Five fallacies about engagement rings

Is your engagement ring a gift, or a contract, or a payment for services sampled? Chances are, you don’t really know. But you should — misconceptions around engagement rings are expensive to hold.

A nasty legal spat has broken out between a one-time couple in Canada over who gets the $16 000 engagement ring. While the story is not original or particularly interesting, it does raise the issue that engagement rings are the most misunderstood gifts (or contracts, or payments).

It is a wildly anti-feminist notion that if a man likes it (It? What it?) and would like to continue liking it, he should put a ring on it. In fact, getting a diamond ring on “it” often becomes more important than all the other stuff — like discussing lifelong commitment and five-year plans and whether you want kids. But the whole charade of a man giving a woman a ring to secure her fidelity is governed by more misconceptions than a Red October rally (oh yes, I did).

I read about the Canadian lawsuit and some of the myths associated with engagement rings here. I’ve borrowed a few gems that Rupp turned up, and done a bit of digging of my own to bring you these five common fallacies about engagement rings — and diamond rings in particular.

1. It’s a gift, it’s yours forever
South African law regards engagement rings as “arrhae sponsalitiae”, gifts that reflect the serious intention of the giver to marry the recipient. So what happens when the intention isn’t realised?

“If the parties mutually agree to terminate the engagement, all gifts with a view to the marriage, including the engagement ring, must be returned,” says Candice Eve-Friis, an associate partner in the litigation department at Shepstone Wylie Attorneys. “In the event of a breach of promise, the innocent party may claim the return of the ring, and retain any gifts given to them.”

She adds that the innocent party can also claim damages for breach of promise.

So, basically, if the guy bails, the ring belongs to his ditched fiancée. If the girl does a runner, she should leave the ring on her no-longer-betrothed’s bedside table.

However, while the law tends to favour the one being dumped, the courts will take into account the reasons for the dumping, and this is where the nasty squabbles over the R150 000 millennium setting rock can break out.

2. Diamonds are traditional
Not so much. Traditionally, coloured stones like sapphires and rubies were given as engagement tokens. Then, as the research in Rupp’s article explains, “the wealth of diamond mines discovered in the late 19th century made the white rocks cheap and plentiful”. The diamond companies needed to create an urgent need for their preciouses, so they began to market them as the perfect engagement ring stones.

And generations of women clamped their jaws around that sales pitch, hook, line and 5-carat sinker.

3. Diamonds are forever
Diamonds are forever, marriages are supposed to be … it’s written in the stars, or symbolic, or something. The greatest trick the diamond monopoly ever pulled was convincing the world that because diamonds are the hardest substance on earth, they are an essential cornerstone for a lasting marriage.

“A diamond is forever” doesn’t spring from any great literary work, like the Bible or a sonnet from Shakespeare, Rupp’s article tells us it was coined by a copywriter in 1947, but now it rolls off our tongues like we’re quoting scripture or poetry.

4. Your engagement ring should have a value equal to three times his monthly salary
What? Why? So that you can line all your friends up against a wall and get them to stick out their left hands so that you can measure up which of them hooked the most affluent catch? This notion is so horrendously tasteless that it makes me feel as if I have a diamond worth three months of a Gupta’s income lodged in my throat.

Are we really this shallow? Is this really what marriage is all about?

And in case you were wondering, this guideline is another bit of marketing genius from De Beers, designed to get you to fork out far more than you can afford for a bit of sparkly rock, instead of putting it away for a deposit on a house or for your kids’ education, and buying a pretty but sensible or sentimental ring instead.

5. Engagement rings are an investment
Let’s unpack this notion, shall we? This piece of jewellery that you’re going to be flashing about, before you enter into a union with soul mate is an investment? How exactly are you going to realise a return?

Isn’t the idea that this is something you will treasure for the rest of your lives together? Sure, you might fall on hard times and pawn the thing, or you could divorce and need the money for school fees or a down payment on a new car — but these are very cynical future prospects upon which to base your engagement ring purchase. Kinda sucks all the romanticism out of the gesture, doesn’t it?

But here’s the really funny thing — the mark-ups on the materials in an engagement ring are so high that you will struggle to recoup what you spent on the thing by reselling it. At some high-end jewellers, the production and mark up costs can amount to 100% of the cost of materials. So when you resell, you’re likely to fall extremely short of your original investment.

If you’re investing, buy unit trusts.

My engagement ring
Full disclosure time: I have an engagement ring. I am not completely against the whole notion. Why would I be? I love a bit of sparkle as much as the next gal. I just believe that any exchange of expensive gifts (or granting of temporary loans, or entering into a contract) should be done with the full understanding of the implications by both parties.

You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

Image – AFP