The writer Jack Hitt, whose narrative journalism makes him one of the foremost storytellers of our time, agrees with me that diamond engagement rings are abominations. Via e-mail he writes:
I just caught your post and I wanted to write: You are not alone. When I asked my wife to marry me twenty years ago, I wanted to get her something besides a diamond ring. There is the De Beers argument and I'd always heard "Diamonds are a girl's best friend" was a line and a song actually commissioned by De Beers. But also, the angry drunk uncle latent in all of us (the same relative who at Thanksgiving dismisses the last century of art, saying, "my dog could do better than that") made me suspicious of the claim that diamonds "caught the light" in a special way. They just seemed so boring, so, here was my solution. I stumbled upon an antiquities dealer on Madison Avenue and for around the same price as a decent diamond ring, I could buy a 2000-year-old Roman ring--a carnelian stone carved in the likeness of Athena--set in ancient gold. As a Latin major who hadn't translated a line of Catullus since I walked off with my diploma, there was something deeply satisfying about it. And, you want a symbol of longevity, endurance and eternity? How about a ring that was last worn when Jesus was still learning his parable chops? With a little thought, any couple can find a non-diamond ring that actually comes with a story--which is always worth a lot more than a bland diamond.
Next target: the white dress. Turns out, it's not a symbol of virginity or purity, but a tradition with a repellent origin. Most brides dressed in flowery, colorful, outrageous dresses for a wedding to capture the sense of celebration, beauty, and sensuality. Queen Victoria found this way too gaudy, common and vulgar, so she went with the demure, sleek, bloodless white dress. The upwardly mobile immediately took up the trend and weddings have been just a little less fun every since.
So there you go.