This needed to be said. This was a long time coming. In fact, I feel like we should’ve had this discussion and stopped the stupid practice back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper (that was many moons ago, ya see?). But here we are in 2007 and women still expect a diamond ring from a guy as if diamonds were some sort of magical talisman that grants access to her vagina. And guys know diamonds are like gigantic “No Trespassing!” signs that keep other (honest) males away. Are we really so base and banal?
Slate’s running an article about the insidious practice of giving/receiving diamond engagement rings. O’Rourke goes after the engagement ring in particular because it’s like giving a “pre-gift” gift and it’s only for their girl (the price for access?), but I think the whole practice of buying absurdly expensive rings for the purposes of betrothal is antiquated, offensive and stupid. Let’s have a look into how this scam by the diamond industry got started:
In fact, the “tradition” of the diamond engagement ring is newer than you might think. Betrothal rings, a custom inherited from the Romans, became an increasingly common part of the Christian tradition in the 13th century. The first known diamond engagement ring was commissioned for Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477. The Victorians exchanged “regards” rings set with birthstones. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century, after the discovery of mines in South Africa drove the price of diamonds down, that Americans regularly began to give (or receive) diamond engagement rings. (Before that, some betrothed women got thimbles instead of rings.) Even then, the real blingfest didn’t get going until the 1930s, when—dim the lights, strike up the violins, and cue entrance—the De Beers diamond company decided it was time to take action against the American public.
De Beers proceeded to brainwash the public into thinking they needed to buy diamonds, wedding bands, engagement rings, matching trinkets and assorted crap. Fuck all that status-seeking consumerist bullshit. Diamonds are not even that precious. Their value has been greatly inflated by the diamond industry’s tricks, which have revoked supply and demand through the power of advertising and a monopoly on distribution. The whole diamond wedding ring “custom” is a tradition manufactured and sold to the American public through marketing, PR and Hollywood glamour.
Don’t believe me? Try to sell a diamond.
De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression. Indeed, the cartel seemed so superbly in control of prices — and unassailable -that, in the late 1970s, even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession.
The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.
When you give your loved one a diamond, you give them a symbol of greed, albeit one of ingenius avarice far outpacing your standard, run-of-the-mill greed. It’s a pretty fucking impressive pyramid of greed and faux-glamour, I’ll admit. But it is fake and empty nonetheless. Blood Diamonds, they call’em, and not for nothing.
And what are you saying about each other if you need a diamond to seal the deal? Does the man have to be a breadwinner of a certain caliber to merit your hand in marriage? Guys, does the girl not sparkle enough without a diamond on her finger? If that’s the case, let her go. Girls, refuse those rings. Your affection should not be for sale, and all you’re accomplishing is putting a guy in debt. Then you marry him in a lavish ceremony and — bingo! — you’re both in debt. Brilliant.
I know we’re all concerned about De Beers’ profits and whether its CEO can afford that third yacht, but try to think of yourself first. Do you really really need a sparkly rock at the end of your finger?
If so, might I suggest quartz?