Diamonds weren’t always valuable or regarded as the most valuable gemstone, thanks to the efforts put in by one diamond company in South Africa that knew all too well how to market the diamonds.
So, when exactly did diamonds become valuable gems?
A brief history of diamonds
Diamonds boast a pretty remarkable history that is quite old and is tied down to human history. However, diamonds are a lot older than us, essentially forged from deep down in the depths of the earth.
Specifically, diamonds are formed deep in the earth’s crust, at around 90 miles or 145km below the earth’s mantle. At these depths, the rocks are exposed to extremely high-temperature conditions of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1093 degrees Celsius).
As a result, the diamonds are formed at these depths and under very high-pressure conditions.
However, with weaknesses in the earth’s crust and mantle and with resultant fast-moving magma being forced out of the deep through violent volcanic eruptions, the diamonds are brought up to the surface or closer to the surface, where they can be mined easily.
As a result of the migratory effects of the plates that form the continents and the different movements taking place under the earth’s crust and in the mantle, very small pieces of diamonds are often detected in rocks in the tectonic plates.
After the plates are subducted to the mantle, they are returned to the earth’s surface, where they are extracted easily.
As mentioned above, diamonds have been around for too long, and the earliest discoveries of diamonds date back to India as far back as the 4th century BC. However, the earliest or the youngest diamond deposits are believed to have been formed about 900 million years ago.
It is believed that most of the earliest diamonds were transported across the country through a series of networks and trade routes connecting India and China, also called the Silk Road.
When diamonds were first discovered, they were valued highly for their brilliance and strength, as well as for their ability to refract light easily.
It was also used in engraving metals. At the time, diamonds weren’t set on metallic rings but worn as adornments and cutting tools. They also served as a talisman for warding off evil.
Others also believed that the diamonds offered warriors protection during battle. Then in the Dark Ages, diamonds were essential tools providing some form of medical aid thanks to the belief that the diamonds cured illnesses and would heal wounds if and when they were ingested.
Since diamonds have a lot in common with coal, they are both made of carbon atoms and are formed in the same way, and the carbon atoms are all arranged in a similar lattice-like structure.
The main difference between coal and diamonds is that the diamonds are formed deep down under the earth’s crust, where they are subjected to very high temperature and pressure in the earth’s lithosphere between 90 and 240 miles under the earth’s crust.
But until the 18th century, India was believed to be the only diamond source, so when the diamonds from the Indian mines were all depleted, and they started looking for alternate sources of diamonds, the first alternative source was discovered in 1725 in Brazil.
At the time, supply didn’t meet the world’s demands. Later in 1866, a 15-year-old explorer called Erasmus Jacobs made a huge discovery on the banks of Orange River in Southern Africa.
Initially, Jacobs thought that the shiny stone he’d found was just another kind of pebble, but as it turned out, he’d discovered a 21.25-carat diamond.
Then in 1871, another huge discovery was made, and an 83.50-carat diamond was discovered at Colesberg Kopje, a shallow hill.
Thanks to this finding, there was a spark in the number of prospectors looking for diamonds in the region, and this ultimately led to the opening of the first large-scale mine, the Kimberly Mine.
With this discovery came a large influx of diamonds, and the world’s supply increased substantially; and this led to a significant drop in the value of the diamonds.
As a result of the increased diamond supply, the elite no longer deemed diamonds rare, and the diamonds replaced the common stones, especially colored gemstones.
So, the rubies, emeralds, and sapphires all became popular options for engagement rings, and the diamonds were relegated to second place. The upper class especially preferred colored gemstones.
But things changed in 1880 when the now infamous Englishman called Cecil John Rhodes created the company called De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd.
This was a powerful move that would make possible control over the supply of diamonds. De Beers turned out to be a huge success, but then there was a problem, demand for the gemstones dipped such that by 1919, diamonds had lost as much as 50% of their value.
When did diamonds become popular for engagement rings?
As mentioned above, while diamonds were only discovered en-masse in India and later in South Africa, engagement rings were popular earlier and considered symbols of wealth and status.
The diamond engagement rings date back to 1215 in the Middle Ages when Pope Innocent III, who was, at the time, one of the most powerful popes, declared that people needed to have a waiting period between the time they were betrothed and wedding/ marriage ceremony.
The engagement ring signified the couple’s commitment before the big day. And soon after, it was mandated by the whole Roman government.
However, the biggest record of the diamond engagement was in 1477, during the proposal of Mary of Burgundy and Austria’s Archduke Maximilian.
While the idea of engagement rings was not new, and diamonds were rare, diamond engagement rings were only reserved for upper-class elites and royalty.
This was the trend for years, but things changed later, with diamond engagement rings becoming more mainstream after the 1960s, with demand skyrocketing by 1990.
In the 1930s, diamond engagement rings weren’t normal or even expected, and in 1940, just 10% of the first-time brides got diamond engagement rings. By 1990, De Beers sold diamonds as indestructible symbols of love.
De Beers A Diamond is Forever campaign 1948
As mentioned above, there was a huge drop in demand for diamonds from 1919 through to the 1950s because the De Beers company wanted to find a way of maintaining control over the supply and prices of diamonds.
To do this, De Beers company contracted the services of an advertising agency called N.W. Ayer & Sons, thanks to one of their copywriters, Frances Gerety, came up with the now infamous slogan, A Diamond is Forever, in 1948.
This tagline, alongside several other advertisements and marketing campaigns, created a new marketing environment that made diamonds enviable and pricier, increasing their demand.
But that was not all, De Beers was intent on going against the grain ultimately, and to do that, they needed to make diamonds seem and be affordable to everyone, including the common man.
So, to make this possible, one of their campaigns from 1977 in black and white, shot in Cape Cod or perhaps in the Hamptons, featured a man proposing with a diamond ring to their partner after saving their salary for two months – this ad was run under the tagline “how else would 2-months’ salary last forever” to represent the longevity of diamonds.
In other words, this ad not only romanticized the diamonds but also put a ‘reasonable’ price tag on the diamonds, even as men were encouraged to spend on diamonds, while the message that women received was that they needed the diamond engagement ring for a lasting and loving relationship.
And so, with just the right words and a perfectly scripted film, De Beers changed the narrative, increased demand for diamonds, and offered the diamonds at a premium while controlling demand for the stones.
But this was not the only campaign; De Beers also ran a different campaign with the tagline, ‘Marry me sounds better than Just Merry Christmas. All their campaigns were recognized as the greatest periods in the Ad Age.
What we can learn from de beers a diamond is forever campaign
Many lessons could be learned from the De Beers A Diamond is Forever campaign, but the biggest one would be the fact that all it takes for a brand to succeed is the proper marketing and advertising team, plus the right words.
Diamonds have existed for centuries; it wasn’t until 1990 that diamonds were the most valuable.
Their value spiked in the 1400s and 1880s after the first engagement ring was used by royalty to propose and after the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, but it wasn’t until De Beers ran its campaigns that the demand for the stone went up.
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