Bright like a diamond

Off the Beat

I should preface this column by saying that it is not my place to tell anyone what they should or should not buy. Use your own money for whatever you want; my goal is only to make you think. And if you are one of the many who dream of either gifting or receiving a diamond ring one day as a show of love and romance, think about this: You’ve been manipulated.

Diamonds are only valuable in that they are symbols of (1) wealth and power and (2) romance and commitment. The latter is a more powerful notion than the former, especially when a diamond is mounted on a ring on a finger. We know this because we don’t often see people buy diamond rings for themselves; they’re gifts presented as a physical manifestation of love. But no matter which is more important, a diamond’s value is symbolic, not intrinsic. This isn’t a car or a house or a vacation, it’s a rock that only matters in that it represents concepts we hold to be important.

That symbolism, which is so widely held across Western society, is not a result of longstanding traditions. Even if it were, we should still question it. No, the symbolism behind diamonds was created by something much more American: advertising.

The short story is that until the end of the 1990s, the De Beers family of companies had a virtual monopoly over the diamond industry since Cecil Rhodes founded it in 1888. In 1947, that company came up with the slogan “A diamond is forever” as it began marketing the notion that a diamond ring was a necessity for any engagement. And though women are normally featured prominently in De Beers ads to this day, the real market is men who are trying to “win” over their women. And yes, it was De Beers that came up with the completely arbitrary two-months salary thing because — duh — they want you to spend money.

Through De Beers’ advertising campaign, the market for diamonds boomed. De Beers successfully convinced Americans that diamonds were a necessity in a healthy engagement, when the only thing couples should really want is a symbolic object to represent their commitment to each other. Yet somehow spending thousands of dollars on an object with no utility outside its symbolism has become the norm. If symbolism is the only importance, why does it have to be expensive too? Why not something moderately priced that is both equally beautiful and meaningful?

And if you think that a diamond engagement ring is a good investment — the price of diamonds just seems to go up and up and up — think again. It’s easy to buy at retail, but you’ll be selling at wholesale. The return on a diamond ring is incredibly poor, and after all De Beers has convinced us: Diamonds are forever! You didn’t buy this thing to sell it! Couples hold on to their rings, as they should, but as a result, they never see the money they put into it come back. A diamond ring clearly is not an investment, so why the vast sums of cash?

Let’s remember that the value of a diamond ring is entirely symbolic. It’s a physical object that has come to be attached with concepts of love, commitment, eternity and romance in society. Those aren’t unimportant concepts. Actually, they’re very important — a marriage is a huge commitment, and it needs a daily reminder of that love. The question is: Why diamonds? Why one or two or three months of salary?

If the importance is in the symbolism, then expense shouldn’t also be part of the equation. And neither should diamonds. You can buy a ring with moissanite, instead of diamond, that will cost about one-tenth of the price, and no one will be able to tell the difference without a microscope in hand. Or why not another precious gem? This is jewelry we are talking about, so beauty matters, but does price? Do diamonds matter? They shouldn’t, and the only reason anyone thinks they do is because a century of advertising has conditioned society into thinking that a diamond somehow embodies love and eternity more than other rocks do. But it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.

So go ahead, buy a ring. And then buy two tickets to Cabo with the money you saved by not buying a ring with an overpriced, intrinsically worthless diamond mounted on it.


“Off the Beat” guest columns will be written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.