What I Wish I Had Known About Diamonds

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Josh and I are celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary this week! In honor of that, I thought I’d share my thoughts about wedding rings. Lots of things have changed in the six years that we’ve been married…including our thoughts on jewelry. My engagement ring and wedding ring are very special to me, but if I could do it all again I’d have elected against diamonds.

Marketing vs. Investment

This Atlantic article from 1982 is what got Josh and I thinking again about diamonds. It’s lengthy but contains an excellent history on the diamond industry and how the public has been unknowingly gimmicked into spending thousands of dollars on these things.

Before being marketed as the only acceptable form of betrothal in the late 1930’s, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds. Diamonds were a rare status symbol, not an everyday sign of love and commitment. Then in 1938 Harry Oppenheimer decided to market diamonds toward young lovers. The rest is history.

In Europe, where diamond prices had collapsed during the Depression, there seemed little possibility of restoring public confidence in diamonds. In Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain, the notion of giving a diamond ring to commemorate an engagement had never taken hold. In England and France, diamonds were still presumed to be jewels for aristocrats rather than the masses. Furthermore, Europe was on the verge of war, and there seemed little possibility of expanding diamond sales. This left the United States as the only real market for De Beers’s diamonds. In fact, in 1938 some three quarters of all the cartel’s diamonds were sold for engagement rings in the United States. Most of these stones, however, were smaller and of poorer quality than those bought in Europe, and had an average price of $80 apiece. Oppenheimer and the bankers believed that an advertising campaign could persuade Americans to buy more expensive diamonds.

Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds” that Ayer planned to start. The Ayer plan also envisioned using the British royal family to help foster the romantic allure of diamonds. An Ayer memo said, “Since Great Britain has such an important interest in the diamond industry, the royal couple could be of tremendous assistance to this British industry by wearing diamonds rather than other jewels.” Queen Elizabeth later went on a well-publicized trip to several South African diamond mines, and she accepted a diamond from Oppenheimer.

-Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond (Atlantic article by Edward Jay Epstien)

What’s sad is that diamonds have very little resale value. They are part of a bloated market where large diamond companies have the upper hand. (No one even thinks about buying a used wedding ring.) 

Who says that a man must spend 3 months salary on his engagement? Marketers. It’s kind of ridiculous if you stop and think about it. But we bought into it too. At the time I thought such things were actually important. It showed Josh was serious. It showed he thought I was worth it. Right? Now I just think it shows how we fell into the marketing strategy aimed directly at us.

I’ve even talked to my diamond store about trading my ring in for a simpler, diamond-free version. They said that isn’t possible. You can’t trade in for a less-expensive ring and cash out the difference. You can only trade in if you’re upgrading. Now I don’t think I would actually do that due to the significance and sentimental value of the ring…but I would have liked to at least be able to consider it as an option. If they could refashion my ring and sell the same diamonds for just as much, why can’t I cash them in?

It just goes to show what a horrible “investment” diamonds are.


The blood diamond trade is very real in parts of Africa. While selling these jewels in the US is technically illegal, unless a diamond is fair-trade certified, you really have no idea what you’re getting.

Robyn Pennacchia says it well in her article:

While we have a ban on conflict diamonds in this country, unless a company is like Tiffany’s and actually owns their own diamond mines, it’s almost impossible to really know if your diamond was mined by a child slave or not.

Even if it wasn’t, it’s the demand for diamonds in general that keeps the blood diamond trade going–so whether or not you actually purchase a conflict diamond, you’re still kind of contributing to the problem.

If we want to put an end to the blood diamond trade, the best thing we can do as consumers is lessen the demand. Do we really need diamonds to prove our love for one another? I would reconsider.


It’s worth mentioning that owning and properly maintaining diamonds is a lot of work! I’m glad we purchased our diamonds at a local store that offers free cleanings, sizings, inspections, and repairs. But even then, taking my ring in every 6 months to get it looked at is a bit of a hassle. If I don’t do the cleanings and inspections, then it voids the warranty.

It’s just one of those times when I think having more possessions, especially expensive ones, can be a chore. Every 6 months I have to take this valuable (and unnecessary) status symbol in for maintenance. I do it and I’m thankful. I want to be a good steward of what I have, but it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How many other times in our lives do our riches hang over our heads like a burden?

My Suggestions

Don’t get me wrong. I do love wedding rings. I like the symbolism and the commitment wedding rings represent. My younger self was right about the fact that I wanted quality. My reasoning was: “If I’m gonna wear this ring my whole life, I want it to be a good one.” And I still think that. No bride wants a ring that will break, turn her finger green, or cause a rash. But there’s options out there that are in-between Tiffany’s and Walmart.

Etsy is a great source of handcrafted, quality jewelry at good prices. It’s also a great way to support artists in their craft. Look for people with good reviews that use real metals. (Specifically gold-filled jewelry, not gold-plated. And sterling silver is nice, but be aware that it will tarnish if not polished regularly.)

I’ve seen some really awesome simple gold and white gold bands out there. The minimal look is in right now…not that you should follow trends when selecting wedding jewelry. But it’s not all about giant diamonds anymore – sleek, classic designs are having a comeback. I’ve also seen some sweet tattooed wedding bands. These are financially a great deal, practical, lifelong, and can’t get lost or stolen.

If I could do it all over again, I’d keep the same guy of course! But I’d use a different ring.

One that was priced less.

One that supported an artist rather than the inflated and controversial diamond industry.

One that didn’t require the cleaning and maintenance that diamonds do.

Maybe you still want a diamond but hesitate at the cost of fair-trade certified diamonds. This is a great chance for you to put your money where your mission is. If you aren’t yet engaged, I’d encourage you to do your research and find what works best for you and for your ethics, regardless of what’s popular. If people ask you why your ring is different, what a great way to startup a conversation on this topic! I’d encourage you not to be wooed by status symbols but to live your values when it comes to these kinds of purchases.

One Comment

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  1. Hear hear! I truly think that my diamond came out of a lack of awareness about what my other options were. If I had it all to do over again, I’d probably just do a simple band, and be done with it, for all of the reasons you mention.

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