Diamonds: how a marketing company rewrote our definition of love

Interesting article about how De Beer$ monopolizes the diamond trade.

Think about this: pretty much every single jewellery-grade diamond that has ever been mined currently exists on a piece of jewellery somewhere, on someone’s hand or in their safety deposit box.

But new diamonds are still being mined every day.

If everyone tried to re-sell their own diamonds, the supply would outweigh demand, and the lucrative diamond market would collapse. De Beer$ is well aware of this, so they’ve deliberately campaigned for decades to make diamonds as sentimental as possible, so we’d all be disinclined to sell them. How to do that?

Well, first of all, establish a tradition whereby diamonds are a shorthand for “love”, so that selling a diamond feels like desecrating that love. That strategy worked well in North America. Japan was the next marketing target:

Until the mid-1960s, [Japanese marriages] were consummated… by the bride and groom drinking rice wine from the same wooden bowl. There was no tradition of romance, courtship, seduction, or prenuptial love in Japan; and none that required the gift of a diamond engagement ring.

[DeBeer$] began its campaign [with] a series of color advertisements in Japanese magazines showing beautiful women displaying their diamond rings. All the women had Western facial features and wore European clothes. Moreover, the women in most of the advertisements were involved in some activity — such as bicycling, camping, yachting, ocean swimming, or mountain climbing — that defied Japanese traditions. In the background, there usually stood a Japanese man, also attired in fashionable European clothes. In addition, almost all of the automobiles, sporting equipment, and other artifacts in the picture were conspicuous foreign imports. The message was clear: diamonds represent a sharp break with the Oriental past and a sign of entry into modern life.

The campaign was remarkably successful. Until 1959, the importation of diamonds had not even been permitted by the postwar Japanese government. When the campaign began, in 1967, not quite 5 percent of engaged Japanese women received a diamond engagement ring. By 1972, the proportion had risen to 27 percent. By 1978, half of all Japanese women who were married wore a diamond; by 1981, some 60 percent of Japanese brides wore diamonds. In a mere fourteen years, the 1,500-year Japanese tradition had been radically revised. Diamonds became a staple of the Japanese marriage. Japan became the second largest market, after the United States, for the sale of diamond engagement rings.

Wowsers, insidious, huh? Full article here. It’s from 1982 and it’s long, but it’s a good read. Via Metafilter.

More on diamonds: De Beer$ sponsored the recent diamond exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum- you can read my review of that exhibit here.

One Response to Diamonds: how a marketing company rewrote our definition of love

  1. Leslie says:

    Well that settles it,
    No diamonds for me!

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