I recently saw someone comment on Facebook about diamonds. Mostly, they were complaining that our diamond obsession is just the result of a massive advertising campaign by de Beers (here’s the link). Which may or may not be true, but it did make me do a little research.

And what I found so interesting is how a tradition that once had real financial relevance has been carried over into the Age of the Emancipated Woman.

The summarised background:

  1. Contrary to popularised Bible Belt belief – most old-time religion couples did not “wait for marriage”.
  2. Specifically, they waited until they officially were engaged.
  3. At which point, things would get physical.
  4. Which was all very nice except for the fact that the only social currency an unmarried woman could hold was her virginity. That, and presumably, her good name.

So if her fiancé revealed himself to be an honor-besmirching, lady-ensnaring, catch-and-release-styling, devilrous rogue of monstrous proportion* – well then the poor damsel would be left in a state of distress. But sadly, as I understand it: damaged damsels were never rescued. And certainly, not by gentlemen.

So there developed a body of common law around “breach of promise” and compensation for committing it (ironically). Until the 1900s, when the world started to treat these laws as a bit passé and interfering. But the social prejudice continued as menfolk maintained the distinction between a-girl-I-would-marry and “fun”.

At which point, de Beers offered the diamond ring: which worked on the “prevention is better than a cure” principle.

A [revised] recipe for virginity insurance:

  1. Man finds woman he wishes to marry.
  2. Man gets her father’s permission.
  3. Man buys diamond ring.
  4. Man offers ring.
  5. Woman considers ring.
  6. If the woman accepts, the man now has a vested interest in the outcome.
  7. And if he “breaches contract”, she now has the consolation of a large diamond**.

But that now brings us to today. Where virginity is not really considered a problem either way; nor are women financially dependent.

So attention all the single ladies.

If you like it, then you can put your own ring on it.


The Eligible Bachelors

*and a charlatan, sir. In short: a bounder.

**and also, the sound knowledge that the gentleman is unlikely to be able to afford another ring again in the near future #Payback