Final Fridays with Cousin Mars – The Truth Behind Diamond Engagement Rings


Ladies (and fellas because I know some of y’all are reading too), do you remember your initial reaction to hearing Beyonce’s Put a Ring On It song? We all know one of the first things asked after a woman says she is engaged is “Let me see the ring!” How many people do you know have very little knowledge of precious gems, but can tell you exactly what the Four Cs references? Have you ever wondered why there is an expectation (by most though not all) that a diamond accompanies a proposal? Well, this Final Friday post aims to share a jewel about one of your favorite jewels – DIAMONDS. If you have ever thought why society has come to expect a diamond to accompany a proposal I’m about to share just how and when this tradition began.

The ritual of gifting a ring to the person you love, while proposing marriage dates back over a century. However, there were no diamonds – or any stones for that matter – in those rings. I’m going to start this history lesson in the 20th century to avoid using Triple B as my personal platform to convince all of you to never purchase a diamond. After acquiring a majority percentage of the diamond production and distribution markets, DeBeers (the world’s leading diamond company) made the decision to aggressively change the perception of diamonds in America. In the 1930s one of the best marketing campaigns ever was born. Along with the assistance of a prominent advertising agency, DeBeers was pretty much able to convince Americans that diamonds equated love. In fact, advertising suggested the size of the diamond in an engagement ring directly related to how much one loved their fiancée. Celebrities and affluent individuals were often photographed wearing diamonds. This contributed to the mainstream population rushing to emulate their favorite celebrities. By the way, almost all of these celebrities were given the diamonds free of charge. Not much has changed in all of these years, huh? Those with abundant financial resources receive the most freebies. Contrarily, many of those with extremely limited financial resources often over spend in an attempt of mimicking what is advertised. The development of the tag line, “A diamond is forever,” drastically helped accelerate the trend of proposing with a diamond ring. In fact, the tag line later became the official motto of DeBeers.

I hope you enjoyed today’s fun fact. Below you can view some of the awe inspiring rings (top to bottom: Beyonce, Ciara and Amber Rose) we’ve seen in recent years.

What’s your take on diamonds being a prerequisite for a marriage proposal? Would you ever accept a marriage proposal if a diamond weren’t involved? (Be honest.) Read about how many celebrities are going the colored stone route for engagement rings here.

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  1. I didn’t know about this but unfortunately I’m not surprised. Marketing is a mutha, ain’t it? SMH, the African Atlantic Slave Trade really did a number on people of the Diaspora. Our constant desire to flaunt wealth (that most of us don’t even have) is a cry for acceptance that stems from a deep dark place. What is most sad about this is the DeBeers family has a long history of supporting the South African Apartheid:

    Thanks for the history lesson MARS!

  2. Avatar ATL Cutie says:

    Okay no I didn’t know about this history BUT I am an April baby (shout out to all the Aries!!!) so diamond is actually my birthstone. This is why I want a diamond engagement ring. It has nothing to do with celebrities or trying to keep up with the Joneses..

  3. This was news to me. Thanks for the info. I’m sure I will still expect a diamond when my time comes.

  4. Avatar Zenobia Hatcher-Wilson says:

    Great history lesson! I didn’t know. And, no I did not receive a diamond as my engagement nor wedding ring. I received an opal and a gold band respectively. But diamonds are alright with me! I received one for my 25th wedding anniversary and I just love it. I think I appreciate it more now than I would have 35 years ago.

    Keep up the writing, I enjoy it.

  5. Avatar SpikesDtr says:

    Thank you for the lesson, Cousin Mars. Having known some aspects of the history and the brutality of the diamond trade business, I have been anti-diamond for over three decades. A close look at the main diamond supplying countries in Africa and the condition of those citizens makes me suffer deep depression. Meanwhile DeBeers laughs all the way to the bank. Angelae, you stated it very well (I’m sure their support of oppression didn’t end with Apartheid), Respect!

  6. Bridgette Bridgette says:

    Mars, thank you for enlightening! I just saw an article in the May issue of Vogue that references this — crazy. 10 percent…

  7. Wow! Teaching Americans that “Diamonds equated to love”! Wow what an interesting history lesson!! Thank you so much for sharing. I think that so often when it comes to giving something for special occasions rather it be engagements or anniversaries many people look at the tradition as opposed to the history of the gift. Thank you for sharing, this was a GREAT blog!

  8. @Bridgette Now we have to start watching the folks over at Vogue. I knew they were eyeing out editorial calendar. lol
    @everyone Continue sharing your opinions. Learning about the brutal diamond trade practices (before Blood Diamond was released) turned me off to the precious stone. Discovering how the tradition came about just adds to the list of reasons for ME not to buy. I’m consistent – I refuse to buy Jordans too. lol

  9. I love it when we share useful information with each other…thanks Mars! My wife’s ring didn’t cost 3 months pay but as we blissfully approach our 9th anniversary! We choose to concentrate more on our happiness, rather than tradition and the perception of happiness. Can’t front though…my daughter looks good with those studs in her ears!!

  10. Avatar Gerald McCoy says:

    Great article, as usual, Cousin Mars. I see you switched it up on us and dropped some science this month. Good stuff. It’s funny because the allure of the diamond is usually too much for women to resist. My wife, and countless other brides I knew, were aware of the history behind diamonds and yet still were like, “well, I really want one so just get me a small one.” Haha.

  11. Perfectly fine if that’s what you want. Diamond engagement rings only baceme popular in the last century before that it was often sapphires and other precious and semi-precious stones that were used since they were rarer than diamonds and therefore coveted. Semi-precious stones were used by less affluent families, and that’s only AFTER wedding rings baceme popular.And there are a lot of people going away from diamonds and precious stones altogether because of the socio-economic price that the countries they’re mined in have to pay (even if you avoid conflict diamonds, most stones come from mines owned by the same companies that mine in those countries).

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