The Invention of the Diamond Ring as a Requirement for Marriage
Imagine you're a woman, if you're not already one, and let's imagine you're out for dinner with your boyfriend at the hottest restaurant in town. Right after the meal, he steps away from the table and gets down on one knee. He pulls out a ring big enough to choke a ferret.
Hey, it's a standard jeweler's unit of measurement.
For millions of lady Americans, this is pretty close to the perfect proposal. Nothing symbolizes romantic love quite as well as the precious, everlasting diamond ring. You'd never guess that it originated from a diamond company's attempt to put a price on a woman's virginity.
Until the 1930s, there were actual laws on the books guaranteeing a woman's right to sue her fiance if he jilted her before the wedding day. The reason for these "Breach of Promise to Marry" laws was that even back in the day, most girls gave up their virginity during their engagements, and if they were dumped, their hoo-hahs were clearly damaged goods. The law sort of acted as a warning to cads considering seducing virgins and bailing before making honest women of them. And once those laws were abolished, women found themselves without financial protection from horny con men.
Is there any other kind?
Enter the diamond ring and diamond syndicate De Beers. Huge, expensive diamond rings offered women an expensive symbol that the man wasn't just proposing marriage to get his willy wet. The more expensive the ring, the more your gal's virginity was worth. Which worked out pretty well for De Beers, which went balls-out manipulating the shit out of public opinion:
"We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to ... strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring -- to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services ..."
We're not ad men, but we're pretty sure this translates to: "Nothing in your marriage has substance but these diamonds."