At not even four years out of highschool, I find my Facebook feed already filling up with engagement posts. I may not be anywhere near tying the knot, but it’s getting me thinking about the farce that is the modern-day wedding, namely the first big wedding purchase- the engagement ring.
When a couple gets engaged, everyone talks about the ring. Timeless and precious, the engagement ring is seen as a symbolic representation of a couple’s love and hopes for the future. Like everything else about weddings, bigger and more expensive is the goal, with $4-5000 being an average pricetag for this time honored tradition. But if what people are buying into is the tradition, it’s important to note that diamond engagement rings are a concept less than a century old, and were the subject of perhaps the most successful marketing campaign of all time.
CollegeHumor’s Adam Conover, in his series Adam Ruins Everything, describes how the De Beers company artificially limited the global diamond supply in the 1930s, while aggressively marketing diamonds as the only proper way to show love and devotion. It was so successful that diamond engagement rings became ingrained into Western culture. Even in recent years where people make viral videos and articles about the history of diamonds, people buy them anyway because of pressure from spouses, friends, family and society.
Alternatives such as synthetic diamonds, cubic zirconias and other gems are becoming more and more prevalent, especially among young consumers who care about the ethical and environmental questions that diamond mining raises. Some couples are even eschewing rings altogether, choosing to get matching engagement tattoos.
Creating a market for a product from the ground up is something the fashion industry and advertising in general is very good at, so it’s up to consumers to stay informed and educated.