five things about engagement rings

Five things you need to know about engagement rings

Georgina Guedes

By Georgina Guedes  February 24, 2015

Speculation is rife about the cost of Lady Gaga’s heart-shaped diamond engagement ring after she got engaged on Valentine’s Day to her boyfriend Taylor Kinny. Some media outlets are speculating that the hefty heart-shaped stone must have cost around $500 000 – which is a huge amount of money to us mere mortals, but pocket change to people like Lady Gaga.

However, while people love to speculate about the costs of celebrity engagement rings, very few people understand the true nature of these baubles of love and commitment. If you’re flashing a brilliant white on your left hand, do you consider it to be a gift, a contract or a payment for services sampled?

Chances are that you don’t really know. But you should – because misconceptions around engagement rings are expensive to hold.

I took it upon myself to debunk five of the main fallacies about engagement rings, with the help of an article by Shannon Rupp I read last year, written after a Canadian couple went to court to squabble over ownership of the token of their undying love. This kind of story rears its ugly head every so often, showing us that engagement rings are the most misunderstood gifts (or contracts, or payments).

Since we have this tendency to exchange expensive jewelry without really understanding what we’re doing, here are five traditional, legal and financial myths about engagement rings, debunked.

1. It’s a gift, it’s yours foreverSouth African law regards engagement rings as “arrhae sponsalitiae”, gifts that reflect the serious intention of the giver to marry the recipient. So what happens when the intention isn’t realised?
“If the parties mutually agree to terminate the engagement, all gifts with a view to the marriage, including the engagement ring, must be returned,” says Candice Eve-Friis, an associate partner in the Litigation Department at Shepstone Wylie Attorneys. “In the event of a breach of promise, the innocent party may claim the ring, and retain any gifts given to them.”

She adds that the innocent party can also claim damages for breach of promise.

So, basically, if the guy bails, the ring belongs to his ditched fiancée. If the girl does a runner, she should leave the ring on her no-longer-betrothed’s bedside table.

However, while the law tends to favour the one being dumped, the courts will take into account the reasons for the dumping, and possibly favour the dumper if he or she was the wronged party. This is where nasty squabbles over a diamond ring can break out.

2. Diamonds are traditionalNot so much. Traditionally, coloured stones like sapphires and rubies were given as engagement tokens. Then, as the research in Rupp’s article explains, “the wealth of diamond mines discovered in the late 19th century made the white rocks cheap and plentiful”. The diamond companies needed to create an urgent need for their preciouses, so they began to market them as the perfect engagement ring stones.

And generations of starry-eyed couples clamped their jaws around that sales pitch, hook, line and 5-carat sinker.

3. Diamonds are foreverDiamonds are forever, marriages are supposed to be… so diamonds are symbolic or something. The greatest trick the diamond monopoly ever pulled was convincing the world that because diamonds are the hardest substance on earth, they are an essential cornerstone for a lasting marriage.

“A diamond is forever” doesn’t spring from any great literary work, like the bible or a sonnet from Shakespeare. Rupp’s article tells us it was coined by a copywriter in 1947 but now it rolls off our tongues like we’re quoting scripture or poetry.

4. Your engagement ring should have a value equal to three times his monthly salaryWhat? Why? So that you can line all your friends up against a wall and get them to stick out their left hands so that you can measure up which of them hooked the most affluent catch? This notion is so horrendously tasteless that it makes me feel as if I have a massive sparkly rock lodged in my throat.

Are we really this shallow? Is this really what marriage is all about?

And in case you were wondering, this guideline is another bit of marketing genius from De Beers, designed to get you to fork out far more than you can afford for one of their wares instead of putting it away for a deposit on a house or for your kids’ education.

5. Engagement rings are an investmentLet’s unpack this notion, shall we? This piece of jewelry that you’re going to be flashing about, before you enter into a union with your soul mate is an investment? How exactly are you going to realise a return?

Sure, you might fall on hard times and pawn the thing, or if you divorce you could use the money for school fees or a down payment on a new car – but these are very cynical future prospects upon which to base your engagement ring purchase. Kinda sucks all the romanticism out of the gesture, doesn’t it?

But here’s the really funny thing – the mark-ups on the materials in an engagement ring are so high that you will struggle to recoup what you spent on the thing by reselling it. At some high-end jewellers, the production and mark up costs can amount to 100% of the cost of materials. So when you resell, you’re likely to fall extremely short of your original investment.

If you’re investing, buy unit trusts.

My engagement ring
Full disclosure time: I have an engagement ring. I am not completely against the whole notion. Why would I be? I love a bit of sparkle as much as the next gal – but it isn’t a diamond and it certainly isn’t as big as Lady Gaga’s. I just believe that any exchange of expensive gifts (or granting of temporary loans, or entering into a contract) should be done with the full understanding of the implications by both parties.

About GeorgiGeorgina Guedes is a writer, editor and content producer with a passion for reading, eating and travel. She has learnt a lot in her journey as a personal finance writer, and even manages to put some of it into practice! She lives in Johannesburg with her husband, two children, two dogs a cat and a white picket fence. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitte

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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