St. Valentine's Day is a time for plighting troths. This Monday, not a few local males will choose a romantic setting (such as a damp beach), where they will lead their true loves to a peaceful spot (like a rotting log), and say things that will profoundly affect their futures. And then, they will present these women with diamond rings which cost enough to finance a full-range home stereo or a modestly priced motorcycle.
It's a tradition.
And one that won't go away. Women may have changed the national language to equalize their status with males, won the right to compete on the playing field and in the workplace--but many don't seem ready for equality in wedding jewelry.
When the pledge of love is made, the preferred token to seal it is the solitaire diamond, say local jewelers. And men tend to stretch their budgets to get the best they can.
"A guy is not going to take his wife a $200 ring," said Mike Maralian, president of Dejaun Jewelers in Westlake and Thousand Oaks. "He will come in and spend $1,500 or $2,000 or $3,000. Even if they are hurting, they will put it on a credit card."
These days, this special purchase will most likely be a single ring instead of an engagement and wedding set. And if not a solitaire, it will be in a simple setting, Maralian said.
Once more common were "very busy-looking settings--a couple of round stones, a couple of marquises, a couple of baguettes; there was too much happening," he said.
With a single stone, the trend is to get a larger diamond, and more often than in the past, a cut that is other than round, such as an emerald or oval shape.
Once accepted, the jewel will be worn throughout the engagement, then taken off before the wedding, and presented again in the ceremony. Or, just before the wedding, the stone will be removed from its setting and set in a wider band, which becomes the wedding ring.
Sometimes a short mating ritual takes place in selecting the ring. The intended, with prior knowledge of the intention, visits the store alone, chooses a diamond in her partner's price range, and departs. The next day, the man enters with the ring's specifications, buys it, and orders it wrapped as a gift.
But even in the '90s it is more common for a man to buy the ring to surprise his intended, jewelers said. Most of the time, it works out.
"You don't hear, 'Oh, I hate it, let's get something else,' " said Richard Koven, manager at Hart's Jewelers in Thousand Oaks. "I very rarely get an engagement ring returned--and that's when (the woman) didn't accept (the proposal)."
Less often, said the jewelers we spoke to, couples choose a ring together, and few, but no more than 10%, go with just matched bands for the wedding, no ring beforehand.
You mean none of them go for that stereo with Dolby surround, or put the cash toward a condo?
Even in second marriages, these options get thumbs down.
Diamonds, it seems, are forever.
We asked a dozen women who have become engaged or married in the last year if they wore an engagement ring, and why. According to theory, 1.2 of them should have been bare-fingered until the wedding. None was.
They said they could not imagine being engaged without a ring.
"It makes it seem more real," said Tina Mahler of Ventura, who works as a bank loan specialist. "Like, 'Oh, yeah, we're engaged, but we don't have a ring.' 'So, you're engaged? How do you know that?' " she said.
It wasn't just the stone that charmed them. They told of romantic presentation scenes.
Sandra Downard of Ojai, a cashier at Community Memorial Hospital, said her fiance, David Graves of Ojai, drove up to the hospital in a horse and carriage and proposed in front of her co-workers.
An evening campfire with friends set the scene for Nathan Dodge of Port Hueneme to offer a ring to then Melissa Roper, a property manager from Ojai.
The most common ploy for getting a diamond into a woman's hands was wrapping it as a Christmas present in an oversized box, then proposing when it emerged from the wrappings. Christmas beats even Valentine's Day as an occasion for declaring love, merchants said.
All of the women we interviewed had friends who were recently engaged; they reported each couple made it official with a diamond ring.
"In my office alone, six people have gotten married," said Kelly Ray of Simi Valley, who was married last fall. "They are all professional women out in the real world," said Ray, a project manager in environmental planning. "Some of them you wouldn't think would; but they got (rings)."
In the name of equality, at least one groom, Ray Sosa of Oxnard, suggested to his bride, Leticia, a personnel manager at a cosmetics firm, that the betrothal custom be extended to include men.
"He used to tell me, 'You're a woman of the '90s--where's my ring?' " said Leticia.
Supporting our findings that the tradition isn't ready to erode, Leticia dismissed this request with a time-honored reply, one that traditionally has ended many a discussion between the sexes.
"I told him, 'Don't be silly,' " she said.