Gender Inequality and Jewelry Marketing

I’ve been writing this post over a long period of time. If you’ve read through my about me post you know that I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but what I haven’t mentioned is that my minor was sociology. In both my major and minor, I concentrated in classes related to relationships, which included several on gender. In my studies I also took elective classes on both Social Control and Consumer Psychology, both of which have served me well and opened my eyes to thinking critically about the world around me, and specifically the world of jewelry.

This blog post is adapted from part of a research paper I wrote on diamonds for my Social Control class, and includes some anecdotal personal experience. I did not take any of the images in this particular blog entry. 

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Or so the song says. (Sorry Marilyn, I prefer Nicole’s version.)

Jewelry, as we know it today, is primarily marketed at women. “Women of the World, Raise your Right Hand!” became a popular slogan of DeBeers, in 2003, in an attempt to sell more “right hand rings” and broaden their marketing target to include not only the important diamond-clad left hand belonging to married and engaged women, but also single women and other women who would be disinclined to buy a diamond solitaire for their left hand. Tiffany, other large luxury companies, and fashion houses have all created and successfully marketed signature engagement ring lines, but until DeBeers started the “Raise your Right Hand!” campaign, most women’s jewelry boxes contained few if any rings besides the engagement, wedding and perhaps birthstone or heirloom rings.  The right hand ring campaign ended only a couple years after it started, but the idea remained ingrained into society, although certainly not as widespread as it could have been.

DeBeer’s “Women of the World: Raise Your Right Hand” marketing campaign, print ads.
RHR
RHR2
RHR3

Diamond seller’s marketing campaigns have influenced the American public through their popular culture by glamorizing diamonds and glorifying them as the hallmark for engagement, marriage, milestones, and various types of celebrations. So many specific examples come to mind. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” come to mind as a piece of pop culture that exemplifies the huge glamorous engagement ring, which clearly resonates with the American public, as the concept is in it’s 13th year. Every season of The Bachelor has shown a segment where The Bachelor meets with celebrity jewelry mogul Neil Lane for a private engagement ring buying session, with zoomed in images of the various styles being picked over. Then, when The Bachelor proposes to his bride, we get another detailed shot of the ring in the box, with Neil Lane’s logo prominently displayed. This, and other targeted marketing has created control over traditional gender roles and it links supply and demand to style and culture. Under this sun shiny image perpetuated by the wedding industry is a darker, more sinister message: marriage with the requisite material possessions is the American Dream. The item that propagates marriage – an innocuous looking diamond engagement ring.

Chris Soules (ABC’s The Bachelor 2015) engagement ring to Whitney Bischoff, at the proposal.
Bachelor 2015 ring

Both effective and non-effective marketing ploys from De Beers include: Failed attempts by diamond industry to create the “male engagement ring” in the early 20th century, “Diamonds are Forever”, the three stone ring-representing your “past, present and future”, “promise rings”, the creation of “journey jewelry”, the aforementioned “diamond right hand ring”. Go back and read that again, and carefully consider which gender each concept is aimed at. The introduction of salary suggestions as a marketing ploy for engagement rings began in the 1930s with DeBeers: two months salary for the United States, three months salary in Asian markets and one month salary in the United Kingdom, where colored gemstones or very small diamonds are typical for traditional engagement rings given to a man by a woman. According to statista.com, in 2013, 50% of jewelry sales was made by married women of non-bridal diamond jewelry, 35% was made of single women in non-bridal jewelry, while only 12% included sales of diamond engagement rings with only 3% was made up of diamond wedding bands.

DeBeer’s USA engagement ring print ad: how to make two months’ salary last forever.
2 months salary

Some movies that glamorize diamonds include: Titanic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sweet Home Alabama, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Moulin Rouge and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, among many others.  It is interesting to note in most diamond focused movies women are always the ones wearing, wanting or being impressed by diamonds. A man is rarely depicted desiring or wearing a diamond and this may be tied to the “diamonds are for women” stigma, which seems to be the popular stance for most men rejecting diamond jewelry as a whole.

One of the most iconic jewelry related movie scenes, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman”
Pretty Woman necklace
The Tiffany & Co engagement scene from “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Sweet Home Alabama
Kate Hudson, glowing with a massive yellow diamond, during the jewelry party scene in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
How to lose a guy

Madonna, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Elizabeth Taylor, royalty from other countries, Superbowl rings and athletes, socialites, hip-hop, rap, movie, music and television stars have helped maximize the exposure of diamonds to the American public, signifying their desirability. Diamonds are frequently seen on women at the red carpet of movie premieres, award shows and other celebrity studded events. It is rare for a man to wear statement jewelry on their tuxedos, although lapel pins seem to be making a comeback. Do you remember the hoopla when Johnny Depp was “caught” wearing an antique diamond ring? He said it was supposed to be for his betrothed but he liked it and kept it. People were aghast at a male wearing a “female” style ring, and news stories were in abundance at his audacity to go against the norm.

Johnny Depp, rocking a diamond engagement ring.
Johnny Depp
Kim Kardashian, showing off her engagement ring.
Kim Kardashian engagement ring

The concept of gender is prevalent throughout the diamond and jewelry industry, with pictures of delicate engagement rings being concentrated and aimed at the female population. The male engagement ring does not exist in the United States, although there was a failed past attempt by De Beers to create one. “Ladies jewelry” styles are more delicate, with fine filigree work and more intricate detail, as well as small pave stones. “Men’s jewelry” tends to be very substantial, with fewer stones or larger bulkier stones. There are fewer diamond wedding bands for males because of the concept that diamonds are for women, not for men. The potential of the man’s non diamond ring could have correlation with men traditionally having more manual-labor or dangerous jobs, where rings in general may become a safety liability, while the lack of diamonds on said rings may have something to do with the concept of masculinity and the diamonds undermine this masculine ideal.

The diamond engagement ring should be, according to popular culture, the most flawless and largest diamond a man can afford because it represents his love for a woman. Diamonds have become representative of marriage because marketing campaigns have entrenched our society in the idea of the symbol of the engagement ring and diamond wedding rings are sometimes the only diamonds a woman will receive in her lifetime. There few advertisements of diamonds in homosexual relationships because the diamond industry is focused on traditional heterosexual couples as their primary market. It is only with Tiffany’s newest campaign that gay couples have been entered into the target market, and it is maddening that it has taken this long for the jewelry industry to embrace gay marriage, as it seems that it had been missing a great target market before. When you consider how entrenched the jewelry industry is in traditional gender roles, and has been for almost a hundred years, suddenly marketing to same sex couples is quite the mountain to overcome.

Tiffany Co Gay engagement

Traditional gender roles and gender inequality have saturated jewelry marketing to the extent that we no longer see it.

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2 thoughts on “Gender Inequality and Jewelry Marketing

  1. I find your article very interesting because I started designing commitment jewelry in the early 90’s. I made all kinds of rings for all kinds of people. We did not need De Beers marketing plan or anyone else’s. We provide a design service for all people in love. Some of my best stories are about the clients with the most unique qualities. From webbed fingers to those who were afraid to tell their families that they were committed and wanted to be married. Some of the later cliental were from different cultures, different social status, etc. But the bottom line was my job was to make a ring for two people that wanted to be committed, regardless if they were from the same culture or same the sex. My point is that many people are held back due to inequality and gender is not the only factor. Thank you for sharing your blog. I hope some day we do not see gender, religion or social status but just two people in love.

    Like

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