When Archduke Maximilian of Austria slipped the first diamond engagement ring on Mary Burgundy in 1447, the history for diamond rings was changed forever.
Although diamonds were considered precious or sacred long before, that gesture ingrained diamond rings in western culture as the gemstone of eternal love.
“The reason they’re considered the gemstone of marriage has a lot to do with the fact they last forever,” said Patricia Caffet, director at NWT Diamond Centre.
“It’s the toughest substance in the world and symbolic of an enduring marriage. When you purchase a diamond, it’s a gift of love, but it’s more than that. It’s something that stays in the family for generations.”
Diamonds themselves have been a driving force in the economy of the NWT, leading Yellowknife to earn the title “diamond capital of North America” as industry began to expand in 1998 with the opening of Ekati diamond mine by BHP Billiton, now owned by Dominion Diamond, which is also a minority owner of Diavik Diamond Mine and produces the True North Diamond Brand.
The third diamond mine, Gahcho Kue, is owned by De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds. De Beers produces the Forevermark brand.
Diamonds mined in the NWT can carry a certain amount of satisfaction for those who want responsibly sourced diamonds, which is something people are very interested in today, according to Caffet.
“A diamond from Canada is far cleaner and more ecologically responsible than most diamonds from around the world,” Caffet said. “For each mine there is a remediation plan in place to return mines to their natural beauty, like the now closed Snap Lake mine.”
Diamonds from Canada are also laser tagged with a code and tracked to ensure potential buyers that they are not from conflict zones.
“The laser mark is unmistakable and irreversible so each diamond can be certified and accounted for. To remove one would ruin the faceting (or cut) of the diamond.”
In an age where young people are getting married less than ever, Caffet says engagement rings still hold up a decent portion of sales just not here in NWT.
“I’ve worked a lot outside of the territory and engagement rings certainly are a staple in terms of sales in the diamond market, but just not here,” Caffet said with a laugh. “In the diamond centre a lot of sales are in souvenir pieces or just loose diamonds as an investment. But there hasn’t really been any kind of decline for engagement rings,” Caffet said.
On principle, Caffet says the NWT Diamond Centre only carries Canadian diamonds and would not carry laboratory-grown or synthetic diamonds.
“Some people may want them because of the cheaper price point, but why wear something, or buy something for your partner, that isn’t authentic?” Caffet asked. “They might as well buy cubic zirconium.”
Hau Huynh, jeweller and owner of Arctic Jewellers since 1999, shares the same sentiment.
“We do not carry any lab diamonds,” Huynh said. “Sometimes our dealers and advertisers will want them to be sold in the store, but I always say, ‘no, I’d rather go Canadian.”
According to Huynh, the majority of people coming into Arctic Jewellers are looking for Canadian diamonds. He sells a multitude of gem stones including non-Canadian diamonds.
“Only maybe 10 per cent want to mix different gems but almost all the clientele want Canadian gems and want to support Canadian industry,” Huynh said.
Of those who come to buy Canadian diamonds, about half of Huynh’s clients are looking for engagement rings.
“There are options from $2,500 to $25,000 but people are still buying diamonds for engagement rings and many are still young,” Huynh said.
Despite there being cheaper options on the market, Caffet encourages people to focus on the gesture rather than the price tag.
“A lot of people might tell a young man to get a diamond ring worth three months pay, which something I’d never do,” Caffet said. “A lot of young married couples are just starting out, might already have a few kids, so it’s important to focus on what can be afforded now. There’s always anniversaries.”