He brings her to an empty movie theater and the lights darken. Suddenly, there she is on the screen—black-and-white images of their courtship. And there he is, by her side in the dark, presenting a three-stone diamond ring.
The ad ran late one afternoon in July 2000 in a darkened room in Charterhouse Street. It was the day De Beers unveiled Supplier of Choice, and no one really got the ad. Its black-and-white visuals repeated those of the recent “Shadows” campaign, but this ad’s message, as we would later learn, was the polar opposite. It spelled the end of the veiled supply chain implied by “Shadows.” In what was now to be a visible chain, to be run not by De Beers but the Diamond Trading Company, three-stone unveiled the diamond as a rationally marketed ingredient; in jewelry marketing, it would soon be known as the “Diamond Dream.”
Was it conceived, as some suggested, to push the half-carat side stones of that ring more than its carat center, to help the DTC unload its stockpile over the next three years? The initial three-stone “criteria” (that the sides equal the weight of the center) suggested so, and the carat center ring in the ad suggested Charterhouse Street still had that wealth of half-carat goods that had led to the eternity band’s unveiling 40 years prior. Regardless, the ad reinvented emotion as the key to marketing diamonds, and it widened, or updated, our understanding of romance. Diamonds were the key to the heart of a serious, probably hard-working woman.
The impact was far-reaching, extending to other categories (three-stone jewelry, sometimes referred to as PPF—past, present, future—now accounts for some 10 percent of all women’s diamond jewelry worldwide, according to the DPS) and to every continent. “In the U.S.” says Derek Palmer, now of Pluczenik but with De Beers when the three-stone was unveiled, “what it offers is permission to buy. It’s uncanny how women get it. Even if the man doesn’t, she’ll make him understand. In Asia, where it’s marketed as the Trilogy, it’s all about personal achievement.”
The three-stone ring had been an Edwardian relic, and a bit of an embarrassment. Generally, they had been three mine cuts sitting in basket settings on an overly wrought band. This new ring was straightforward, clean, almost digital in its simplicity. It embraced the new branding movement by accentuating cut. Only the best makes worked in such a clean setting. It anticipated “everyday luxury”—not only of the three-stone category but of much of the diamond jewelry that would follow. And its simple lines heralded markets both for finished goods and semi-mounts.
Clearly a bridal product (it was initially an anniversary band but soon became an engagement ring alternative), and very much a “diamond as the hero” piece, it nonetheless had modesty written large. Like the woman in the ad, and the women in the “Steps” and “Hands” ads that followed, this new three-stone ring was as serious as it was lovely. Its beauty lay in trim and thoughtful lines—Audrey Hepburn rather than Liz Taylor—and in each ad, its presentation induced a quiet but profound reaction from a woman who played her cards close to the chest.
Those original parameters would widen as the ring matured: gemologically, as a shape, as an emotional indicator, and at market. At the low end, discounters and e-tailers jumped in quickly. Wal-Mart three-stones debuted at $199, and then made their way down to $99. By 2003, Blue Nile was offering “build your own” three-stones. Only the most garish, however, marketed them as price point items. If nothing else, the three-stone ring forever changed the text of the Sunday supplement ad. “Nobody beats our prices” would henceforth read, “Give the gift of love.”