The Thing About Shopping for a Diamond in a Mall

The Thing About Shopping for a Diamond in a MallThe thing about shopping for a diamond in a mall is that it’s incongruous. It smells like ice cream and leather inside. There’s a fashion event going on; the music is loud.

Things have changed since the last time Will and Lauryn and I went looking for an engagement ring and wedding bands. Will and Lauryn have gotten screened for genetic diseases. They’ve started looking around at private high school tuitions, which are astronomical. Priorities have shifted. A diamond seems less prominently featured on their list of affairs than it did before. But it’s still present. It’s a pang of a desire, something that should be done before time runs away and deprives them of this shiny thing that—despite its relative inefficacy in making life any better, important-things-in-life-wise—is still naggingly wantable.

But they’re wavering this time, I can tell. The way Lauryn puts it is, “Just in thinking about how much things are gonna cost down the line and thinking, ‘Do I want these several thousand dollars sitting on my finger, or do I want to be putting that towards my children’s future?’” At the same time, she admits that as soon as she enters the jewelry store, she gets “caught up in it.”

“If a big diamond on her finger sends a message about what a big moneymaking man I am, I’m really okay with everybody assuming we’re poor,” Will says from the driver’s seat. But soon enough, we’re at the mall, scanning diamonds, getting caught up.

This time, they’re focusing on wedding bands—diamond-studded for Lauryn, plain for Will. They are still, Will assures me, in the research stages of the process. They’ve chosen the mall, because it’s basically a jewelry farm. Three or four to a shopping center. Comparisons galore.

One of the first things our first saleslady asks is “When’s the big day?”

“Hard question,” says Will.

It takes her a minute to get a handle on what they mean when they say they’re married but just haven’t gotten around to getting the bands. This is probably a bit jarring to someone for whom rings are like rungs in a ladder of appropriate timing. Like, love, ring, wedding, more rings, end scene. At one point, I am almost certain I can hear her say that, well, they’ve waited long enough.

This store is different from the smaller, privately owned one we visited last time. It’s more a peninsula of the mall than a store, really. There are a greater number of words in the display case here than there were at Clyde’s shop. More information.

The saleslady asks when they think they’ll have their ceremony. She seems very concerned about the ladder. The rungs have not been laid. It may all fall apart. She suggests something like spring, summer. She herself wears three rings on her left hand, one on the right. They are gold with diamonds, colored gems and diamonds, black metallic, and one with pink stones—not as pink, though, as the bright polish that gilds her nails. Before we leave the store, she tells Will and Lauryn coquettishly that she would not wait too long—if they don’t have to.

They don’t have to, is the truth. But, as I’ve learned, they are anything but impulse buyers. Despite what Lauryn told me in the car, about getting carried away, no amount of shine blinds them, stops them from considering what’s smart and what’s not.

In the next shop we visit, the clerk drops a stand with a fat diamond ring onto the floor. I bend to pick it up and hand it to her. I don’t think she even noticed she dropped it, but she doesn’t look too flustered. I think of all the horror stories I’ve heard from diamond men—losing a diamond, sweating, kneeling to the floor. I can’t imagine this woman dropping to her hands and knees to hunt for stray gems like I’ve seen my father do at the end of a trade show.

The clerk asks Will and Lauryn when the wedding is.

“Umm, we haven’t set a date yet,” says Lauryn. I wonder if they are getting tired of all these questions.

We look at men’s rings for Will; at tungsten, at flat and rounded ones, at matted and shiny one. Will wanders. When the lady has taken out the sizing rings, to gauge Will’s finger width, Lauryn calls “Will! We need your finger.”

The shops in the malls are like television sitcom sets: all the same house with different shades of wood and furniture. They feel tiring—reruns—and even the jewels get lost amidst them. In the car ride home, Will says he guesses he’s becoming convinced that getting the ring online is the way to not get cheated. Of course, online diamond buying means more options, which means more competition for sellers. Will has caught on to this. In the car, he asks Lauryn what she wants to spend. Lauryn says six or seven hundred. Last time, the answer was two or three thousand. Private schools are really terribly expensive.

This kind of thinking is why stores and distributors try to carry a diamond for everyone: for people who want diamonds and private school, too; for people who want diamonds that don’t seem to announce, We are wealthy; for people who want diamonds that look like they’re old but are actually new; and for people who want diamonds that look like they’re new but are actually sort of old.

I’ve spent so much time now thinking about what this line of thought means for the diamond industry, for people in love, and for me, that I forget to ask my two friends if they feel they’re getting closer to what it is they want.

Read More by Alicia Oltuski: Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life

Follow Lauryn and Will’s engagement ring stories and other diamond news in subsequent installments of Diamonds.

Note: names and identifying details in this article have been changed to preserve the anonymity of its subjects.

Shopping Mall Photo

Alicia Oltuski’s book Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life will be out with Scribner in July 2011. It was recently selected as a Fall 2011 Barnes and Noble Discover Great N more


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