Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Photo by Angie McMonigal Photography

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone… 

Lucy in the sky with diamonds…

— Lyrics to “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds,” by The Beatles
Nine years ago today, my husband surprised the hell out of me by getting down on one knee, pulling out a box with the most beautiful diamond ring I had ever seen, and popping the question.  Still today, I love to look at my engagement ring remember just how surprised, elated, and absolutely over the moon I was when he proposed.

I love to think about all of the covert visits to the jewelry store he had made for a month or so before he proposed; about how he picked out the perfect ring simply by picking up on subtle hints (ok, they probably weren’t quite as subtle as I would like to think) and paying attention to my general style preferences.

I love to think back to that relatively carefree time in our relationship before mortgages, kids, miscarriages, career changes, job stress, health problems, dogs with cancer, and all of the other things that marriage throws at a couple.

So as I say this, it may seem a bit odd when I explain that lately my husband and I have been pondering the ethical concerns and extravagance associated with diamonds, and wondering if maybe my engagement ring was a colossal waste of resources.

Historically, the diamond industry was controlled by the DeBeers cartel in various African nations.  Although the cartel’s control has been diminished in recent years due to lawsuits and competition from other diamond sources, the presence of conflict diamonds in the jewelry industry continues to exist.  Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, are mined in certain African counties where there is a war or armed conflict that involves slavery, rape, or torture, with the proceeds of diamond sales going to support rebel or terrorist groups.

Fortunately, ethical concerns associated with conflict diamonds have been somewhat mitigated in recent years with the adoption of the Kimberly Process, whereby participating countries agree to meet minimum requirements regarding the exportation, importation and internal controls of the diamond trade.  Shipments of rough diamonds from countries that are subject to the Kimberly Process must certify that the diamonds are conflict-free.  Accordingly, those who have purchased diamonds recently or plan to buy diamonds in the future can request verification that the diamond is not a conflict diamond.

Nonetheless, doubts about the legitimacy and extravagance of the diamond industry continue.  As admitted in my post “Time Warp”, the person I was nine years ago is hardly the person I am now, and the woman I was back then cared a bit more about elegant jewelry than I do today.    And so, what’s a girl to do?

Knowing what I know now, as I harbor anxiety about supporting a corrupt and profligate industry, not to mention guilt about promoting the lavishness of diamonds in general, can I still appreciate my engagement ring?  But isn’t the sentimental worth of my engagement ring also worth something?  Eventually, I end up taking myself into a confusing maze of conflicting priorities, incompatible ethical considerations, and confusing social concerns.  After all, we are human beings, not robots; we must be recognize and accept that sometimes the ideals of our social priorities conflict with the practicalities of daily life and our human predispositions for certain comforts and material possessions.

Certainly one option would be to sell my ring to a reputable jeweler and donate the proceeds to a charitable organization.  Truth be told, my husband and I actually discussed doing this very thing.  Nowadays, there are a number of diamond alternatives available with physical and aesthetic characteristics that rival mined diamonds so I could certainly find a viable and reasonable replacement.  But the obvious trepidations hold me back – fears that I will one day regret divesting such a monumental symbol of our marriage, sadness over departing with such a beautiful piece of jewelry, and doubts about whether such a minor act even makes a difference.

But, ultimately, what is really holding me back is none of these things – a happy marriage is not dependent on a diamond ring, my materialist vanity would wane, and the donated proceeds would certainly make a difference, albeit in some small way.

The real reason that I don’t want to let go of my diamond engagement ring is one that filled with childlike romanticism and touch of selfishish.  You see, my engagement ring is the only physical reminder I have of my husband’s marriage proposal – there are no photos, video, or other mementos of the occasion.  And even though my husband and I had been together for more than three years by the time he proposed and I knew that we would get married “one day,” I was legitimately swept away when he got down on one knee.  My engagement ring reminds me of this early romance of our relationship, when the possibilities for our lives together seemed limitless.

As our lives have become consumed with kids, jobs, in-laws, finances, and the general messiness of life, my engagement ring serves as a kind of personal fairy tale to me.  It reminds me of how one day a young man got down on one knee, slipped a ring on the hand of a young woman, promised to love her forever, and made her feel like…a princess.  And, really, don’t we all need a little bit of fairly tale in our lives?

I am still conflicted over my diamond engagement ring and I am trying to work through my internal priority conflicts.  One thing is certain, though.  Ring or no ring, my husband continually makes me feel like a princess – even if some days, I feel a little more like a Princess Fiona than a Princess Kate.

Food for thought: What are your thoughts on the diamond industry?  Do you have any internal moral/ethical conflicts?  What holds special significance to you?

This is the third installment of the Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

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  • i’ve heard about the diamond industries but haven’t looked much into it. my husband proposed with the smallest diamond ring that didn’t fit and i had to wear it around my neck. when we got married, he put a titanium band on my hand with a small black diamond. i thought it was pretty cool looking. the diamond popped out two months later and 5 years later, i still don’t wear a wedding band. it’s all materialistic to me anyway. yes, i want a ring for our anniversary coming up but i don’t really care if it’s diamond or not. i’m just tired of not having a wedding ring because it IS a symbol of marriage. i don’t *need* it but i want it.

  • Interesting post, Christine. I am not a fan of jewelry. The only piece of jewelry I wear is my wedding ring/engagement ring. Nearly 10 yrs later, I find I still look at the ring and smile. I suppose it is a fairy-tale kind of thing. As for the diamond industry … I suppose I have no real thoughts. The world is awash with moral/ethical conflicts – it is overwhelming.

