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My boyfriend and I have recently come to the point where we're discussing the whole engagement deal and have come to the conclusion that this whole engagement ring racket is an elaborate trap. It seems like it should be simple enough for two reasonable people to agree on some kind of tangible engagement symbol that doesn't cost you thousands of dollars while providing no practical value other than being able to cut a circle out of a glass display case if you need to steal something from a museum someday.

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"Well, you're the one that's engaged, Jessica. Extract the artifact."

I realize a lot of people feel like the thousands of dollars aren't supposed to be paying for practical value but for the sentimental value of how much your loved one means to you. If you feel like symbolic sentiment is worth $15,000 or so, and you don't need to save it for your mortgage or bills or the equally excessive wedding you probably want too, that's cool, that's your thing. I'm not going to judge you. But you're crazy and have too much money.

But even if you want to toss out all that nonsense and go about this like a sane person, it's a can of worms, and here's why.

The Insidious Lies of the Diamond Industrial Complex

If you hang around with cynical people who are always making a big deal about how Mother's Day or Valentine's Day were invented by Hallmark to make money, you'll probably have heard the whole spiel from them about how the De Beers diamond cartel has manufactured the tradition of diamond engagement rings and relentlessly pushes it on people.

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Spontaneous profession of love or slavish acquiescence to The Man's propaganda?

If you haven't, you can get caught up by reading that link. While the "DE BEERS IS BEHIND EVERYTHING" rhetoric can get a bit hyperbolic, there's some truth to it. There are a whole bunch of "have tos" society seems to assume about engagement rings -- it has to be diamond, you have to spend two months worth the salary on it, you have to use it to propose. These rules don't really make sense and seem to trace back to marketing rather than genuine traditions. The phrase "diamonds are forever" isn't even a colloquial idiom but a marketing slogan invented in 1948 as "A Diamond is Forever."

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I kind of wish all James Bond titles came from advertising slogans.

Also part of the marketing is a lot of "helpful" educational material teaching the public about the "4 C's" -- color, clarity, cut and carat weight -- that determine the quality of a diamond, to make sure people know they should be insulted by $500 "I-2" diamonds and start debating whether they'd settle for a "VS-2" in place of a "VS-1" when they previously couldn't tell the difference by looking.

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Because this is totally how you will be looking at your ring every day.

Sure, at the lower levels, you can actually see some of the differences without magnification, like some low-grade diamonds are obviously pee yellow or look like they've been hit with a baseball, but squinting at a diamond for minor cloudiness and number of facets is something the average person would never have thought of doing, or being upset about, until the salesman helpfully guides you there.

Society Won't Let You Get Away With a Cheap Ring

So that brings the frustrated ring shopper to the point where you shout, "Fuck the system!" while smashing jeweler's microscopes left and right. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, you've made up your mind that The Man isn't going to tell you how to buy a ring.

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"I'm gonna buy an expensive ceremonial symbol on MY OWN TERMS! TAKE THAT, THE MAN!"

Personally, I'd be OK with a cheap ring or even no ring at all. But the problem is that (thanks to The Man's propaganda) many people are automatically going to assume that my boyfriend is a cheapskate. They're not going to say so, they're just going to get that look, make some polite noises about how very enlightened it is, and how of course they totally agree that a ring isn't important, and they're going to go away thinking, That poor girl.

If I try to explain that we both agreed to it and we're not that big on jewelry, it'll just sound like I'm making excuses for him and people will get that weird battered wife vibe. ("No, no! He really does love me, that's just his way!") Especially since I seem to be volunteering explanations when they didn't ask for them.

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"Excuse me -- you're all probably wondering where this fart smell just came from, and I'd like to explain."

If you've never had people secretly thinking bad things about the person you've chosen, and constantly hinting subtly and unsubtly at it from all sides, you might think, "What's the big deal? Who cares what other people think?" Well, I don't care to the point it would really affect our relationship or plans, but it's just one more huge annoyance and headache during a period of time you really don't need any more crap to worry about.

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Man-Made Diamonds are Expensive as Hell and Even Rarer Than Mined Ones

Now if you get into the mindset of someone who has watched a lot of heist movies, you might be thinking, "Why not replace the real stone with a fake? The cops will never know! Also the parents!" Unfortunately, fake diamonds are sort of obvious. Cubic zirconia is a joke and moissanite looks like a disco ball -- and also the name sounds kind of gross.

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"Oh, Hector! You ... shouldn't have!"

So I had a lot of hope when I heard about real diamonds made in a lab. The traditional diamond industry tried really hard to discredit them so I figured they must be cheap and popular -- but, no. I guess it turns out that it's mostly a pre-emptive smear campaign, because man-made diamonds are harder to get a hold of than natural ones.


It was a really vicious campaign.

The biggest name in man-made diamonds seems to be Gemesis, which until recently was known for making large, high-quality artificial diamonds. The only problem was that they're yellow. Experts agree that these diamonds are structurally top notch, but the buying public does not expect a top-notch diamond to look like crystallized urine, and isn't going to shell out huge amounts of money for glass pee no matter how big or flawless the stone is.

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What's really going on in the diamond factories.

