Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big Diamond

Photo from here, not that I think you want to buy an engagement ring, but to
give credit for the photo

Not long ago, I was standing in a crowded MRT car as the train hurtled towards Zhongxiao Fuxing. I looked down at the guy in the seat directly in front of me. He was  quiet, self-contained, a bit nerdy, had the look of an engineer or first-year market analyst. Those ubiquitous black thick-framed glasses sat on his nose. I noticed that he was pallid, hunched forward a bit, and his hands were shaking.

I was about to ask if he was OK - mostly out of self-interest, because if he was as close to hurling as he looked, my shoes were right in the line of fire - until I looked again and noticed the handles of a small bag wound through his blood-drained, earthquake fingers.

A small, bright blue bag. From Tiffany. Inside was a ring box. And then I thought: awwwwwww. Even though I'm not the kind of girl who melts over diamonds, it was still sweet. I mean, he could have been buying his mother diamond earrings - this is the country where Listen To Your Mom (聽媽媽的話) became a hit song - but judging from his apparent need for a sick bag, my guess is that he was about to propose.

I wanted to then say "加油!" (good luck / you go!)  but didn't - didn't want to freak him out any more than he clearly already was.      

What got me thinking, though, was that diamond engagement rings are only a fairly recent thing in Taiwan and are still not all that common. Someone else commented on this story - saying ask your non-Westernized local friends if they bought or received a diamond engagement ring. They probably didn't, because it's not the "done thing" here the way it is in the USA.

But, you know, I was surprised. I did do just that even though I don't have a lot of married, non-Westernized local friends (I do have a few). The majority of those under age 40 said that yes, they did in fact buy their fiancee a diamond engagement ring. I mostly asked the men - I don't have that many married, non-Westernized Taiwanese female friends. They're generally single or at least unmarried. I do plan to ask a few, though.

One student I was chatting with said that his wife wouldn't marry him until he bought her a Cartier diamond ring (he's an executive at a well-known company, so don't feel too bad. He didn't scrimp and save and go without to do this). Two more admitted that they bought their wives or fiancees rings - both still from Cartier. So Cartier seems to be the default place to buy a ring if you're an under-40 upper middle class Taiwanese man about to get engaged.

My own engagement ring - I think I've posted it before. Check out the AWESOME DRAGON

The one person who said no, he did not buy his wife a diamond ring, was the student over 40. I didn't ask a friend of mine who is 40 because he married at about 20 - too long ago (back when it wasn't a "thing") and far too young and just starting out to be buying diamonds.

I was just surprised at how many "yes"s I got - I expected at least an equal number of "yes" and "no" answers, since there's no history of diamond marketing in Taiwan. All those LED-covered shiny "Bridal Diamond" stores you see - especially around Zhongxiao Dunhua, where Hearts on Fire's sign will make you go blind if you look at it directly - seem to be a new thing, not something that started gaining momentum in the early-to-mid 20th century as it did in the USA.

New as it is, it seems to be surging.

I can't say I'm happy about it: the diamond-is-the-only-acceptable-engagement-ring cult in the USA makes me a bit ill. People can like what they like and spend what they want on whatever they want and yes, diamonds are puuuuurty, but the marketing practices, the prices forced up as high as they are and the whole conflict diamond thing stirs great acrimony and sadness in me. I don't really want to see it come to Taiwan.

One thing that was great about living in Taiwan during my engagement was that nobody questioned the fact that I did not get - and did not choose, and would not have chosen - a diamond. In the US during our brief visit it wasn't a big deal, either, because I surround myself with awesome, loving people who wouldn't make shallow "but it's not a DIIIAAAMMMOOONNNDDD" remarks, but if I'd lived there for the entire engagement, someone who wasn't a friend or beloved relative probably would have said something like that - you can't be just around your loved ones 24/7. Sometimes you have to deal with others. Sometimes those others are great, sometimes they're, for lack of a better word, nincompoops.

But in Taiwan, it was totally cool. I didn't even really need a ring to be accepted as "engaged". No judgment, no problem. I would hate to see that eroded by Big Diamond.

3 comments:

CJ said...

Honestly, I just don't get the whole diamond thing. I don't even get why people think they're pretty when you have sapphires and emeralds and rubies and the like.

Total ditto on the commercial culture and blood diamond thing. (UGHS, what is wrong with people?)

Your ring is so much prettier and more special than any silly diamond ring could be! I don't generally like jewelry at all, and I still think it's gorgeous.

Carolyn said...

Hey Jenna,

Would you have any idea what the average spend and cost of a diamond ring is in Taiwan? I'm doing some research for a marketing report and couldn't find much information. So far, this webpage provided the most information about China and Hong Kong:
http://beyond4cs.com/carat/average-engagement-ring-size/

However, there is no mention of the ring size in Taiwan. Would be glad to get any information you have on this. Thanks!

Jenna Cody said...

Not a clue, sorry. The only diamonds I own are small ones in a pair of earrings my grandmother gave me. I have never purchased a diamond nor priced one. Good luck!