    • You hit the nail on the head. There are so many moral/ethical conflicts and we can’t “fix” everything. I think that we just have to figure out what we really care about and try to work on those things. It can be overwhelming to think about though and such a slippery slope filled with lots of gray areas.

    • I hear you. I’m not sure I can/could either. We’ll see. I’ve been going through a trial run with just wearing my wedding band to see how I feel about it. I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to part with it, but I am enjoying the process of reflecting on the importance of the ring for both symbolic and material reasons.

  • You bring up excellent points, all serious and worth considering. Like you, we don’t have anything but the ring to testify to what happened that day. I have this small diamond engagement ring and it is hugely symbolic of all that we went through to get to that moment. I don’t know…I don’t have any real advice to offer. Except maybe to go with your heart?

    • Interesting point about the symbolism of getting to that point. You’re right – I need to listen to my heart. I’m giving it a trial run with just wearing my wedding band to see how I feel about it after some time and perspective. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  • My husband is from Turkey, and they don’t give diamond engagement rings. They instead give two simple bands, one to the woman and one to the man (like wedding rings). They are tied together on their engagement night, and then placed on each hand, after which the string is cut. I didn’t actually do this the night we got engaged, as I was too afraid that if I came home with just a band on my finger, my parents would think that I had already gotten married. Although it was strange for him, he bought me a tiny little diamond (we were both very young), and to this day—14 years later—this ring still holds that memory for me. I understand you dilemma, but I don’t know if I would give up the ring. Thank you for sharing.

  • Whatever you decide, I applaud you for even considering it. I couldn’t do it. One of the things I love about my husband is his practicality. However, this quality isn’t exactly conducive to grand romantic gestures. 🙂 His acts of picking out the ring, keeping it safe for 2 months, and then planning how he was going to give it to me is priceless. In fact, I’ve just recently found out HE wants ME to wear it all the time. (I didn’t typically wear it much day to day) I never thought about that – how my ring is a symbol and important for him as well. Maybe he’s a little romantic after all. 🙂

  • Selling your diamond engagement ring will not change things in Africa nor will it change how you feel about your husband (and the memories of your proposal). What may change is people’s perceptions of you…or…what you perceive people to be thinking of you. It’s tricky. We are a culture that lifts up ideals that are not always good for us–the world. What is good for the world is people like you who challenge the norm, question our priorities, and are courageous enough to open the dialogue on the Web. Great post.

    • Thank you. And you are so right. We do live in a society with ideals and pressures that don’t always gel with the “greater good.” Thank you for reading and for your encouraging comments.

  • The world needs more thoughtful brides (even nine years later) like you. I wear two gold bands: the one my husband gave me when we married and one his father gave to his mother; wouldn’t part with them for anything!

  • Aw, you are really so sweet and thoughtful. I think I could never part with my diamond engagement ring, though. Call me selfish, or sentimental, but I want to be buried with my ring.

    • Thank you. I wouldn’t call you selfish at all and there is nothing wrong with sentimental. I think that it ultimately boils down to the reasons why it holds importance to us. BTW, I enjoyed your recent blog about the easy run. You are so right about its therapeutic effects.

  • I honestly never really thought about it – I probably should have. I asked my husband to please buy me the smallest ring ever (told him to even go fake, or nothing). I didn’t intend to wear it after we were married. Now it doesn’t fit, but if it did I probably wouldn’t wear it. That said, it’s important to me and I would never part with it.

    • Thank you for reading the post and sharing your thoughts. My engagement been ring has been in hiding this week as I go through a trial run without, and I do enjoy the safety of knowing that it is still somewhere nearby even if I’m not wearing it.

  • I was adamant about not wanting a diamond, and I made that very well known to my husband. He researched conflict diamonds and found where he could purchase a small “non-conflict” (Canadian) one to give me. I do love the ring, and we considered using it as my wedding band, but decided against it. It’s now in a safe since I didn’t wear it on a trip we took – and I just haven’t bothered to get it out. Sigh.

    I do think consumers have a responsibility to purchase things – especially luxury items – conscientiously. If you don’t know though, what to do? I commend you two for considering selling and donating. However, you could also keep it and donate $$ to a related organization that helps those hurt by the industry.

  • Excellent post and difficult question. The emotional support and stability that we get from symbols is important. The same “symbol” varies in importance to different people (as evidenced by your readers who range from seeing the ring as not critical to overwhelmingly valuable in their connection to their partner. From your words and feelings of conflict, it seems clear that you fall closer to the invaluable side and a piece of you might be reduced if you sold the ring. The strength of your relationship would remain constant, but your heart would miss it as a tangible symbol of a precious moment of commitment.

    So…I was wondering if you could remove the diamonds and sell them, keeping the setting and putting in something synthetic (perhaps even a different type of stone symbolizing special birthdays or events?). The ring takes on more precious facets that symbolize the reconciliation of your social views, family, and the support of those to whom you donate the money.

    Excellent post and I’ve just come from voting for you on yeahwrite#49. Well done!!

    • Wow – thank you for your vote! And thank you for your thoughtful, insightful, and helpful comments. You are so right about the range of emotions and symbolism that an engagement ring (or another other symbol, for that matter) can hold. My ring’s setting is very plain, but that is definitely an option worth considering. Thanks again for reading, voting, and commenting.

  • I would be so sad if you gave up your ring—-the day you called with so much excitement in your voice. I look at that beautiful ring of yours and am reminded of how thrilled we were for you and Matt. How OVER THE MOON you were– II would be saddened not to see it!I will never forget that and your ring is a reminder to not just you–but to everyone at how much you have grown since those days—Heck– back then you wouldn’t even step into a Kohl’s store!!!

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