In most of the Western World – Europe, the Anglophone countries and increasingly Westernized Asian countries such as Japan and Korea – diamond engagement rings are a traditional part of the courtship and marriage process. Although plain gold bands for the actual wedding are also traditional, diamond jewelry in the form of a diamond wedding ring set has become much more common. Interestingly, the custom of rings for marriage predates the concept of diamond engagement rings by several centuries.
Diamonds Haven’t Been Forever
Diamonds have been worn as adornment as far back as the days of the Roman Empire, but weren’t used in diamond wedding rings until Archduke Maximilian I of Hapsburg presented one to Marie of Burgundy on the occasion of their wedding in 1477. The concept of engagement rings had started about 250 years earlier as a result of a papal decree; Pope Innocent III decided that couples should go through a longer betrothal period prior to taking vows. Upon announcing their wedding plans, it was customary for the man and woman to exchange plain metal bands – gold for royalty, silver for nobility, bronze for the upper and middle (merchant) class, and iron for peasants.
The Market for Diamond Engagment Rings is Created
The practice of presenting diamond engagement rings is shockingly recent – and in fact, goes back less than sixty years. In fact, it was the result of a corporate marketing strategy designed to convince people of the existence of a “historical tradition” that in fact had never existed!
It was the DeBeers company – a corporate entity based in South Africa that today controls over half the world’s diamond supply – that came up with the most successful “catch phrase” of all time – “A diamond is forever.” This campaign, which began around 1950, resulted in the creation of the new “tradition” of diamond engagement rings.
A similar attempt was made in U.S., again in an attempt to convince the public that it had long been “traditional” for men to receive engagement rings. American men didn’t fall for it, but eventually, a similar marketing campaign resulted in today’s extensive market for “his and hers” diamond wedding ring sets.
Diamond Jewelry and Weddings Today
Regardless of what advertising executives say, it is important that those who have a wedding in their future do what is economically comfortable and meaningful for them. After all, millions of dollars have been spend for diamond wedding ring sets to celebrate weddings that lasted only a few years or months. On the other hand, there are couples wearing plain, simple gold bands who have gone on to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries.
For those who are curious however, the “rule of thumb” – established by the diamond industry – is that men should plan on spending about six months’ salary when considering the purchase of diamond engagement rings.