I loved Ashlie’s vintage style and pretty blush palette!  I also loved that while A&L didn’t want to do a first look, they did set aside an entire 45 minutes after the reception for portraits!  Thanks to my recent purchase of a sweet little bubble umbrella, the rain didn’t stop us from enjoying this quiet time together!  I had no idea just how much use that umbrella was about to see this season!

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Untitled-1 Today’s “Why We Do?” post is all about engagement rings. Why do we give them? Why diamonds and not other gemstones? And who decided an engagement ring should cost two months salary? As is usually the case when discussing men, women and marriage, the answer is more complicated than you might guess.

While engagement rings have been recorded as part of the marriage proposal as far back as the Roman era, exchanging engagement rings was not a common practice. Early rings were simple in design and made of iron or gold. Diamonds and other gemstones were scarce and reserved for nobility. In 1866 however, a large diamond vein was discovered in South Africa and by 1872 diamonds were no longer in short supply, in fact, the market was flooded with an output of more than one million carats per year.

Despite the ready availability, diamond engagement rings were still not a popular part of Western culture. By 1930, the diamond was steadily declining in value and less than 10% of all engagement rings even contained diamonds. This decline continued throughout the Great Depression, eventually prompting the DeBeers Diamond cartel to embark on one of the most storied and successful advertising campaigns in history. In 1939, DeBeers contracted New York ad agency N.W. Ayer to help turn Americans into diamond guzzling fanatics. In a move that proves there is truly nothing new under the sun, they did this by draping Hollywood celebrities in diamonds and encouraging the important fashion houses of the time to use diamonds in their collections. It worked like a charm (yep, little wink).  In just three years sales shot up over 50 percent.

Around this time, Ayer is also reported to have suggested that the truly ardent suitor should spend at least one month’s salary on his sweetheart’s bling. Google that same standard today and you’ll find the current accepted norm is a ring equal to three month’s salary. This is the part where we all bow down to the combined genius of DeBeers and Ayer. We not only accepted the standard, we subjected it to inflation. The final and most successful facet of the campaign (yep, that’s two if you’re counting) was the coining of the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” in 1947. The slogan was so successful; it endures to this very day.

I know, I promised complicated, and I’m getting to that. So to recap, the accepted lore says DeBeers told Americans to buy more diamonds and we all said, “Okay” and wiped a little drool off our collective chin. But what if it wasn’t DeBeers and their super clever “do what Hollywood does!” campaign? What if the giving and receiving of engagement rings is more about sexual economics?

For much of history, a man was obliged to marry a woman if he slept with her. Before the social reform of the Progressive Era, the government could actually step in and force a man to marry a woman he had Biblical knowledge of. After these laws were repealed however, a woman who chose to enter into a premarital sexual relationship did so at her own peril.  Modern ideas about women and their sexuality make that statement seem a bit ridiculous, but we’re talking about a period in time where a women might be referred to as “ruined” if it was discovered she’d had any sexual partner other than her husband.

Some sociologists theorize this is why engagement rings started gaining popularity again. People like sex. Even 1930’s people liked sex. About 50% of the population was getting busy, despite the social mores of the time. So, maybe DeBeers launched the most successful ad campaign ever. Or, maybe pledging your troth with a diamond that cost one month’s salary allowed people to go on liking (and having) sex with a little more peace of mind.

I think De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer said it best: “Diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill.”