Did you see Breakfast at Tiffany’s last week? Even if you didn’t you’ll know that Tiffany’s sells jewellery, especially diamonds and that they are associated with romantic love. Every woman would like to be given a diamond, because they are forever, and it shows you really care – it has always done so, right?
Well no, actually. It was highly unusual to buy expensive jewels for your loved one, unless you were a wealthy aristocrat, even up to the twentieth-century – the 1930s in fact. Around then, especially in the US mass advertising generated the belief that the gift of a diamond was the ultimate – and essential – expression of your love for her.
In his book The Wonderbox, Roman Krznaric reveals how New York advertising agency N W Ayer ran one of the most successful campaigns in American history, for De Beers: to associate giving diamonds with romance. The result? Between 1938 and 1941 diamond sales soared by 55% and continued to escalate during the following decades.
So what has all this got to do with film? Glossy magazines ran colour advertisements and film stars were offered diamonds to wear in public, while at the same time the slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’ appeared. The pressure was now on for young men from all social backgrounds to express their love materially, often incurring debt, by buying a diamond ring for their fiancées, who probably now expected nothing less. No doubt De Beers and their advertisers could hardly believe their luck when Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
So, buying diamonds at the start of a life-long (hopefully) partnership has, for most of us, become part of the ideal of romantic love – or the result of a clever bit of marketing. Either way, it would have been unthinkable a century ago – but then, traditions have to begin sometime.
And another thing – have you noticed that whenever a man gives a woman a surprise ring in a film, it always fits perfectly?