This is Part two of a series on the Origin of the Engagement Ring. To see Part one click here.
In the first part of this series I discussed how the engagement ring developed from a piece of string tied around the bride’s wrist to the gold rings worn today. In my research I discovered that while gold and gemstones were commonly used, diamonds didn’t feature until the 1400’s.
The first documented use of diamonds in an engagement ring was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria commissioned a ring for his future bride Mary of Burgundy. After this engagement giving a diamond ring became very popular amongst the wealthy and famous. Around the world the trend continued with the upper classes and over the next few centuries the custom was limited to this sector of society. This changed in 1870 when several diamond mines were discovered in South Africa. Suddenly diamonds dropped in price and were now more readily available to the general public. The market was now flooded with a newfound diamond supply and sales flourished in Europe and the United States.
Tiffanys which had been in business since 1837 began to bring out new engagement ring designs to meet the demand and in 1886 they created the six prong diamond solitaire engagement ring. This revolutionized the concept of the engagement ring as they concentrated on the beauty of the diamond rather than ornate and elaborate metalwork which was the fashion of the time. The diamond was set in a simple band with a four or six claw setting to accentuate the sparkle of the diamond.
In the early 20th century De Beers experienced a drop in sales in America that lasted two decades. So in the 1930’s it sought the help of the advertising firm N.W. Ayer to devise a national advertising campaign to promote it’s diamonds. Ayer convinced Hollywood actresses to wear diamond rings in public and encouraged fashion designers to discuss the trend towards diamond rings. Their efforts paid off with diamond sales jumping by 55% between 1938 to 1941. The market continued to grow as the advertising became more influential. In 1947 Frances Gerety a female copywriter came up with the line ‘ A Diamond is Forever’. This has been used ever since to reinforce the idea that the strenght of the diamond represents the unbreakable bond between the engaged couple. What brilliant marketing!
In the 1950’s Marilyn Monroe helped to secured the the appeal of diamonds for women when she sang ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I couldn’t find the statistics for Europe but by 1965 in America 80 percent of American women had a diamond engagement ring. Not bad for a custom that only became popular amongst the general public 100 years previously. The diamond ring had finally become a requisite element of the engagement ritual.