June 12, 2008
The dress, the ring, the registry and the rest
(Page 3 - Previous Page)I was alone, poised at my laptop, longing for the wedding photos of first daughter Jenna Bush to finally post.
I had to see what she was wearing, ogle a close-up shot of her ring. I thought Jenna looked perfect, by the way, hair a bit tousled, not too formal. Laura Bush fell a little too in love with the color turquoise, if you ask me, but the bride was flawless.
Other than my moment with Jenna, I have avoided what I think of as wedding porn: The bridal magazines that seduce you with glossy photos of $10,000 leather-embossed wedding invitations. The TV shows on basic cable that allow you to be a dazzled voyeur, leering at multitier raspberry mousse cakes adorned with cascading English roses and edible pearls. I opened a bridal magazine once, and only once, and quickly shut it like Pandora's box.
Page after page flashed giant diamond engagement rings at me. As in porn, the bridal industry and the diamond industry will both tell you: the bigger, the better.
It's hard not to be intoxicated by the large rocks on the fingers of celebrity brides. Once I mined for information, however, it was harder than a diamond itself to believe what a racket the industry has been running since 1938, when it hired an advertising agency to convince Americans that diamonds equal eternal love.
According to experts, diamonds are not scarce and they have little intrinsic value. Because the tradition of diamond engagement rings is so ubiquitous, I was shocked to find out it was such a recent phenomenon. It was, in fact, nothing but the calculated strategy of De Beers to deal with an increasing supply of diamonds, combined with an all-time-low demand after the Great Depression, according to "Not Forever," a thorough piece on the history of diamonds on Salon.com. The "A Diamond Is Forever" ad campaign established in 1947 was astonishingly effective: sales of De Beers diamonds skyrocketed.
How much should a man spend on this arguably valueless hunk of rock? Why, guess who developed the formula? De Beers!
A buying guideline still largely in effect originated from the company's marketing materials in the early 20th century, suggesting a man spend from two to three month's salary on an engagement ring.
Clever corporate persuasion aside, you don't need Leonardo DiCaprio to tell you that the diamond industry exploits workers, many of them children, fuels bloodshed and social strife, funds deadly civil wars and, on top of that, the process of mining dirties the environment and strips local ecosystems. What a romantic notion: A child working for slave wages may have pulled your very rock out of the ground before the price was artificially inflated and your man -- under more pressure than a carbon atom 100 miles below the earth's surface -- had to buy it for you to announce his monthly income to the world.
The industry is taking steps toward reducing the number of conflict diamonds. Still, many human rights groups think the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme -- a 2003 initiative designed to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds -- is of questionable efficacy. It relies on the diamond industry to police itself. Anyone can sell you a diamond with a "conflict free" tag, but it's very difficult to follow a diamond from mine to mall.
For me, even a diamond from Canada or another conflict-free zone comes with baggage.
Even if the mining of diamonds wasn't an ethical or environmental concern, the idea that starting a lifetime together with a bad investment (diamonds have a notoriously low resale value) hurts the blue-collar girl I am to my core. My dad was a mechanic. I have spent many years underemployed in my field and may do so again. All of this directs me toward one deeply felt truth: For me, diamonds are not a girl's best friend. A nest egg is a girl's best friend. A down payment is a girl's best friend.
And when it comes to bling, science may be your true BFF.
Listen, I'm not standing here on my Dr. Bronner's soapbox telling you I can wrap a string of hemp around my ring finger and go on my "marry" way. I wanted a solution that was both pretty and mindful -- which is how I discovered cultured diamonds.
For a couple of years now, small machines have been able to replicate the heat and pressure that turn carbon into diamond under the earth's surface, creating in a lab what are chemically, physically and optically diamonds. I'm not talking about cubic zirconium. These are the real deal, and a real deal at less than 25 percent the cost of a mined diamond. Cultured diamonds can be produced in colors, mainly canary, but they have become clearer in recent years.
My man sought out one of these stones, had it set and I haven't stopped staring at the vivid yellow gem since he popped the question.
To give both cultured and mined diamonds their due, they are the hardest substance known, with the highest thermal conductivity. That means they are not only tough but can withstand high heat without getting burned. These are excellent qualities for both gemstones and marriage metaphors.
The difference is this: While love can't be forged in a lab, the diamonds that can are a far more fitting symbol of human connection. When I glance down at my own ring, the cut and color are stunning, but it's the clarity that catches my eye.
Teresa Strasser can be heard on the "Adam Carolla Show" mornings on 97.1 FM KLSX. Her wedding book, "Sentimental or Cheap?" comes out this fall.