I was engaged on the fourth of July. I popped the question to my long time girlfriend, in front of a London Pub, on our way from Paris -- just after the big fireworks finale at EPCOT; it was actually much more romantic than it sounds. But it wasn't all that unique. Turns out that the 4th makes the top ten list of most popular dates to get engaged, and the only date in the top ten not in the November through February time frame.
That was about 25 years ago, shortly after starting my second business. I recall telling my business partner that I was going to have to borrow a little from the corporate account to pay for the engagement ring.
Outside of my house and first car it was the single most expensive purchase I'd ever made at the time. I recall how the jeweler carefully handled the dozens of stones of various shapes and sizes spread out on a velvet mat under bright lights. Then there was matching the stone to the setting. I quipped to him that as beautiful as these gems were they were also nothing more than a well controlled monopoly. Surprisingly he agreed, and then said, "It's tradition. Don't worry, she'll love it!"
What? You've never Seen A Guy Wearing A Fanny Pack?
For a week after my purchase my girlfriend and I vacationed at Disney World. I carried that ring with me everywhere I'd go in a fanny pack that was permanently attached to my waist. My soon to be fiancé shared with me later that she knew something was a bit off when I refused to go swimming without taking off the fanny pack. As insane as it now seems, I was carrying around the entire bottom line from our first year in business in that pouch.
Indeed, few marketing campaigns have been as wildly successful in manipulating individual and societal behaviors as the De Beers Diamonds are Forever campaign, which for nearly 100 years has been able to convince the world that a diamond engagement ring (and it's accompanying price tag) equates directly to the degree of affection and love in a relationship.
I'm not going to get into the debate of the merits or the true value of diamonds. That's for you to decide. The fact is that there are far less precious things than a diamond ring that we value just as much if not more. So, far be it for me to make a case for why that magnificent diamond looses more value the instant it's yours than a brand new BMW when you drive it off a dealer's lot.
However, if a diamond engagement ring is the direction you've decided to take (whether your the one giving or receiving) then there's still one thing that I can't seem to make sense of.
Warning: I'm going to get practical here, while realizing that this is typically not the time to be practical, reasonable, or otherwise rational.
Here goes anyway.
You Did Keep The Receipt, Right?
If I put myself on the receiving side of a marriage proposal involving a ring (and here I do not speak from experience), it occurs to me that the last thing I'd want to do is wear what will likely be the single, most prominent, and constant piece of jewelry I'll ever own without having had any say in what it looks like.
Those who have been proposed to can tell me I'm wrong here, but it's likely because the only two options you had were "YES, and I'll take the ring," or "NO, and you can keep the ring." I'm going to guess that the response of, "Yes, and, oh by the way, can you get me a nicer ring, like maybe a round instead of pear-shaped diamond?" isn't typically on the list of desired responses, for either the proposed or the proposer.
So, it looks like whoever is receiving the ring is just stuck with it or, with the obvious DeBeers answer, wait another 10-20 years until your boat comes in to upgrade to something you really want to wear.
Enter another option with new-age jeweler Hayden Cudworth.
The best way to describe Hayden Cudworth is as the Warby Parker of engagement and wedding rings. As far as I know they are the first jeweler to allow anyone with a valid credit card to do a free "home try-on" of multiple engagement (and wedding) rings. No strings attached.
No I'm not kidding. This is real and here's how it works.
- You go online and select up to five engagement rings and/or wedding bands.
- Provide a credit card, which is not charged.
- Replicas of the chosen rings are delivered to your home so that you and your soon to be betrothed can make the selection, or consult family and friends to find the perfect ring without the high-pressure environment of a jewelry store. (If you ask me, this is the ideal Facebook or Instagram poll question!)
- Once you (or your 543 FB friends) decide, the ring is custom made in the ideal size, choice of metal, and, of course, diamond gem.
If you're in my demographic you're likely shuddering; all of this sounds terribly wrong. After all, where's the element of shock and awe, the empowering feeling of knowing your partner so well that you couldn't possibly go wrong in picking exactly what she (or he) wants to wear 24/7 for the rest of their married lives. And, after all, isn't the whole point of a proposal a take it or leave it deal? Oh, let's also not forget that it's supposed to be a male-driven process, "Sorry, babe, you want me you had better want the ring too. We're a package deal!"
Yeah, you see where this is going, right? As my kids might say, "Ugh!"
Hey, 50-Somethings, It's All Your Fault
Look, I get the sentimentality of this, and how a ring is just a ring, and it's the meaning behind it that's important. But let's be real here. Isn't all of that just rationalizing the fact that there haven't been any other good options? It's the classic case of sticking ourselves into a behavioral prison that we see no way out of, so instead we decorate it nicely. "Okay, so it's a pear-shaped diamond that's forever going to be catching onto your sweaters, and you don't have a single piece of matching rose gold jewelry to go with it. But, hey, it's a 3-carat pear-shaped rose gold diamond ring!"
Besides, Millennials, and especially Gen Z, don't operate that way. Why not? Because we raised to then to be open, transparent, collaborative, communicators, equal partners, part of a team, and then, just to be sure they really did all of that, we built the technologies with which to do all of it exquisitely well.
Yes, we're to blame.
And yet, we scratch our heads when they want to do just that.
In fact, companies such as Hayden Cudworth and Warby Parker are just the tip of a massive shift in buyers' attitudes. Buyers want transparency, elimination of middlemen and brokers, they want to be respected as co-creators, and they want to play an active role in, rather than being pressured into, buying. And they always want a home turf advantage.
If you want to call that being entitled, go ahead. But it's not goign ot help you sell to them. Instead think of what I call a Loyal Brand in my book Revealing The Invisible; a brand that gets me and respects me. Ignore that by sticking to an old tired model of high pressure selling and you're pretty much just waiting for someone to come along and disrupt you out of business.
Oh, and in case you were wondering. No, I'm not in the market for engagement rings. Although, to be fully transparent, I did order my five samples. Hey, you never know. It is the fourth after all.