploited this dynamic quite effectively. But if it were not diamonds, we would be encouraged to buy something else. In our case we bought an antique diamond ring (from turn of the century) which is more beautiful in my opinion, holds it's value better, and does nothing for the current debeers clan. But it's still a diamond.

Dec 07 08 - 6:12pm

I would agree that the least expensive way to buy a diamond ring is in the second hand market. However, if that's not your way yo might try the following website:

Feb 14 10 - 6:42pm

wrong article link to print

Nov 20 11 - 5:26pm

Wow I must confess you make some very trenchant pnoits.

Nov 20 11 - 6:05pm

If not for your writing this topic could be very conovltued and oblique.

Nov 21 11 - 2:14pm

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Nov 21 11 - 2:48pm

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Nov 24 11 - 2:41pm

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