Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Putting a Price Tag on Love

You may have spent last Valentine's Day eating out at a romantic restaurant, Instagramming the flowers you got from your significant other, scrambling to get a last-minute box of chocolates from CVS, or maybe just watching classic rom-coms on Netflix in your dorm room. But no matter how you spent the romance laden holiday, there’s no denying that people everywhere spend large amounts of money buying gifts for their partners, friends, family, pets, and even themselves. Why do people feel compelled to spend so much money on this supposedly romantic—yet often hated—holiday?

According to an article from Time magazine, Americans spent $18.9 billion this past Valentine’s Day. However, when people splurge on Valentine’s gifts like chocolates, jewelry, teddy bears, and flowers, or take their valentine out on a date, it’s not always because they simply want to display their love and affection or spend time with their significant other.

In a survey, about a quarter of men said they celebrate the holiday out of obligation. It’s just what you’re supposed to do, right? And 13% of women said they celebrate it “because everyone else does.”

When people see everyone around them preparing big Valentine’s Day plans, or fall victim to the countless commercials on TV convincing them that they must buy a certain product to show their loved ones they truly care—whether it’s with a new iPhone, diamond necklace, or expensive perfume—they don’t want to be that one person who doesn’t follow the trend. Even those who acknowledge the absurdity of the holiday’s focus on commercialism still admit to spending money regardless.

There appears to be a significant difference between men and women in terms of feeling obligated to spend money on a partner and amount of money spent. As reported by The Atlantic, 63% of males and 31% of females feel they have an obligation to buy a gift for their partner. Men report that they plan to spend $98, while females plan to spend less: $71. Another interesting trend is that the longer a relationship has lasted, the lesser the amount of money couples spend on gift-giving.

There are plenty of other additional, miscellaneous statistics about this day of love: Americans spend more than $700 million on gifts for their pets, one in five women buy gifts for themselves, and rose-sellers double the prices at which they sell those symbolic flowers—because they can.

Just like roses, diamonds are another product that is synonymous with love—specifically love that lasts forever—and Valentine’s Day. But the obsession with and high status (and cost) of diamonds isn't entirely a matter of rarity, or exceedingly high value. Diamonds aren’t truly as rare as they are made out to be and weren’t always the go-to way of telling a significant other than he or she is “the one.”

Diamonds are not very rare in that there is no real shortage of the gem occurring in nature; 163 million carats are mined each year. However, big mining companies withhold a portion of these diamonds from being sold, controlling the market so that there is appears to be a smaller supply, which allows for higher prices.

Now sold in a variety of cuts such as Princess, Emerald, and Round, diamonds first began to rise to prominence following the gift of a diamond engagement ring from Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Soon after, European aristocrats were sporting the latest trend: diamond rings. Later, during the Victorian era, engagement rings that consisted of a mixture of diamonds, other gems, and metals became popular. But it wasn’t until the influence of the De Beers Company, originally founded in 1888, that diamonds gained the popularity that they are now famous for.

The De Beers Company opened diamond mines in Africa, which allowed for easy-access and large amounts of diamonds to be bought and sold. But the company saw a decline in diamond sales during the Great Depression and needed a way to get people to start buying them again. De Beers orchestrated a successful campaign in which they advertised famous movie stars wearing diamonds, which led to a 50% increase in sales in the following three years.

The most defining moment for the company and the gem itself came with De Beers’ slogan created in 1947: “A Diamond is Forever.” It was then that diamonds were no longer just a symbol of love and affection, but a gift that symbolized the promise of forever. And just as the intensity of the meaning behind diamonds increased, so did sales.

Thanks to marketing and consumerism, both diamonds and traditional Valentine’s Day gift-giving prove to be unwavering representations of love and care. But already changes are on the horizon: “experiential gifts” are gaining popularity in place of material objects, as many young people see more importance and joy in spending time rather than spending money.

Maybe the materialism surrounding Valentine’s Day will one day fade, and maybe one day a new rare—or not so rare—gem will become the most popular. Consumers, lovers, and all-alone-Netflix watchers will just have to wait and see if diamonds—as well as obligatory flowers, chocolates, and dinner plans—really are forever.