Give me your diamonds

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[Conor Friedersdorf]

Awhile back I wrote a piece against bridal magazines, but forgot to inveigh against a related scourge: the diamond engagement ring.

If I'm lucky I'll one day take a knee and ask an intelligent, spirited woman for her hand. It is a moment I'll cherish -- I'd be honored to offer some token of my esteem, even one that stretched my means. Should my beloved savor art I'd hope for sufficient funds to commission a painting. If she loves Yo-Yo Ma I'll do my damnedest to call in a favor. I can even imagine a woman whose passion is jewelry. She's studied its craft, is particularly taken by its aesthetic, and revels in its symbolism. I'd gladly purchase whatever diamond ring is within my reach for that woman.

As it stands, however, men are asked to believe that every single woman happens to prize an extravagantly expensive and utterly useless stone—perhaps mined by African children at the point of a bayonet—not because it's an opulent status symbol whose envy-inducing *bling bling* is forever, but because it's the most "special" thing that we can present her (or so the shadow people would have us believe).

In a way, it's bizarre that women given engagement rings don't respond by saying something like, "I'd love to marry you." (Beat.) "And thank you so much for this ring. (Eyes welling up.) I cherish the thought behind it, and I'll keep it forever if you'd like. (Happy tears.) On the other hand, we could take it back and use the money to spend several months together in coastal Italy."

But the culture -- which I absolutely don't think is the fault of women, in case that isn't clear -- seldom leads to my fantasy engagement. Instead the diamond ring thrives as a status marker disguised as a tradition, the bigger the spectacle the better.

And here lies an opportunity.

Here is what I propose: a charity, first marketed to Hollywood stars, that allows people to donate the stone from their diamond ring, directing the money to a cause of their choice. Let's say someone chooses an environmental cause. In return she gets a valueless green stone the same size as the diamond she gave. She puts the stone in the setting on her ring. She is thus able to show off her virtue in the same way she formerly showed off her vice.

This would work best if it caught on among Hollywood types first -- perhaps the same stars who drive around in hybrid cars. This is a half-baked idea, I know, but perhaps the core concept can be improved upon? I'm open to suggestions before I sucker one of my attorney friends into filing the non-profit paperwork for me.

UPDATE: See this piece on diamonds from The Atlantic archives.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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