Years ago, I had a secretary, Val, who was so beautiful it was impossible to keep that fact in focus. She reminded me of Princess Diana (who was alive back then), only with reddish hair. Most days Val just looked like Val until I would come back from a vacation and really see her again, and then she was breathtaking. Anyhow, Val dated some guy (John, as I recall) for four years until she finally announced that she'd dumped him because, and I quote, "He didn't come up with the ring."
I kind of understood -- the engagement ring becomes the abstraction of the concept of commitment and marriage while still being a hefty enough commitment, financially and otherwise, on its own. But when pressed, Val really seriously meant the ring. Not the "concept" of a ring, not the stuff that the ring symbolized, but the actual rock itself. Oh-kay. So she dumped John, started dating a lawyer who ponied up for a rock, and they got married. (They may have gotten unmarried, recently. If so, I can only hope their divorce is/was as happy as my own!)
It was around this time that I began to notice that engagement rings are tofu items: they take on the flavor of the stuff around them. Val's ring was a threshold without which there was no point going further. My mother lost hers years before I was even aware of its existence, and probably around the time her marriage stopped being much more than a shell. My paternal grandmother's engagement ring -- a classic Tiffany setting with a nice but not extraordinary 1/2 carat stone -- came to our family when my uncle Dan died. It was offered to my brothers in turn for any eventual nuptials, and for a while I wore it as a hoot, but as far as I know, it's just kicking around my sister-in-law's jewelry box.
I've watched as couples have negotiated the Ring thing, and each couple somehow expressed themselves in that process. One guy I know researched the very best diamond he could get for $10,000; his would-be fiancee was tiny, so there was no need to go bigger than 1 carat, but he wanted it to be as flawless as possible. He found one on the Internet and one in a local bricks & mortar jewelers, and used the price quote from the Internet to get the local jeweler to come way down on his quote. By the time Jim was done, the engagement ring was a triumph of both commercial and financial, as well as romantic, devotion.
Stobex and I had very different criteria when we went shopping in London for the perfect ring. We held hands a lot, and he didn't want a prong setting that might be scratchy and uncomfortable, so we window-shopped throughout Hatton Gardens (the jewelry district in the City of London), looking at diamond rings with rub-over settings. Unfortunately, a solitaire with that setting just looks like a headlamp on a car, and in the end we didn't find anything we liked. The next day, we were walking to a Westminster library for some reason having to do with the Listener Crossword puzzle, and I saw a jewelers on Regent Street. On a whim, I made Stobex cross the street just to see. Our ring -- a charming three-stone ring in a rub-over setting -- was right there in the window. I still like that ring aesthetically, and I like the story of how we found it; I've asked Starman if I might wear it on my right hand, eventually, and he's cool with that. I'm just waiting for a couple years, as the symbolism on that ring fades a bit.
I'd explained to Starman that every proposal results in a story, and his was certainly more than I could have hoped for. (see 2/11/07 for details) And he wanted to get me a ring, which was lovely. I can't say I felt strongly about what such a ring should look like, but we did agree that we liked the idea of one designed by a jewelry designer. (I'd looked at rings on pretty high-end websites and not fallen in love with anything there, so I was feeling open-minded.) We had to ask where to shop in Binghamton, but it turns out there is an amazing store run by a designer and stocked with gorgeous stuff by other designers as well. [Goldsmith's -- worth a trip from nearly anywhere.] Meanwhile, Starman got a book out of the library and read all about buying a diamond. He reported that basically it should sparkle. A lot. Sounded good to me.
A funny thing happened while we were looking at rings: I stopped thinking. Normally, I'm a pretty decisive shopper. If I see something, I can calculate in short order whether I like it, whether I want it, where I'll put it/wear it/use it, and what it'll go with. Not in Goldsmith's, I couldn't. Nothing "spoke" to me, to quote my mother. In the end, one ring seemed to stay on my finger longer than the others. We went off to have lunch, came back, tried it on again, it seemed okay, and we bought it. We then picked out a stone to go in the setting. It arrived three days later, just in time for the family to descend on the house. I fell in love with it some time after that.
This delayed reaction isn't a first for me. When Stobex and I first looked at Harmony (the house, and land, where Starman and I now live), we hated it. We'd both had bad experiences with really old houses with lots of bare wood. But we talked about how it was basically ready-t0-use, and how we'd be able to find land with the perfect view and build the perfect house on the perfect land later, and we put a bid in. A couple months after we started to use it, I fell in love with Harmony. I wouldn't move now no matter how perfect the view was somewhere else.
And so it was with this ring, which I now think the most beautiful piece of jewelry I've ever seen. (Particularly after it's been cleaned!) Somehow that's fitting -- as I also feel that way about Starman. (Although he doesn't need the cleaning to be beautiful...) And while I don't believe size matters, I do think my ring is a very pretty size -- not too big (as in, "Wouldja look at that rock on her finger?!") or too small.
But I absolutely have to get out of constant Ring Mode vigilence. This is not something I should be actively noticing or thinking about. I love my friends, obviously, or we wouldn't be friends. I treasure them for tons of reasons -- their intelligence, humor, kindness, generosity, good taste, and so forth. And I've known them for years, and never before even noticed their engagement rings. I shouldn't start looking now! But there I was, meeting some yummy mummies at a friend's house as their play date wound down, and noticing all these magnificent (read: large) diamond rings. All bigger than my ring, which is fine, of course. But later I saw a different friend, whose ring is somewhat smaller, and I was embarrassed for even noticing. The fault is mine, of course, as I know full well that such things don't matter. What matters is the quality of the relationship that ring symbolizes.
I'm hoping that writing about all this will act as a cathartic agent, purging me of all this swirling, loopy stuff about rings. Better I should obsess about something really important. Like fabric!