Rethinking Engagement Rings

The first part of most marriages is the proposal. Stands to reason, right? And a crucial part of THAT is the ring. Now, I’m not going to get into a huge, detailed history of engagement rings, but a quick bullet-point list might be helpful for context. Wikipedia goes into a little more depth, though I strongly encourage looking at other articles if you’re really interested in this sort of thing.

Overly simple, snarky rundown:

-Roman wives wore gold bands in public and iron bands at home. Symbolic ownership whatnot, with the added bonus of an iron ring probably not snapping while you cook dinner. May or may not have been part of purchasing the bride.
-Gold nose ring dowries were a thing for a while (not in Europe).

-Some high-falutin’ famous guy gave his intended a lovely ring in the Middle Ages. Then the Catholics got all in on that.

-Some high-falutin’ famous guy gave his intended a lovely diamond ring in the¬†Renaissance. Then the nobles got all in on that.

-Puritans used thimbles instead of rings for love promises (Peter Pan, anyone?) because they were anti-vanity and anti-wealth. Nobody got in on that.

-Victorians found diamonds in Africa. Diamonds became available to the upper middle class. Out-of-wedlock sex became publicly common during engagement (not like it wasn’t common before, let’s not kid ourselves) leaving the woman SOL if the engagement was broken for some reason. This led to the time-honored practice of paying through the nose for virginity insurance, and really weird competitive “Look how valuable MY virginity is!” contests (i.e. showing off the ring that the highest-earning man you could snag bought you, while attempting to ignore the uncomfortable undertones).

-Great Depression means folk can’t afford diamonds. They fall out of favor. Good thing the diamond industry eventually has a great idea: Make it really offensive to NOT buy your woman a diamond. Gotta spend a month’s salary to show you care. Keep the supply down, the demand high, and straight-up suggest that a man doesn’t really love his woman if he doesn’t buy her something expensive. (Could be something other than diamond, but in the U.S. it seems like diamond is the gold standard. Har.)

All this context might have you wondering what the heck I’m babbling about. And it’s this: I proudly do not own a diamond ring. What’s that sparkly thing in the picture, you ask? Cubic Zirconium, and I don’t care who knows it. It’s not zirconium through lack of money; I have no intention of ever “upgrading” to a diamond.

Underwater sparkle

Underwater sparkle in the Caribbean. Which, by the by, was made possible by the fact that this isn’t a diamond.

Can you tell by looking? Maybe it’s obvious if you know about jewelry. Most people don’t, myself included. But I tell people if they ask. I don’t want to give money to an industry that is truly awful (I don’t want to get into all that too much here, it’s supposed to be a happy occasion), I don’t want to buy into that whole “Look how much my Compatriot loves me. Oooooh” crap, and I definitely don’t want to spend money that could be better spent on an 11-day trip to Puerto Rico (which is what happened). I admit that I kind of like the sparkly sparkle and the “this is clearly an engagement ring” vibe, though — that’s my indulgence to the whole engagement-glow process.

I know a lot of people have some cognitive dissonance around diamonds. They know that the industry is unhealthy, exploitative, and has a huge human cost. But on the other hand, they reallllllly want a diamond ring; the suckers are deeply embedded into our society. I’m also sure that there are tons of people out there who choose not to have a diamond ring: and yet, we don’t see that in media. It’s just diamond mania all the time.

What about you? Do you want/did you have a diamond ring, even if you otherwise live consciously? They are really pretty. Is the diamond tradition important?


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