You’re ready. You have the entire scene planned out in your head, every detail plotted and mapped until it’s perfect. At the climax of this mini-drama, he will bend on one knee and present to you a beautiful diamond ring — or, if you’re the one proposing, you will watch as her expression changes from surprise to utter delight when she sees the ring. And that’s when you’ll know: Yes, you’re getting married.
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Or so the diamond industry would like you to believe. The sole purpose of this appealing fantasy is to drum up sales. Once you look past the mythos of the diamond engagement ring, you’ll see that it’s not much more than a shiny rock. (See also 24 secrets from a 24-year-old happy marriage.) Here are five good reasons to skip the diamond engagement ring.
1. It isn’t an ancient tradition — just marketing. For all intents and purposes, “A Diamond is Forever” and the idea of a diamond engagement ring is Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” and Nike’s “Just Do It.” It is Gary Dahl’s “Pet Rock.” De Beers controlled supply by buying up and closing down any diamond mine discovered, and they controlled demand by making it sentimental. Although the campaign is less than 70 years old, it has made the diamond engagement ring the ultimate symbol of how much the relationship, the girl, and love itself is worth.
2. Diamonds are rare! Or not. It’s true, diamonds are abundant. For generations, De Beers had stockpiled most of the world’s diamond supply and effectively monopolized the industry. Their dominance has weakened over the last decade, but De Beers and its competitors still control the supply of diamonds entering the market. While most gems are valued based on their rarity, diamonds are different. Their scarcity is artificial — and so is their value.
3. Other options look just as impressive and cost much less. Moissanite looks just like a diamond; the difference is undetectable with the naked eye. In fact, moissanite is actually more brilliant. If, for whatever reason, you’re stuck on the diamond ring idea, synthetic or “cultured” diamonds are the real deal. They’re made in a machine that replicates the environmental forces that make diamonds. They’re real diamonds, only with less flaws. A synthetic 2-carat pink diamond costs just a few thousand dollars, and a 1-carat moissanite ring is under $1000.
4. You can invest in something more meaningful/useful/fun than a piece of jewelry. Many women simply enjoy having a beautiful collection — and that’s fine (if you can afford it). For most people, though, a diamond engagement ring is fun to show off for about 30 seconds. But it’s special, right? Because it marks your engagement and symbolizes your love? Remember, that’s De Beers’s marketing campaign talking. Three-plus months’ salary would be better spent on furnishing your home, an amazing trip, or your future kids’ college funds!
5. It’s hard to get around the ethical issues surrounding the diamond industry. Terrorist groups use conflict/blood diamonds to finance their activities. Rebel groups use them to fuel conflict and civil wars. In these conflict zones, children are being used as soldiers. The Kimberley Process is an agreement that was established to prevent conflict diamonds from getting into the market, but the self-policing system is far from perfect. One way to fool the Kimberley Process is to smuggle and mix conflict diamonds with legally traded ones before being certified — and you, the buyer, would be none the wiser.
Lynn Truong is the co-founder and Daily Deals Editor of Wise Bread, a blog dedicated to helping readers live large on a small budget. Wise Bread's book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, debuted as the #1 Money Management book on Amazon.com.