Robert Klara of AdWeek has a nice review of the history of diamond jewelry marketing. An extension of the timeless history of love? Not quite:
Harry Oppenheimer had a problem. It was September 1938, and with war smoldering in Europe, market prices of diamonds—a commodity that had been cornered by his father’s company, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd.—were plummeting. Concluding that the company’s survival lay in penetrating the American market, Oppenheimer came to Philadelphia and looked up the N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency. The result of the trip would be one of the most successful advertising slogans ever created.
Ayer worked the account for a decade—draping diamonds on Hollywood starlets, mostly—but struggled to find a tagline. Then in 1947, a young copywriter named Frances Gerety chanced upon a photo of two newlyweds on their honeymoon and scribbled “A Diamond Is Forever” along the bottom. De Beers adopted the tagline the following year.
Of course, kings and maharajas had made diamonds desirable for centuries. The genius of what Gerety did was to fuse together the idea of swooning, everlasting love with a sparkly rock. According to psychologist Robert Passikoff, who runs the consultancy Brand Keys, “people take certain signs of objects and imbue them with an unspoken meaning”—and thanks to De Beers, diamonds have come to be seen as a natural rarity, a precious embodiment of the marital pledge. In the early days, not all grooms (who make up 90 percent of diamond buyers) got it, and so the copy helped things along with lines like “Your engagement diamond, with noble fire, reflects the greatness of your love.”
Eventually, the dudes (who [now] drop an average of $3,200 on an engagement ring) glommed on—and they haven’t forgotten.
Behind it all, there is the usual — oligopolistic hoarding:
De Beers holds back so much supply that if all the world’s diamonds were dumped onto the market, they’d be worth less than $30 each.