Photo: Flickr / Austin Uphoff

Diamonds are a girl’s best symbol of oppression

If you are in your twenties like me, the chances are that while scrolling through your Instagram, you’ll see at least one girl with the classic hand shot, showing off her newly acquired prized possession: a glittering diamond ring, (which is obviously the greatest way for a man to profess his love). This picture is most likely accompanied by a caption in which the girl proclaims herself the luckiest person on the planet. These posts never cease to sadden me. I wonder if I am alone in finding the cult of the diamond highly unsettling and disturbing.

I have earnestly tried to comprehend this ridiculous tradition. It appears to work as follows: a man loves a woman. He shells out a crazy sum to buy a stone for said woman. He has to ‘spoil’ her. It has to be a diamond. This is the stone she will wear around her finger forever. It will serve as a reminder to the world of how much he loves her. A love which is worth exactly X amount of dollars. The phenomenon is amusing, but I fail to understand or relate.

Man’s best enemy?

I once read about a Muslim man who, due to financial constraints, had bought a crystal engagement ring. As that led to the girl facing jeers, he eventually borrowed money and bought a diamond ring. It made me extremely sad that society adheres to these perplexing standards which can cause people to go through such stress and humiliation. Many would argue that there are plenty of people who can easily afford flamboyant rings, and that some of these people do various charitable acts as well, which should make their indulging in diamonds okay. I like to think, however, that most of us try to be aware of the world around us. Thus it would be safe to assume that most people know about blood diamonds (i.e., those mined in war zones, which make up two thirds of the diamond market) and how the trade in diamonds involves the rape, kidnapping, mutilation and deaths of many women and children, as well as various other atrocities.

It baffles me that diamonds still manage to reign as the ultimate symbole de l’amour, even with such a bloody history. If there are people out there who refuse to read up on the repercussions behind their actions, then I can think of no possible excuse for such ignorance. All the information in the world is literally at our fingertips at all times.

Interestingly, there are also advocates of ‘ethically sourced’ diamonds. ‘This is ethically sourced and everything,’ coos the smiling bride, proudly patting the sparkling stone sitting smugly on her finger, essentially stating that no one had to die for her ring to be made. It’s slightly unsettling to be so adamant on wearing a diamond that one has to look for justifications. If materialism laced with capitalism is the image some want their love to portray, then that is of course their prerogative. I however, remain unfazed by the D word.

The history of diamonds

This bemusing mindset makes me go back to history. Heck, how did diamonds even become a big deal? At university, I read a case study about an exceptional strategy by De Beers, one of the biggest brands of diamonds in the world, and one of the finest examples of the power of implementing clever marketing tactics.

Prior to World War II, barely 10% of engagement rings featured diamonds. In the 1930s, De Beers monopolized the market, and worked with a top agency to alter the public’s psychological perceptions about diamonds. They used celebrities and fashion designers to continuously talk about diamonds being the new trend. They shared stories through newspapers and the radio about how a marriage was incomplete without a diamond. One of the advertisements of the campaign suggested that the appropriate amount to spend on an engagement ring to truly show a woman her worth was at least two months’ salary. The company saw a 55% increase in diamond sales within four years.

Since diamonds aren’t inherently valuable like gold and silver, De Beers mastered the art of emphasizing the values people hold dear rather than the attributes of diamonds themselves. Using the slogan ‘Diamonds are forever’, the campaign instilled the idea that the eternal stone represented eternal love, discouraging people from ever re-selling their diamonds. This had the potential to cause a large disruption in the market by revealing how low the intrinsic value of the stone actually was. De Beers managed to successfully create a situation where couples would feel almost compelled to purchase a diamond to represent their relationship, paving the way for what is now a multibillion dollar industry by implanting a narrative into the minds of consumers rather than simply promoting a product. As a marketing professional, I find this a brilliant execution of strategy. As a conscious human being, I find falling for it daft.

Recently, my fiancé got me an aqeeq ring. I felt immensely grateful due to the thought process behind the gift (I am fond of the stone given its significance within the faith I follow). Perhaps he also knew that I would flat out refuse to ever wear a diamond and would prefer to receive nothing at all, or even a mouldy twig that actually meant something to us as a couple instead!

I sit and wonder when, if ever, this outrageous tradition that has made its way into Muslim cultures will die out. I wonder when we will stop being hypocrites who talk about simplicity as Muslims while starting our married lives with extravagance. I wonder when we will rise above what the media tries to feed us, instead of mindlessly letting it penetrate our lives. I wonder when small, thoughtful acts of love will triumph over grand, flashy shows of affection. I wonder when diamonds will stop being seen as a girl’s best friend. They are certainly not mine.