"You Don't Have to" Series, Finance

You Don’t Have to: Buy a Diamond Ring

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs”
– Malcolm Forbes

If you’re contemplating a diamond ring there’s a good chance you’re about my age – a member of the millennial generation that suffers from unending student debt, high housing prices and rising costs of living. And all the while we’re getting impaled with ads and advice that suggests your future happy relationship is directly related to the size of rock you present to your significant other.

Now before I dive in, those who know me have every right to ask: what the heck am I doing writing about this? I bought my wife a diamond ring! Some hypocrite, hey? But as I said in a previous post, I’m not claiming to be the unquestionable guru on the stuff I talk about; I’m right there learning like everyone else.

My wife loves her ring and I don’t regret it. But if my slightly older, wiser self could send a message back to that younger version of myself, I’d tell him to at least consider some other ring alternatives.

My reasoning for avoiding the purchase of a diamond is essentially that they’re crazy expensive. But after digging deeper online, I turned up a few interesting gems (puns galore here) on the subject.

  1. Diamonds aren’t actually rare at all

The International Gem Society (IGS) had this to say: “While we are still learning about the interior of the earth, current information shows that diamonds are likely the most common gem in nature.”

So why are they so freakin’ expensive!? It started back in the late 1800’s when British financiers discovered large diamond mines in Africa. At first they were shocked at their luck. But what they realized was the discovery of massive deposits of diamonds was that it made the gem pretty well…ordinary. And thus the formation of De Beers.

These guys carefully control the diamond market to ensure, despite having a size-able collection of these shiny rocks, that diamonds were perceived as a rarity and should be priced as such.

  1. We’ve been duped by advertising, apparently

Supposedly diamonds haven’t even been the most popular gemstone for very long. Before this century, rubies and sapphires were the most popular gems, especially for engagement rings.

The popularity and near universal association of weddings and engagements to diamonds was the result of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history. Have you heard the widely-known phrase “A Diamond is Forever”? With crazily successful advertising in places like Hollywood and New York, diamonds became the unquestionable present of romance and commitment to your significant other.

Interesting fact: The largest seller of diamonds in the U.S. is Walmart.

  1. Diamonds aren’t the most valuable gem out there

The cost of a gem is highly variable, but overall it’s gems like ruby and alexandrite (a very cool stone, check it out) that get will gouge your wallet the hardest.

  1. When it comes to gem ratings (i.e. refraction of light, or it’s “brilliance”, color dispersion, weight, etc.), diamonds come out quite average.

The IGS notes on its website: “Not counting synthetics, there are at least 15 minerals with a higher refractive index than diamond,” and “diamonds are known for their fire or dispersion. This is the ability to separate white light into the color of the rainbow. Diamond has a dispersion of .044, which is quite high. However, it is a far cry from gems like rutile with a dispersion of .330”

  1. Who says we need to spend 3 months salary?

When you hear someone tell you: “they say you’re supposed to spend 3 months salary on an engagement ring,” the ‘they’ in that sentence is another successful campaign by advertising companies. Spend only what you think is reasonable and aligns with your financial goals.

And I’m not even going to get in to the political or moral issues such as ‘blood diamonds’ that have funded devastatingly violent civil wars in Africa and elsewhere. Or the massive environmental damage that’s inherent to open-pit diamond mining. That’s a whole other big mess that I’ll leave for someone else to talk about.

So there have it, all you young lovers. Don’t be rushing out to go empty your savings account at the jewelry store counter. There’s lots of cool alternatives out there. What a great opportunity to simultaneously stick it to the man and be super unique!


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