Diamonds are forever, They are all I need to please me, They can stimulate and tease me, They won't leave in the night, I've no fear that they might desert me. Diamonds are forever, Hold one up and then caress it, Touch it, stroke it and undress it, I can see every part, Nothing hides in the heart to hurt me… Diamonds are forever, forever, forever. Diamonds are forever, forever, forever. Forever and ever.
One might think that the well-known quote “Diamonds are forever” has deep roots into popular culture as a sign of everlasting love (and wealth). But in fact, it doesn`t. Early on it was known that diamonds are strong and valuable, but it wasn’t until many centuries later that the tools to cut them and reveal their sparkle became available. Even if the first documented diamond betrothal ring was in 1475 at the wedding of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla D’Aragona in Italy (their wedding poem read “Two wills, two hearts, two passions are bonded in one marriage by a diamond”), it wasn`t until 1947 when copywriter Frances Gerety came up with the phrase “A diamond is forever” for De Beers, that diamond rings became the symbol of engagement in America and subsequently in many other countries.
It’s hard to imagine a time when diamond engagement rings were not the norm, but in fact, they weren´t until 1947.
A subtle yet successful campaign using the slogan “Diamonds are forever” boosted diamond sales and solidified the gem’s reputation as the best and only way to announce betrothal and love. And as this happened, as every single relationship status happened to change after the same iconic act, diamond engagement rings became part of popular culture. The next 70 years of music and movies pulled the roots of this new “tradition” even deeper.
But let´s start from the very beginning…
Once upon a time, by the 30`s, just after the big depression, diamond sales in the US (the international market that at the time was the best prospective market for diamonds) were low. Not just because of the economic conditions but because the supply increased thanks to the discovery of new mines in South Africa.
Harry Oppenheimer, the De Beers founder’s son (the main diamond seller by then), found himself in the need to enlarge demand for diamonds in the US, where the practice of giving diamond engagement rings was already gaining some traction, but where diamonds were still seen as a luxury for the ultra-wealthy.
In 1938 Harry hired advertising agency N.Y. Ayer to craft a campaign with an ambitious goal: “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”
Frances Gerety was the only female copywriter at the agency. At the time, women were usually hired to write for women’s products only, and for this reason she got the De Beers account. For the next 25 years, she wrote all the company’s ads, and succeeded creating an emotional link to diamonds.
The quote “A diamond is forever” was selected out of the hundreds of lines suggested by her. At the very beginning Frances didn’t even think the line was one of her best -it wasn’t even grammatically correct- but research showed consumers immediately understood the “eternity of love” association with diamonds. In 1999, two weeks before Ms. Gerety died at the age of 83, Advertising Age named “A diamond is forever” the “slogan of the century”.
Pop culture not only romanticized the diamond ring for women as an object they desire and hope to receive one day, but the prominence of diamonds in action films added diamonds a coating of masculinity that subtly emphasized their significance and value to future grooms across America.
The song “Diamonds Are Forever,” performed by Shirley Bassey and composed by Don Black and John Barry was the theme song of the James Bond 007 film of the same name, and one of the most beloved Bond theme songs ever. But it was during the 90´s that diamonds´ presence at movies became even more evident. For example, who could forget the scene of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (1990) where Julia´s character, sees a ruby and diamond necklace for the first time?
And in 1997, where in My Best Friend’s Wedding, she tries to break up the sudden marriage of her best friend to Cameron Díaz not just for the man, but for the gigantic diamond ring on Cameron’s finger too? There are other diamond memorable moments at the movies played by Julia Roberts, but her decade-long run of movies with diamond engagement rings and marriage as their focus isn’t the only reason the 90’s movies were so influential for diamonds.
In 1997, Titanic -wrote and directed by James Cameron- was a great success and even if the name of the movie suggests it’s about a shipwreck, there is a diamond involved. Called the Heart of the Ocean, it is a rare diamond necklace more valuable and beautiful than the prestigious Hope Diamond. The central story of the movie is a present-day Rose (Kate Winslett) retelling what happened on the shipwreck to the group searching for the lost diamond (which in fact she secretly still owns).
In the years between then and now, there has been no shortage of diamonds and diamond engagement rings on films. From Daisy Buchanon’s diamond ring in The Great Gatsby, to Satine’s diamond necklace in Moulin Rouge, most beloved stories culminate with female heroines receiving impressive diamond rings from their significant others.