“Our economy skyrocketed after World War II,” Reinsmith describes. “We saw unprecedented prosperity… [It was] the first time average Americans could afford a luxury product like diamonds.”
Chasing the rising middle class, De Beers launched their “diamonds are forever” campaign in 1947; it argued no proposal was complete without the sparkling stone. And from that moment forward, diamonds were irrevocably tied with marriage in America.
This lay in contrast to the early-20th Century, when most people couldn’t afford rings and those who could saw them as a form of security. (Since a jilted bride would suffer fewer marriage prospects—especially if she’d engaged in sexual intercourse with her fiancé—diamonds offered financial retribution.)
“Diamond sales grew and grew until they plummeted in the early 2000s,” Payne remembers. “The movie Blood Diamonds came out; Sierra Leone swarmed the media; and there was an overall push toward sustainability and supply chain transparency.”
For decades, an increasing number of Americans have opted for alternative gemstones, antique rings and synthetic diamonds. It’s a complete disruption—one on the cusp of a second wind as lab-grown diamonds, which accounted for 1% of the global market in 2016, are expected to grow to 4% next year.