Sunday, January 22, 2006


I spotted a list online titled Ten Reasons Why You Should Never Accept a Diamond Ring. In the ensuing discussion, I was amazed how many people replied that they had never heard any of these things. Every few years, some news magazine prints an exposé about the DeBeers monopoly over the diamond industry, so I thought this had become common knowledge. Apparently not — and since some folks found the list persuasive, I thought I'd take a quick crack at explaining why I think it's stupid.
  • You've been psychologically conditioned to want a diamond.
I hate to begin with an obscure intellectual argument, but..."duh." You've been psychologically conditioned to wear clothes and close your mouth when you chew. Society is a series of standards imposed by psychological conditioning and peer pressure. It's not a bad thing. I've been psychologically conditioned to wear a tie on formal occasions, and I look great. Presenting this fact as if it were an argument is like saying, "You should rebel, just for the sake of rebelling."
  • Diamonds are priced well above their value.
According to whom? Define "value." It's an abstract term that doesn't exist in a vacuum. Diamonds have no monetary value outside the marketplace. Nothing does. Sure, $15,000 is a lot of money to spend on a diamond or a watch or a Fabergé egg. Newsflash: $15,000 is a lot of money to spend on something that isn't necessary to life.

The value of a Rolex is precisely that you spent thousands of dollars to buy it. It's a status symbol, a mark of success. You look down at your wrist, and it reminds you that you accomplished something. The value of a diamond is the same. Unless you can eat it, drink it, or live inside it, its strict value is absolutely nil. For everything else, value is a function of convention, perception, and the marketplace. So this is a ridiculous statement.
  • Diamonds have no resale or investment value.
Have we sunk so far, that this should be a real consideration for aspiring brides? The vows read, "Until death do us part." Exactly what is the relevance of a diamond's resale value?

I once read a wedding anecdote which began, "The last time I got married..." The way people talk amazes me. It's like marriage is just another state of existence, interchangeable with being "single" or "dating" or "divorced." Maybe this attitude is the logical result of government-sanctioned marriage; maybe we'd be better off with civil unions where two people promise to remain committed "indefinitely." Maybe marriage should be left to the church.

But for the time being, this remains a stupid comment. Notwithstanding the divorce rate, most people intend their marriages to last. It's a real challenge, and it won't work if you keep one foot out the door. If you're worried about the resale value of your engagement ring, do everyone a favor and don't get married.

The rest of the list concerned the working and living conditions of African diamond miners. They're fair points. I'm a Massachusetts Republican, however, so I've got to say: Sometimes "one man, one vote" is an empty platitude. The diamond industry isn't going to crash if twelve guys take a moral stand, and you're not going to convince 12,000 guys to stand alongside you. So in the end, maybe you'll feel better about not contributing to oppression — but the oppression's going to continue anyway, and you're left trying to explain why you won't buy your girlfriend a diamond ring.

You can say that's morally reprehensible — that just because you can't do everything doesn't mean you should do nothing. I agree. I don't shop at Wal-Mart. But in this case, you can't do anything. And I'd add that it's an odd concern to pick. There are plenty of sources of food and clothing that involve abuse and mistreatment of people and animals. It's a bit conspicuous when you refuse to buy a $3,000 diamond while wearing $120 sneakers sewn by some 10-year-old in China. Your girlfriend might suspect you're using a moral stance to disguise the fact that you're a cheapskate.

Ultimately, I'd argue it's selfish. DeBeers won't know that you refused to buy their diamonds. The Africans slaving away in diamond mines won't appreciate your gesture. (Moreover, I'm not sure that's the kindest way to help a starved region, by revoking its only source of income.) The only two people who will know the difference are you and your girlfriend — and you're the only person who will feel good about it. The gesture is supposed to be about her.

And that's why I didn't mind breaking my bank (which I did). It's possibly the only purchase in life where money shouldn't be a concern. It's not supposed to be reasonable. It's supposed to make her happy. Every time she looks at it for the next 70+ years, she's supposed to be amazed by how beautiful it looks and how much you love her. I've got the rest of my life to show her that I don't support monopolies or fascism, but I don't want that entering into our discussion of marriage. And if she's the type who can't look at a diamond without imagining African kids holding pickaxes, then she's probably the type who can't look at anything without envisioning its horrible backstory — and I like salt way too much to live with that kind of blood pressure.


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