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An Engaging Gem

In my story “The Queue,” Kyle traverses thousands of miles to bring a precious diamond ring to his girlfriend. And in my story “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh begins to see her six-carat diamond engagement ring in a wholly new light. The cachet of the diamond engagement ring is recognized far and wide. Yet this engaging piece of iconic jewelry carries a story that may surprise you.

Engagement ring

Engagement rings of various kinds had been slipped onto the fingers of numerous brides-to-be for many centuries prior to the advent of the diamond engagement ring. In 1477, the first known diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by her fiancé, Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Yet it would take nearly five more centuries before the diamond engagement ring would be widely embraced.

In a bid for more customers, the British diamond mining company, De Beers, launched one of the most successful  advertising campaigns of all time, “A diamond is forever,” in 1947. Frances Gerety, a copywriter at the Philadelphia agency, NW Ayer, is credited with creating the exceptionally recognizable tagline. The ads featured smiling Hollywood stars (think Marilyn Monroe) swathed in diamonds. In the 1953 film adaptation of the 1949 play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee (referencing engagement rings), declares “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” The De Beers advertisement had led to a sentiment that had become a cultural icon.

Though diamonds had first appeared in the United States over a century earlier, the ad campaign sent the diamond’s popularity as an engagement ring skyrocketing. For decades thereafter, the diamond ring was widely associated with marriage proposals. Prospective grooms were advised by the ubiquitous De Beers ads to spend one month’s salary on a diamond ring. This was later expanded to two (“How can you make 2 months’ salary last forever?”), then three months’ salary. Regardless of price, the diamond ring became a “must” for every guy who dreamed of getting engaged to the girl of his dreams. To the delight of the De Beers company, who held a virtual monopoly in the diamond market, diamond sales in the United States increased from $23 million in 1939 to $2.1 billion in 1979.

The price for a diamond engagement ring varies widely, depending on cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. These factors are known in the diamond world as “the 4 C’s.” In “The Glass Slipper,” it is clear that Ashleigh’s affluent fiancé has spent a small fortune on her brilliant six-carat diamond ring. But will Ashleigh be willing to pay the price to keep this pricey ring on her finger?


  1. Editorial article: “1948: De Beers ‘A Diamond is Forever’ Campaign Invents the Modern Day Engagement Ring,” The Drum, March 31, 2016
  2. “Engagement Ring,” Wikipedia
  3. “The History of the Diamond as an Engagement Ring,” American Gem Society
  4. Maggie Kreienberg, “The Surprising History of Engagement Rings,” Brides Magazine, May 1, 2023