Of Rings, Kings and Things

When it comes to some people’s engagement rings, it appears to have been no-expense spared November.

First we heard rumours that Jessica Simpson purportedly paid for her own $100,000 ruby-and-diamond Neil Lane engagement ring because her boyfriend Eric Johnson is currently between jobs.

Then followed Vanessa Minnillo’s bling ring, a gift from Nick Lachey. It’s a platinum-set, Asscher-cut diamond with trapezoids on the side from designer Bader & Garrin.

“Second hand” is not quite what one would call the ring Prince William gave fiancée Catherine Middleton; but seeing that it has already been worn before, that is actually what it is.

Prince William has said that he has passed on Princess Diana’s exquisite sapphire and diamond engagement ring so that the memory of his mother would live on, and she would be an integral, special part of his commitment. The ring sports an 18-carat oval blue sapphire that is surrounded by 14 small diamonds in a cluster setting. Contrary to royal protocol, it had been selected from the catalogue of royal jewellers Garrard.

Diana had been entranced by the £28,000 ring (nowadays it would be more than £100,000) as soon as she saw it, perhaps because it bore a striking resemblance to her own mother’s engagement ring.

Kate said she was proud an honoured to wear the ring, which of course has set off yet another round of imitations across the jewellery markets.

Prince William stated the obvious when he said that the ring was “very special to him”, as was Kate, and followed that through with a line straight out of a Maltese drama script: “…it’s only right the two are put together”. But, after all, it’s what you could expect from a “true romantic” as Middleton described him, and, anyway, it had been the only deeply personal keepsake the Prince had asked for after princess Diana’s death, when he was only 15 years old. At the time, he had already actually envisaged using it for his own engagement.

The legend of Princess Diana will never die; but hopefully, no one will compare Kate to her, just because they have shared a ring.

However, I had a sneaking suspicion that like, me, most of my friends would not take kindly to wearing a ring that had belonged to someone else – deceased mother-in-law, or wife, ex-fiancée, or one given to offset a debt. Ironically, however, some of them would, however, accept an antique ring bought from jewellery.

A friend swears that this is true: “One day, we were at his summer flat, and he opened a drawer. He took out a carton of paracetamol and I asked whether he wasn’t feeling well, and whether he would like some tea. He grinned and said that he had something to show me. It was a fantastic ring he “nearly”, he said, gave to his ex-girlfriend, and it was the one he would be giving me if we got engaged. That was the last time I saw him because I felt like he was treating me like a fish and baiting the hook.”

Someone else picked up the story at this point. “We were on the beach with friends. He was a widower, and out of the blue he said it would be a waste of money to get me another ring. So I could chose the one I liked best from her collection – I kid you not – as an engagement ring, and keep the rest as well. Up to that point we had never talked of marriage yet, so it took me by surprise. I said it would not matter if I didn’t choose one, because I was not going to be with him, anyway. I picked up my towel, dress, bag and flip-flops, and caught the next bus home.”

So far, so bad. I asked whether anyone had anything nice to say about recycled engagement rings.

Nadya said: “Yes, I would wear a used ring, especially if it belonged to my grandmother or mother. In this case though, wearing Lady Di’s ring would make me feel uncomfortable as her wedding was jinxed from the start.”

Someone else chipped in with “His mother said the claw setting on her ‘old’ ring was loose (that was her excuse to buy herself a new one worth four times as much) and I could have it “for free”. I could instantly visualise the multitude of stings attached to it! I asked whether I could have the stone re-styled, because, after all, I have a diploma in Art and Design. She said I would “spoil” it, so I agreed with her and told her I would get a different one altogether.” If looks could kill, I’d have been dead on the spot.

This led to another comment. “My mother, behind my brother’s back, said it would be nice to keep grandma’s ring in the immediate family, when he asked for it it for his fiancée. I felt I was being used as a Bring-In Site, or like a dog in the manger, because I know full well that grandma didn’t even like me. I aid so, and Mother had the grace to blush, so she didn’t press me further.”

Another friend interjected with: “If my future husband gave me his ex-wife’s ring or tried to fob me off with what I think would be stolen property, I would definitely refuse, immaterial of how costly the ring would be. Then again, why would I want to marry such a man, anyway? Other than that, I probably won’t have an issue. In Kate’s case, I think it was a great gesture by Prince William to give her something he cherished – his mother’s ring.”

The last word must go to another Kate, who said: “He wouldn’t even try to offer me a used ring; he knows me too well.”

For some, when it’s a toss-up between a paltry ring and a costly one that comes loaded with memories, the latter choice wins. For others, it would be an insult to be offered something, however expensive, that was not intended primarily for them.

The fact that the ring offered to Kate Middleton has its particular history puts a different spin on the issue altogether. To begin with, not every family heirloom ring is suitable for wearing as an engagement ring. And a heirloom is not something that you can dismantle and re-set just because you want to melt away the memories associated with the person who wore it before you.

The consensus appears to be that a woman must be allowed to choose whether she will accept a ring, because if it is taken for granted that she will, the chances are that she will feel that coercion in other things will follow throughout her married life. Moreover, if it was bought for a union that never materialised, it does not bode too well for the present one, does it?

An engagement ring is not a wedding ring – and some of us do not even wear the former because it catches on hair, clothes, and furnishings. If you really feel bad about it, but you know that you as a couple can ill-afford the traditional one month’s wages for a new ring, you can get it professionally cleaned.

If you are of a religious bent, you can get it blessed and begin imbuing it with your own set of memories.

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