It’s hard to believe over a year has already gone by since my wedding day and two years since the day I got engaged to the man of my dreams (actually, beyond the realm of my dreams…he’s truly too good to be true!). I have an abundant repository of happy memories from my engagement and wedding days and an even more abundant collection of blissful experiences with him, from all those days in between and thereafter.
I used to think, envision and dream about the man I would hopefully one day marry and about marriage itself, but I never dreamed of my wedding day, my engagement ring, my dress or any other common frills related to the wedding process. When it came time to actually start thinking of those things, I found myself in search of a clearer understanding of where I stood in terms of what I wanted, particularly with regards to getting that dazzling diamond engagement ring. While I didn’t necessarily oppose the custom of wearing a token of jewelry to symbolize our engagement, I wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of getting/purchasing a diamond engagement ring, for a few reasons. Firstly, I acknowledged that wearing an expensive piece of jewelry is a luxury, given the fact that many people in the world cannot afford to even have 3 meals a day, let alone think about jewels. Secondly, I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to have a diamond in particular, as a symbol for my finance’s commitment to me. I knew a little bit about blood diamonds (the movie Blood Diamond definitely left an impression on me) and had reflected on the well-orchestrated psychological marketing of diamond engagement rings as a representation (and in my opinion, perhaps even an evaluation) of a man’s love and devotion. I was thus a little weary of accepting a diamond engagement ring, but couldn’t deny the appeal of enjoying a beautiful token to mark our declaration of everlasting love.
I admittedly like jewelry and things that sparkle, so it was not hard for me to acquiesce to the idea of wearing a pretty sparkly ring. I think there is something about sparkly things that is ‘naturally’ attractive to humans. Most often, when I am with infants and toddlers, they gravitate towards any accessory of mine that is shiny; the small glinty metallic ball that hangs off the end of my jacket zipper is always a popular attraction, resulting in endless minutes of wide-eyed, focused manipulation and awe. From fireworks, to disco balls, to sky-filled starry nights, there’s no denying that brilliant sparkles dazzle and captivate the eye of many. (I could continue into a longer analysis of the nature of beauty and attractiveness and the ethics behind choices surrounding beauty, but I’ll save that for another time and/or another blog). To sum up, I liked the idea wearing some ‘bling’ and I have nothing against celebratory symbols of love and positivity, so accepting an engagement ring from my husband was something I was happy with, but the idea of a diamond still didn’t sit well with me.
Over the few years preceding my engagement, several friends and acquaintances were going through the ‘first comes love, then comes the ring, then comes marriage’, process. The routine of hearing a girlfriend of mine excitedly share her engagement news and then gathering around with other friends to admire her diamond ring, was at first new to me, but over time became quite familiar. I was always so happy to see my friends find love and their excitement to share their moment with me and their happiness in taking these new steps together as a couple, was always heart-warming. The diamond ring culture reaches beyond just the couple getting married–it’s a statement, a declaration and a symbol that people use to communicate a message, create unity, share a milestone with friends and family and a reminder of commitment, devotion and promise. As social creatures with an inherent need for belonging, it was naturally tempting for me to go along with the trend, but, despite feeling uber happy for my friends, I had a hard time rationalizing this choice, for me personally. Firstly, I didn’t feel any desire or connection to having diamonds just because they are diamonds. Secondly, I felt doubtful about their potential political and environmental implications. Thirdly, I didn’t place any significant link between the meaningfulness of a gift from my husband and it’s cost (I figured that a lower cost option would still be just as valuable from the ‘thought that counts’ perspective). Moreover, the opportunity cost of an expensive diamond ring would be money that could otherwise be spent giving back to our community or investing in other meaningful experiences.
For practical purposes, in deciding to get an engagement ring, I did want it to be durable, so my husband and I decided to look into durable, cost-effective and beautifully blingy options, with the intention of also making a donation to a charity with the money saved. I also really wanted a better understanding of what it was about diamonds specifically that made them desirable (yes, they are beautiful and sparkly, but many other synthetic gems can provide the prettiness factor) and whether this understanding would then provide me with better guidance in choosing them.
I remember learning in business school that successful marketing is not about satisfying customer needs, but about creating needs. The way I see it, the global mass marketing of diamonds as valuable because of their rarity, is successful because it taps into our evolutionary human need for power and status while also creating a need to have them as a symbol of love. Rarity means only a few people can have it, which makes it more valuable from a cost and desire perspective. While marketing of diamond engagement rings is overtly advertised as a symbol of love and devotion, it also covertly reinforces and builds upon our underlying, deep-rooted desire for status and symbols of status (although I might add that such desires are not always necessarily underlying but can indeed be apparent and deliberate). Images of women in the media showing off their dazzling, glittering gems with their heads held high, their smiles shining as bright as the gems they wear, and their hair flying in the wind, creates a perception of grandeur and ethereal prosperity.
Furthermore, the rarity and thus high value of diamonds also results in greater conflict surrounding them, with global awareness and acknowledgement of the forbidding ethical and human rights concerns associated with conflict diamonds. After doing some research with my husband about conflict diamonds and even talking to someone in the diamond industry, we got a firm impression that most diamonds are very difficult to track from their origins in the mine to where they are cut and polished, to their shipping, and finally to their place in the store. Although there definitely are certifiable, ethically mined conflict-free diamonds, such as Polar Bear/Canadian diamonds, these come at a significantly higher cost than non-certified diamonds. Ethically-sourced diamonds may certainly have many economic benefits to the country in which they are mined, especially in developing countries, but it seems that certification processes (i.e., The Kimberley Process), which aim to guarantee that such diamonds and other precious minerals are conflict-free, are still shown to have some loop holes and deficiencies. Furthermore, the mining process itself carries environmental and safety risks.
All things considered, my husband and I decided to purchase a synthetic gem called Moissanite. We learned that this gem, originally discovered by scientist Henri Moissan as a rare mineral found in a meteorite, is very similar to diamonds across several properties. The manufactured versions of this gem are now synthesized in laboratories as silicon carbide and come extremely close to matching diamonds in terms of hardness and in fact exceed diamonds in terms of lustre. The brilliance of my engagement ring regularly garners attention and compliments from strangers and even my ‘diamond-saavy’ acquaintances, who mistake it for a supremely sparkly diamond. The properties are so similar that even traditional diamond testers can’t distinguish Moissanite from a diamond. The catch? Its colour is imperceptibly less clear than that of a diamond and it’s a fraction of the cost.
Getting a Moissanite engagement ring satisfied our criteria for a durable, cost-effective and most beautiful token. Furthermore, we put the money that would have otherwise been spent on a diamond towards two generous charitable donations to mark our special day. When my husband proposed to me, he first handed me two cards from our charities of choice, inside which were written some loving words, and then he handed me the ring…brilliant.