A diamond is forever. But do you really need one to symbolize your lifelong commitment?
The modern ubiquity of the diamond engagement ring is the result of a very successful marketing campaign by DeBeers in the 1940s. It’s hardly an ancient tradition. Yet many young couples are spending vast sums on a diamond at precisely the moment when they need their money the most.
I started pondering this matter when I read Rachel Lu’s article, “Give Cubic Zirconias A Chance To Replace Diamond Wedding Rings.” She argues that engaged couples shouldn’t dismiss a cubic zirconia simply because it was made in a lab and not mined in Africa. “The cubic zirconia can supply what couples really need from an engagement ring—tradition, beauty, and a public symbol of their matrimonial intentions—at a fraction of the cost,” she writes.
That’s an excellent suggestion. Couples can also opt for gemstones. They’re beautiful and classic but far less expensive than diamonds. In recent years, I’ve cooed over a number of friends’ ruby or sapphire engagement rings. However, the diamond still seems to persist as the norm.
Don’t Blindly Follow a New Tradition
Let me be clear: I am not criticizing anyone for buying a diamond ring. Is it deeply meaningful to you as a symbol of your love? Did you have girlhood dreams about the moment your prince would slip a diamond on your finger? Then, by all means, go for it.
But I’d like to challenge couples to take a step back and ask how much they care about a diamond. Is it really such a big deal to you? Are you only buying it because that’s what everyone expects? Then maybe you’re better off putting the money towards a deposit for a house or repaying your student loans. You don’t need to join the diamond arms race.
I’ve been happily married for one-and-a-half years, and I never had an engagement ring. I specifically told my then-boyfriend-now-husband early in our relationship that I didn’t want one. We were at a restaurant for dinner, and I introduced the subject by saying, “It’s still early enough for this not to be a loaded topic, so I’ll tell you now that I don’t care for diamond engagement rings.”
When he proposed, he produced a box with our gold wedding bands. They’re exquisite quality, and mine has a small diamond embedded at the front. We both wore our bands on our right hands during the engagement and switched them to our left at the wedding.
My husband is from Brazil, and that’s his cultural tradition. I like that he was immediately tagged as “unavailable.” (I’ve never understood why only the woman wears a visible symbol of the engagement.) I also really like the amount of money we saved.
Social Pressure Snares Unwilling People
Before I ever knew I’d be marrying someone from Brazil, I already made up my mind on this topic. My mother never had an engagement ring. So I didn’t grow up associating a diamond with my parents’ commitment to each other. And, to be honest, many of the diamond rings I’ve seen over the years are simply not very beautiful, no matter how much they cost. It’s also my personal opinion that wearing two rings next to each other—an engagement ring and a wedding band—looks a bit odd. The beauty of both is diminished.
In candid conversations with my girlfriends, a few of them have expressed admiration for my decision. They also think diamonds are a waste of money. But they don’t really like they can buck cultural expectations.
One of my friends was in a serious relationship with a guy who had an heirloom diamond ring in his family. She had seen the ring and confessed to me that she found it “kinda ugly and old fashioned.” But she’s not much of one for jewelry in the first place, so she didn’t want him spending money on a new ring. The matter was solved by their breaking up before ever getting engaged.
One of the strangest conversations I’ve had on this topic was with an acquaintance who gave me a lift home from a party a few years ago. She was wearing an enormous diamond ring and told me, “I don’t care much for diamonds, but my fiancée insisted on getting me a large one. He’s in medical school, and he said that in the future when he’s a doctor he doesn’t want anyone to say he didn’t get me a nice ring.” I never saw her again after that party, but I sometimes wonder how her marriage is going.
Her fiancée was right about one thing: the social pressure to join the diamond arms race can be very strong. While I know my husband and I made the right decision for our relationship, I sometimes feel defensive about my lack of a diamond. When I was breaking the news of my engagement to my friends and colleagues, I immediately tacked on an explanation that we were following the Brazilian ring tradition. I saw their eyes wandering to my left hand, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking.
Even now, when I am in a group of women, I feel a little self-conscious about the huge, sparkly rocks some of them are flaunting. I start to secretly wish I had one too. But then I stop and ask, “Does my husband love me less than someone who buys his fiancée a diamond?” Obviously not.
Also, in these groups, there are usually one or two women who are single or divorced. Maybe my simple gold band makes me more approachable for them.
In the end, whether you buy a diamond, a ruby, a zirconia, or nothing for your engagement, take some time to think it through. Make sure you’re buying for the right reasons. Your marriage should be forever. Not your diamond.