The diamond is the birthstone for April so it is a good time to explore why diamonds are viewed as such luxury gemstones. Gemstones are minerals (although there are some non-mineral gemstones like pearls, for instance) that can demonstrate beauty, durability, and rarity. Diamonds have been sought after for centuries because they have been scarce and because they are so beautiful in the way they reflect light. They are also very hard. Diamonds were sourced from India from at least the 4th century BC, found in and alongside rivers. India controlled the source of diamonds until the early 1700s when diamonds were found in Brazil. For all this time, their scarcity meant that diamonds were available only for royalty and the wealthy.
In 1867, a young teenager found alluvial diamonds on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. In 1871, non-alluvial deposits were located at Kimberley in South Africa. Massive amounts of diamonds began to be mined, with diamond output increasing tenfold in ten years from 1867. Within a couple of years, more diamonds had been mined than had been discovered in India over the previous 2000 years.
The De Beers company was formed in 1888 to control the diamond market now that they were no longer a scarce commodity. For a few decades, diamonds remained in demand, particularly in Europe and England, but sales began to decline after WWI. The Great Depression weakened sales even further around the world.
In 1938, the De Beers company hired a US marketing firm, N W Ayers, to create a marketing campaign for the US market to make the diamond desirable again. The campaign started by giving diamond jewellery to film stars to be filmed wearing it and associating the jewellery with love and romance. Fashion designers were also targets as they were encouraged to talk up the need for luxury diamonds as the new trend. Socialites and the wives and daughters of political leaders were also targeted and showcased. This was a successful campaign and diamonds sales in the US increased by 55% by 1941. The campaign, as summarised by N. W. Ayers, was not to sell a brand name but to sell an idea, which was ‘the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond’.
In 1947, to further instill the idea, a copywriter in the firm jotted down the words ‘Diamonds are forever’ to accompany an ad showing a couple on their honeymoon. Diamond sales boomed and the mystique about diamonds have continued.