The Proposal can be one of the most insidious aspects of the wedding industrial complex. It often sets the tone for the wedding planning process, and for many of the single women already planning their dream day, it presents yet another chance to lust after the perfect romantic moment, complete with something sparkly. And like a lot of weddings, proposals can get unnecessarily expensive.
Like two months’ pay expensive.
According to Ross Kenneth Urken of Daily Finance, “The U.S. diamond and diamond jewelry market grossed $25.3 billion in sales for 2010, the latest year with available data, and diamond engagement rings made up $7.7 billion of that figure. The total global diamond and diamond jewelry market reached $60.2 billion in 2010.”
OK, so that means a country with less than 5% of the world’s population consumes a little under 50% of the world’s bling. That seams entirely reasonable, right?
I wear a diamond engagement ring, but I feel guilty about it sometimes. I like the ring itself, and it’s a nice reminder of my fiancé, who lives on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. But it’s weird to me that he doesn’t have an equivalent token to carry around with him. And it’s a foreign object where I live in Germany, which makes it hard for me not to think of the cultural processes that got it on my finger.
Even if I ignore the highly questionable morality of the global diamond trade (which I can’t), the engagement ring industry terrifies me. What does it say about our collective habits that the most common complaint among American women who are dissatisfied with their engagement ring is that the stone isn’t big enough? Or that a homeless man is proclaimed a “hero” simply for not stealing some local woman’s rock?
Rings have existed as tokens of love, commitment and friendship for thousands of years. But the diamonds that we adorn them with were introduced much more recently and came of age during the rise of modern American consumerism.
To find out just what we’re expected to consume, I Googled “engagement ring” to see just what popped up. Most of it was what I expected: an ad for Harry Winston and Forevermark Diamonds. Links to Kay, Jared, Amazon.com, Tiffany, and a list of jewelers in my area. A couple of links to similar articles advising men on how much to spend.
But then there was this gem: The Engagement Ring Calculator, which reads:
How much should you invest in a ring for your sweetheart? Diamond companies have worked hard to influence our cultural norms, which now suggest that you spend 3 months salary on a ring. Does that seem like a lot? With the calculator, you will be able to appraise your individual situation and possibly start your ring-buying journey on the right foot. Avoid being manipulated into spending too much, and inject some rational (sic) into what could be the most speculative of all investments.
What follows is a simple survey of multiple choice, drop-down, and fill-in questions intended to help the user determine how much to spend. Based on his and her level of education, attractiveness, and prior dating history. It’s basically a crude and cynical predictor of marital success.
I want to believe that this is great satire, just like I often try to convince myself that some politicians and reality TV stars are just masters of creative performance art.
But I’m not sure. Like I said, our bling culture terrifies me, and if my fiancé had spent on my ring what all of these forums say he should have, I would have considered it a waste of money.
What do you think? Is the Engagement Ring Calculator for real? And what does our engagement ring culture say about our expectations for men in committed heterosexual relationships?