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No Ring? Let’s Not Go There

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Diamonds may be forever, but they’re not for everyone. I’ve never wanted an engagement ring, and especially not a diamond, but I quickly learned that to avoid stepping on toes, I should keep my mouth shut about my reasons.       

The ring “issue” is not something I’ve felt comfortable discussing with other women, even with some close friends, because it seems nearly everyone wants one or has one. But once I got engaged, with no sparkly gem on my left hand to show for it, the questions were inevitable. Usually it was a brief glance down and momentary confusion, but occasionally people would ask bluntly, “Where’s your ring?” Not wanting to open a can of worms, I’d just say I never wanted one and change the subject.

Despite my flippant treatment of the question, I didn’t come to the decision lightly. I’ve got serious reasons, and they’re seriously important to me. And frankly, I’m tired of half-lying about them. Consider the boat rocked.

Can’t Buy Me Love.

To espouse that a diamond ring is a symbol of a man’s love is, I think, a justification to get what you want. More often than not, the ring isn’t about the sentiment behind it. It’s about the size and quality of the diamond—and whether it will impress friends, family, and coworkers.

If it weren’t about the diamond, women would be clamoring for moissanite rings. Moissanite is so similar to diamond that when it first came on the market, it fooled most diamond-testing equipment. It outperforms diamond in luster, refraction, and fire, but is one-tenth the price.

We’ve been so conditioned to associate diamonds with romance, however, that nothing else will do. And whether we admit it or not, our society considers the money a man spends on his fiancée’s ring directly proportional to his love for her. An expensive piece of jewelry may be proof that a man is serious enough to blow a wad of cash or put himself in hock, but in my opinion, my husband naming me as his life-insurance beneficiary and contributing to a joint account for a down payment on a home is proof enough that he’s serious.

Ultimately, an engagement ring is nothing but a status symbol—equivalent to chrome spinner rims. If only a diamond came with a side of Prozac, it just might work.

It’s Not a Tradition—It’s a Sales Pitch.

The “tradition” of giving a diamond ring as part of an engagement contract didn’t evolve organically. It was created for one reason: to sell diamonds.

In the late 1930s, a De Beers marketing campaign suggested that men buy their fiancées diamond rings, and spend one-month’s salary doing it (these days the ante has been upped to two month’s salary). De Beers used every trick in the book, from loaning movie stars diamond rings and arranging for fashion editors to discuss diamonds to creating an official-sounding organization (the Diamond Information Center) to release statistics about diamonds to the media. We’ve been manipulated, over seventy-plus years, to want diamond engagement rings.

There’s Nothing Special About It.

According to the Diamond Information Center, more than 80 percent of engaged women get a diamond ring. Special would be something that’s truly unique and reflects your unique relationship.

They’re a Rip-Off.

We’ve been duped into paying more than diamonds are actually worth. Once upon a time, diamonds were expensive because they were rare. But huge diamond deposits discovered from the late 19th century onward mean that today there are enough for a third of all the women in the world ages 20–39 to get a .25-carat diamond ring, were they all to get engaged in the same year.

Prices remain high only because De Beers, which holds a near-monopoly on the diamond industry, regulates how many gems enter the marketplace, and has convinced consumers that engagement rings are too sentimental to sell. (The slogan “a diamond is forever” was a De Beers invention.)

It’s One-Sided.

An engagement ring is a neon sign the screams “taken.” But why doesn’t he wear an engagement ring to proclaim he’s off the market? What’s up with that?

It’s a Messy Business.

Widespread media attention given to conflict diamonds (a.k.a blood diamonds) in the late 1990s, fueled the creation of a certification program, the Kimberly Process, to ensure that diamonds purchased are conflict-free. As yet, the system is far from perfect, with numerous reports of forged documents and smuggling from war-torn regions. As a consumer, it’s hard to know if a diamond you buy is truly conflict-free.

I doubt I’m the only woman on earth who feels this way about engagement rings, and in particular, diamonds. It feels great to get this off my chest, and—at the risk of sounding obnoxiously self-righteous—I think more women should examine their motivations for wanting the ring. If they did, they might realize that it doesn’t sync with their values. And that’s no way to begin a lifelong commitment.

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