The first true story about engagement rings is a story about my grandparents. My mother’s parents were a huge influence on my life – we even lived with them for a year when I was nine. When we moved out, we only went as far as the house around the corner.They were the hub of the family, and we all gathered there – all eighteen of us – for Sunday lunch, every week.
We celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in style, and then their diamond, too. And even though they were getting on, and growing frail, at their diamond anniversary party Grandad bent down and presented Grandma with a new, shinier, bigger diamond solitaire, to make up for the smaller, wartime one she’d had originally.
I think my grandparents loved each other more than any other two people I know, because theirs was a love that only grew over sixty plus years of marriage.
The second true story about engagement rings is about my mother’s ring. My parents got engaged when my Dad’s cousin (who worked at a jewellers) showed up for his 21st birthday with a tray of rings and said, “Don’t you think it’s about time?” My Mum, I believe, chose the cheapest one.
I have always loved that ring. It’s a diamond solitaire set in a thick white gold band, with stars engraved all up the sides. But quite a few years and three children later, the ring grew a little tight and Mum stopped wearing it, sticking with just the matching wedding ring instead.
But eventually (for her 50th birthday, maybe?) Dad decided to get the ring resized so she could wear it again. He took it to the family jewellers, who had sold him the ring in the first place, and they sent it away to be cleaned and stretched. It came back, and Mum wore it constantly for weeks. Until one day she looked down and realised the diamond was missing.
Possibly the most astonishing part of this story is that they found it again, days later, hidden in some nook or cranny. Dad took the ring and diamond back to the jewellers to have it reset, only to be told, “I’m sorry sir, this isn’t a diamond, it’s cubic zirconium.”
Fortunately, my Dad still had the original receipt from when he bought the ring, and the assessment the jeweller had done before sending it away to be resized, both stating very clearly that the stone in this ring was supposed to be a diamond. The jeweller, realising that his sub-contractor must be running a lucrative diamond napping scam, was very apologetic, and replaced the stone with something suitably expensive and authentic.
Mum says it’s never sparkled quite the same as the original, though…
The reason I’ve been thinking about these stories so much this week, is because of the one false story I have to tell you. The book I’m writing at the moment, the very inappropriately seasonally titled Summer of Love, starts with a proposal, on Valentine’s Day, at the top of the Eiffel Tower. So far, so romantic, right? Except my heroine, Lily, is a boutique jewellery designer, who works with clients to develop their dream rings, individual and different, just like their relationships. And her boyfriend of seven years, who really should know her better, has just proposed with a standard, gold, diamond solitaire.
And that’s the point where Lily starts to realise that this isn’t the man she’s meant to spend the rest of her life with.
That moment was always the starting point for this book. And in a weird, convoluted way, it’s drawn a little bit from real life.
Which brings me to True Story Number Three – the story of my engagement ring.
The husband had been the boyfriend for a good six years when we finally got engaged. We’d already bought a house together, and really didn’t think this would be a surprise to anyone. We’d already talked a lot about marriage, so it wasn’t even really a surprise to me.
What was a surprise was the very insistent way he demanded that we climb up to Castell Dinas Bran, in Llangollen, North Wales, in minus four temperatures between Christmas and New Year. Dinas Bran has always been my favourite castle, and a special place for us, so it was very romantic. But also cold.
Still, we clambered up there in the frost, he got down on one knee in one of the arches you can see in the photo of the castle on a warmer day, and I said yes before I even really looked at the ring.
I learned later that he’d bought it months before, the day after bonfire night (Nov 5th). I’d been away working on a conference, and he’d been out to some firework display with friends. There had been beer, by all accounts, and he was feeling a little tender that day.
The husband, it turns out, can’t resist impulse purchases when he’s hung over.
Anyway, he’d been looking for a while for the right sort of ring for me. He had one of my old ones to check for size (bought when I was 18, which is why my engagement ring has always been tight. I foresee a hilarious stolen diamond story in my future, just like my Mum) and he knew I loved my Mum’s ring and wanted something similar.
What neither of us realised at that point, because this happened before the resizing debacle, is that the husband had never actually seen Mum’s engagement ring. Only her wedding ring.
So when I opened the ring box, on top of a freezing mountain, and saw not a diamond solitaire, but a flat, matt finish, white gold band, with four small, rectangular diamonds set flat into it, I had a moment of disappointment.
Only a moment, because I was marrying the man I loved, and that was what mattered. But still.
The thing is, he’d chosen this ring with me in mind, as the ring that he thought suited me best out of all the rings he’d looked at. Which just goes to prove that the husband knows me better than I know myself.
Because I want to wear my ring everyday. It’s beautiful, and precious, and I want to show it off. And because it doesn’t have a spiky big diamond in it ready to rip my tights, or scratch me or other people (I am notoriously clumsy and prone to accidental self-injury, so this is important) I can. It sits perfectly with the matching wedding band we had made, a set, just like me and the husband. And every day, I look at my strange, flat ring and love it a little bit more. It’s unusual, and special, and utterly, utterly me. Even if I didn’t realise that at first.
Of course, I’ve still made him promise to buy me a shiny solitaire one day. Just for special occasions.
So, anybody got any more ring stories to add to my collection?