Final Word

Diamonds and the spy that lied


If you believe that agent 007, James Bond, with the famous 1971 movie Diamonds are for ever, created that notion about diamonds, you bought into a fake and a lie.

In fact, the producers (Eon Productions) of the movie, or the author of the 1956 book with the same title, Ian Flemming, might have been lucky to not having been sued for plagiarism and theft of intellectual property.

But, then again, it might have suited the owners of that piece of intellectual property, that actor Sean Connery and singer Shirley Bassey – singing it as the movie’s theme – made it só famous for free.

The story, with a very strong South African connection behind the notion that “diamonds are for ever, really started in the 1930’s during the so-called Big Depression, when the market for diamonds plummeted badly.

The man behind the company De Beers Consolidated Mines from South Africa, Cecil John Rhodes, previously secured funding from the famous Rothschild family. When the depression struck, consumers increasingly choose more modest rings while diamond demand was in slow decline since 1919, the Rothschild backing came in very handy.

 Amongst other, De Beers contracted one of America’s foremost advertising agencies, N.W. Ayer in New York to help convince Americans that they desperately needed diamonds.

It became one of the most successful multi-pronged advertising campaigns of all time. It included persuading some of Hollywood’s biggest stars to wear diamonds and encouraging leading fashion designers to talk up diamond rings as an emerging trend.

The coup de grace

Three years after the campaign started, diamond sales were up by 50%. Then, in 1947 an agency copywriter, Frances Gerety, persuade De Beers to adopt the slogan "A Diamond is Forever," combined with a campaign to project diamonds as an enduring and unbreakable symbol of love.

Sales shot up and within 20 years 80% of all American brides were wearing diamond rings.

De Beers is still using the slogan 70 years after it was first adopted and in most communities, including South Africa, if a woman tells her friends she got engaged, the first thing they will ask her, is to see her ring.

Humble beginning

But, it was not always like that. Some centuries ago, when a lady became engaged she also got a token – one signifying that she “belongs” to a particular man. Anthropologists believe this tradition originated from a Roman custom in which wives wore rings attached to small keys, indicating their husbands' ownership.

In other times in other communities, she got a sewing thimble as token of the nature of her pledge to her man.

As late as the 19th century, some American women still received thimbles as symbol of their engagements.

But, one must not under-estimate the determination and cunning of the ladies. – often, after the wedding, they would cut the bottom or work-side off from their thimbles and wear them as rings.

In a previous age, under a different socio-economic construct, is was also different for the ladies of the aristocracy. They could expect to have enough ladies in waiting to do their work for them. They were the ones who already then got rings when they accepted a marriage proposal.

In 1477, almost 500 years before the James Bond movie, Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned the very first diamond engagement ring on record for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. This sparked a trend for diamond rings among European aristocracy and nobility.

Final word

When one has a look at the origin of the word diamond, it soon becomes clear that the gemstone is probably the most appropriate symbol of the person a man promises to dedicate the rest of his life to when he gets engaged to her.

Diamond came to English towards the late 13th century (probably via French) from Late Latin’s diamas, from Latin adamas, which in turn got it from Greek’s adamao, meaning "invincible and untamed.”

Some sources also claim that the Greek adamao meant "I tame" or "I subdue!"


by Piet Coetzer

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