Diamonds Aren’t Forever by Hadar Kleiman takes on the symbolic and historical weight of the diamond, offering unwieldy wooden diamonds on a grand scale that parody the advertising pretenses surrounding engagement and marriage ceremonies. Kleiman’s practice examines artifice and presentation within fabricated spaces, reinterpreting the absurd luxury of cities like Las Vegas to understand and undercut their cultural significance through eerie scenes of empty gambling tables, dismembered plaster hands, and flickering green neon. By choosing to recreate the form of a diamond at an impossible scale from polished wood—a material susceptible to mold, fire, and everyday damage—she reveals the charade in the marketing scheme “Diamonds are Forever,” placing them centerstage in the modern arena of divorce and disappointment. The four Cs of gemstone quality in Kleiman’s work can only stand for Capitalism, Commercialism, Counterfeit, and Contrivance.

- Christopher Squier

The history of the gem-encrusted engagement ring goes back to 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first documented gentleman to present a diamond offering to his beloved bride-to-be Mary of Burgundy. Nevertheless, the tradition of wedding proposals typically forewent diamond jewelry until the last century.[1] Before World War II, a mere ten percent of engagement rings contained the gemstone while by the end of the century about 80 percent did[2]. Even this remaining popularity took a dive in the Great Depression.

However, just one decade later, diamonds became what Edward Jay Epstein termed “universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance”[3], their true value. After colonialists found extensive mines in South Africa during the late 19th century, diamonds lost their status as rare gems. Investors were concerned that the deluge within the market would cause prices to drop. As a result, their marketing goal became one of perpetuating the concept of rarity for the precious stones.

In 1869 the “Star of South Africa,” an 83.5 carat rough diamond, was uncovered and sold for 500 sheep, ten head of cattle and a horse[4]. That discovery soon led to the first diamond rush. Founded by Cecil Rhodes (of the Rhodes Scholarship), the De Beers Corporation purchased diamond-mining fields from as early as 1887 in South Africa. As a result, Rhodes and his brother Barney Barnato were the sole owners of all diamond mining operations in the country. By 1902 De Beers controlled 90 percent of world diamond production.

During the 1930s, the legacy of World War I, economic distraction and the Great Depression contributed to the falloff in diamonds as a hot commodity, exacerbating poor market sales for Rhodes and his diamond mines. It was in 1938 that the De Beers corporation established a marketing campaign to fight declining sales. The premise of the campaign was to change the public’s opinion on diamond ownership—then perceived as an unnecessary luxury reserved for the wealthiest—to a purchase that would last forever, an investment. To do so they hired a young copywriter named Frances Gerety. Gerety worked for the N.W. Ayer Agency and, at the time, she was the only female copywriter for the agency, working primarily on ads related to women’s products.[5]

But diamonds required a broad marketing campaign targeting American men and women. Between the years of 1943 and 1970 she wrote all of the De Beers company ads with the clear intention of collapsing the idea of everlasting love with a man’s purchase of a diamond ring for his future wife[6]. Later, however, this was expanded for the woman purchasing for herself, with ads that approached the market of “bachelor girls, divorcées, widows, or career women buying ‘on their own’ as well as some married women”[7]. Finally, in 1947 Gerety threw out the famous line “A Diamond Is Forever.”

At the time, it wasn’t received enthusiastically by her colleagues who sneered at the unruly grammatical logjam of “Is Forever.” Gerety didn’t think it was fantastic work either but, despite their doubts, the tagline “A Diamond Is Forever” was launched. Gerety was quoted later saying, ”I shudder to think of what might have happened if a great line had been demanded, every copywriter in the department coming up with hundreds of lines and the really great one lost in the shuffle.”[8] The campaign was remarkably successful and sales skyrocketed with an increase in sales upwards of 50 percent within the first three years of its launch[9]. The tagline has since appeared in every engagement advertisement of the company from 1948 to the present.

The emotional approach to diamond sales proved enormously effective. It metaphorically suggested that the strength of the material signified the unbreakable bond key to a long and successful marriage. The investment in such a gem would prove the commitment to the marriage, both financially and symbolically.

Before long, proposals by diamond ring became the norm and the soon-to-be-married felt compelled to join in. In 1951, the N.W. Ayer Agency’s reported, “Jewelers now tell us ‘a girl is not engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring’”[10].