That's why Gemesis switched courses last year and started using a different process (already used by its competitor, Apollo) that makes diamond-colored diamonds to sell to the stupid public that can't appreciate a perfect diamond just because it is yellow. Only, this process doesn't let them make very big diamonds (one carat is pushing it), they're not as flawless as the big yellow ones and, funniest of all, they're not much cheaper than real diamonds, if at all.

If you go to either of those websites, you'll find that things such as prices are conspicuously missing. Gemesis' page basically says, "We're going to sell stuff soon! Come back later!" Apollo suggests you call for prices. This is a bad sign. As a penny-pinching ex once told me, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." A Gemesis rep said a man-made 0.9 carat H VVS stone would cost $4806 a carat while the Shane Company's website tells me a traditional diamond of that quality would cost $5823 a carat. Sure, that's less but we're not talking about a steal here.


WHAT A DEAL.

Also, don't set your heart on those prices. They were supposed to start selling those months ago and their website is still just staring at you uselessly. I wouldn't bet too much on the certainty that everything's going as planned.

Sure, some people buy man-made diamonds because they're guaranteed not to be mined by African slaves or whatever, and that's fair enough. But if you're trying to sacrifice your need to have a diamond that came out from under the Earth in order to save some cash, you probably won't.

Alternate Gemstones Look Fake

So fuck diamonds. That's what I said. Sapphires are prettier anyway, and they're different, so I can feel cooler and more special than everybody else while spending less money. Well, that's a laugh.

First of all, the fact that it's not traditional to use a colored gemstone in an engagement ring means half the people I meet won't even know it's an engagement ring. The other half will suspect it might be an engagement ring but are afraid to make a faux pas and ask about it in case it isn't, and there will be a lot of awkward conversations to look forward to.

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"This is my class ring! My husband died two years ago! Thanks for bringing it back up!"

Secondly, thanks to crappy plastic children's jewelry, bejeweled "princess" picture frames and the game Bejeweled, most colors of gems look tacky and fake. The only gem other than diamonds that's popularly seen in classy, formal jewelry is the blue sapphire -- and guess what? Those fuckers are almost as expensive at diamonds, some of them more so.

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On the one hand, Kate Middleton's engagement ring made sapphires acceptable. On the other hand, no one can afford that shit.

Fortunately, you can get man-made sapphires for a tiny fraction of what a natural sapphire costs. And the man-made ones are structurally nearly flawless; at a level natural sapphires don't usually approach. Unfortunately, they look so perfect and bright that they look fake to most people. Apparently it's the cracks and flaws in natural sapphires that make them look complex and real or something.

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Ideal gemstone structure.

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"Unique" Alternative Rings All Seem to be Made for Goths and Wiccans

So at this point, we're trying to really think outside of the box. Maybe it doesn't have to be centered on any kind of gem. Maybe I could just get a unique, badass looking ring of some kind, with a dragon on it or something. But searching around for anything that's not a diamond or gemstone ring, all I get is goth jewelry.

Via 3 Rexes Jewelry

And that's fine, if you're a goth, and you like your ring to be all crooked to symbolize the darkness and scarring of your soul or something -- but I'm not. Actually, I'm lying, I also find a lot of Celtic and Wiccan wedding-related jewelry, too.

And again, I'm not Wiccan or Celtic, and my culture doesn't have any ancient ring betrothal traditions because we traditionally had the parents arrange everything and cart you off to the groom's house and eat a lot of food and say goodbye. I guess dragons are sort of traditional though, and I was born in the Year of the Dragon -- so I could legitimately wear some kind of dragon ring.

But the more I look at rings with dragons on them ...

Via Amazon.com

... the more they look like rings worn by people who never have sex.

I don't know, maybe you really can't put anything unique and attention-grabbing on a ring without looking like a dork. Maybe it's just a natural law. Don't get me wrong, it would be really hilarious to be proposed to with a ring that looked like this:

Via 3 Rexes Jewelry

… but the laughter would fade after a couple of days and the embarrassment would last a lifetime.

Forget About the Surprise Factor

You might be wondering why I'm putting so much thought into what's supposed to be a present for me, and traditionally, a surprise present. Well, if we were going by the old De Beers "diamond tradition" rules, I probably wouldn't have to, because the formula's pretty clear. He just needs to find out my ring size and get a solitaire ring with the highest quality diamond he feels like paying for.

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And a classy card printed out on the inkjet.

But if we're not going to play that game, it's all uncharted territory and who knows which of the endless possibilities I would or wouldn't like -- especially since I don't wear jewelry and he's got no hints to go on. If it's OK with me to get a $25 ring with a badly-made dragon on it, I have to tell him that because I don't think that would be a very safe guess for him. With so many more questions outside of carat size and setting, it's unfair to make a guy guess on most of them.

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"You should have told me you weren't Celtic!"

And no matter how nontraditional you are, it kind of sucks. It takes away from the fun of being surprised. Gender roles aside, it's always fun to be surprised.

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Well, not always.

Fed up with all of this, I told him he could just get me a candy ring from one of those candy machines, but he said I would probably eat it, and he's right.

Screw it. I'm proposing to him. With this fancy manly engagement ring.

Via Titanium Kay

Shhh! Nobody tell him! I hope he doesn't read this column.

Be sure to check out more from Christina in The 5 Stupidest Ways Movies Deal With Foreign Languages and 6 Reasons It's Time For Matthew McConaughey To Go Away.

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