Sun-Herald / Sunday Age column: Am I the only woman in the universe who doesn't speak Diamond?

Diamond rings are a form of prostitution: please discuss. I’m not talking about the atrocious way they’re procured – by some of the world’s poorest people in shocking conditions for appalling wages. In fact, I’m not talking at all because these fighting words are not mine. They’re the premise of an article that appeared in online magazine Nerve last year and ignited a firestorm. Gee, I wonder why?

Inflammatory hooker implications aside, writer Ken Mondschein makes a compelling argument. After detailing the way diamonds are ingeniously marketed to target all our insecurities about love, status and money, he says the unspoken message to men is “…if you don’t buy her a diamond, you not only don’t love her, you can’t afford her.’
Ouch. Mondschein goes on to say, “…diamonds not only aren’t a girl’s best friend, they’re also bad for human rights and the environment. Worse, they’re a symbol of the same conspicuous-consumption consumer culture that reduces human relationships to a bank balance.”

I have a theory about flowers that also applies to diamond rings. My flower theory goes that the man who sends flowers to a woman in her workplace wins more points than the man who presents them privately. Because it’s not just about the flowers, it’s about other people SEEING the flowers. And so it is with some women and their diamonds.

During the years I worked in an office full of women, I watched many of them bounce in to announce their engagements. What happened next was predictable. A crowd would form instantly and, as one, they’d chorus: “Let’s see the ring!” This was unnecessary because the girl’s left hand would already be thrust out in front of her. There would be squeals. Gushing. But the future groom’s name was rarely mentioned. Even the proposal story was secondary to the examination and discussion of The Ring.

Occasionally, when a nervous (or spontaneous) man decided the pressure of choosing such a significant and expensive item alone was too great, there would be no ring. When that happened, the crowd dissipated quickly. The collective disappointment was palpable, the anti-climax acute. No ring? No squeals. I always found this ritual boring and cringey. I still do. It makes me uncomfortable the way some girls focus on the ring instead of the engagement – usually the same ones who focus on the wedding instead of the marriage.

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Because really, what’s love got to do with money, status or rings? Beats me.

You see, unlike every other woman I know, I don’t speak diamond or any other jewellery language. I do wear a diamond ring but I cannot tell you a thing about it because I don’t know any words. Well, maybe I know a few, gleaned by osmosis during the microseconds between when someone starts speaking about their ring and my brain shuts down. But even those words are useless because I don’t know what they mean. I can’t tell you what a carat is, or a princess cut or a solitaire. Speak to me of settings or stones and my eyes will glaze over. Clarity? I have none. I do know that rubies are red but that’s only because of the rhyme (violets are blue etc).

I’m unsure how I managed to avoid learning this essential information. Who was meant to teach me? School? My Mum? She doesn’t speak diamond either so no luck there. The consequence of this ignorance is that I’ve never understood the fuss over diamonds or jewellery (the sound you just heard is my husband high-fiving himself while other men mutter “lucky bastard”).

Long before he proposed, I made a pre-emptive strike, presumptuously announcing I didn’t want a diamond. “I think flashy engagement rings are cheesy,” I insisted, although I didn’t mean cheesy exactly. I meant I didn’t need a big rock on my finger to feel loved or to impress anyone.

Several years after we married, I changed my mind. To my surprise, I wanted a diamond ring. Apart from being prone to both hypocrisy and inconsistency, my reasons were simple. One? I’m a sheep and the tradition of it is nice. Two? I like sparkly things. It was that basic. I still cared not a jot about cut or colour or clarity or cash outlay. It could have been a piece of glass. I just wanted a sparkly ring. Another victory for the diamond marketers.

And now that they’ve conquered me? Their next conquest is single women. Determined to exploit every possible market, the new push from the diamond industry is ‘the Right Hand Ring’, a way for single women of independent means to ‘empower’ themselves by buying their own diamond! Or, to paraphrase Beyonce, all the single ladies, go put a ring on it yourself. It’s diamond-as-feminist-statement. Go figure. The trend has already trickled down to the street with Portmans and Sportsgirl selling pretend diamond rings to young girls.

Of course, there are some women whose really can be bought with diamonds. Like the one I know who discovered her husband had done some inappropriate things with a stripper at a bucks party after pictures of the shenanigans were posted on Facebook. “Are you OK?” enquired one of her friends, worriedly. “I’m devastated,” she replied. “But I’ve chosen some diamond earrings and he’s bringing them home tonight. They’ll help.”

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