Today, statistics support them: 75 percent of all engagements involve a diamond ring as part of what is, in the United States alone, a $7 billion industry [11] . Ironically, copywriter Gerety was never married or engaged [12], perhaps unconvinced by her own marketing scheme.

In the ’80s, new ads introduced the ideal spending sum for an engagement ring. They whinged, “Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?”[13] According to leading wedding planning site The Knot, in 2014 alone, the average amount spent on an engagement ring was $5,855.[14] This represents a huge markup from the actual price of the materials used in the making of a ring. From mining through refining, the natural capital cost of platinum stands around $39 per ring, whereas the gold averages at around $60.[15]

The cost of the diamonds is determined by mining cartels and, unlike gold or platinum which fluctuate in price based on economic conditions, diamond prices have seen consistent economic growth since the 1930s.[16] In large part, advertising campaigns have been critical in convincing consumers not to sell their supposedly valuable gemstones, information propagated mainly as a means to prevent a competitive resale market that would undermining the mining cartel’s price monopoly.

Unfortunately a relatively new study suggests that “the bigger the diamond engagement ring, the shorter the marriage might be.”[17] Researchers have found that men who spent between $2,000-$4,000 were a third more likely to end their marriages than men who spent an average of $1,250. With statistics showing 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce[18] and a resale value averaging only a fraction of the purchase price, buying diamonds doesn’t seem like a great investment. But, as the De Beers corporation understood, “Sentiment is essential to your advertising, as it is to your product for the emotional connotation of the diamond is the one competitive advantage which no other product can claim or dispute.”[19]

Gerety’s slogan established the diamond as a rare status symbol of wealth and romance and made it popular among different socioeconomic backgrounds, joining the capitalist consensus. In 1999, the magazine Advertising Age named “A Diamond Is Forever” the slogan of the century.[20]

For over a century now, we have been compelled to believe that a diamond, “the strongest material on earth,” is the one jointly cultural and geologic representation that can hold a marriage together; that a diamond is a rare and therefore expensive, worthwhile investment; that it can be passed down as a family heirloom from one generation to another; or that it can be made into the shiny chains reflective of the wealthy and successful. Yet, in reality, love doesn’t always last forever and similarly, neither do financial successes.

  1. “The History of the Diamond as an Engagement Ring,” American Gem Society, accessed November 5, 2016,  ↩

  2. Taryn Hillin, “What The Cost Of Your Engagement Ring May Say About Your Marriage,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2016,  ↩

  3. Edward J. Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?,” The Atlantic, February 1982,  ↩

  4. “Our History,” De Beers Group, accessed November 5, 2016,  ↩

  5. J. Courtney Sullivan, “How Diamonds Became Forever,” The New York Times, May 3, 2013,  ↩

  6. J. Courtney Sullivan, “Why ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ has lasted so long,” The Washington Post, February 7, 2014,  ↩

  7. “How Diamonds Became Forever.”  ↩

  8. “Why ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ has lasted so long.”  ↩

  9. “The History of the Diamond as an Engagement Ring.”  ↩

  10. J. Courtney Sullivan, “How Diamonds Became Forever,” The New York Times, May 3, 2013,  ↩

  11. Ibid.  ↩

  12. Ibid.  ↩

  13. “How Diamonds Became Forever.”  ↩

  14. Rebecca Lake, “Engagement Ring Statistics: 23 Surprising Facts,” Credit Donkey, July 27, 2015,  ↩

  15. Libby Bernick, “The true cost of your engagement ring,” GreenBiz, July 15, 2013,  ↩

  16. “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?”  ↩

  17. “What The Cost of Your Engagement Ring May Say About Your Marriage.”  ↩

  18. Holly Johnson, “Act Surprised: Your wedding ring is a terrible investment,” Get Rich Slowly, June 4, 2014,  ↩

  19. “How Diamonds Became Forever.”  ↩

  20. Ibid.  ↩

HADAR KLEIMAN is an Israeli artist based in the Bay Area. She received her MFA in Sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute (2015) and her BFA from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (2013). Her work in sculpture, video, and photo rethinks questions of reality, memorial, death and romance through a style she terms “Fakeism,” a way of making things that pretend to be what they are not.