After wandering through the Rockaway Mall for hours, and finally purchasing the "Naughty" clothes we were hoping to find for our evening out, Pollo and I set out in search of earrings. I needed big hoops, and she needed pink studs. We found our way into Claire's Boutique, a claustrophobic cubby-hole of a store, filled to the brim with more fake gold and sliver baubles than one could dream of.
Our cumbersome shopping bags stubbornly knocking into display after display of $5.00 earrings, we scanned the store for the proper accents to our newly purchased halter-tops. Girls, twelve to seventeen, scurried through the store, each on missions of their own. Many were clearly shopping for prom jewelry; carefully chosen prom dresses draped over their adolescent arms, chiffon and satin wrapped in Lord & Taylor's plastic bag. They peeled the bag away from their dresses, holding the gown in front of them before the store's floor-to-ceiling mirror, their mothers resting rhinestone necklaces across their collarbones, suspending chandelier earrings in mid-air in front of their daughters ears, trying to choose the perfect accessory. Some girls were just browsing for bangles, ear cuffs, anything to spend their parents' money on. But Pollo and I, we were adults, seeking out cheap jewels with which to adorn ourselves.
As Pollo surveyed a row of golden hoops, I made my way to the "So close to real!" section of the store, where I was greeted by a dizzying array of "crystal" accoutrements. The wall was stocked with glittery tiaras, bedazzled headbands, sparkling barrettes, diamond-like earrings, jewel-encrusted bracelets...And there, in the midst of all of the shimmering accessories, I saw them. Four rows of wedding bands.
"They look so REAL!" The cardboard placard above the rings read. Each wedding band came complete with the accompanying engagement band. Some of the three-stone variety, some solitaire, some so laden with diamonds that they were blinding. But not one of them was less than a carat. And not one of them was over a ring-size 6.
Made especially for pre-teen hands and nestled into a store targeted to a very specific adolescent audience, these wedding bands were a popular item. Little girls stood around me, each trying on a set of her own.
"Oh my God!" the girl to my left exclaimed. "Look at this one." She held up her chubby hand to show her friend her wedding set. "Can you imagine?" She stared at her own hand, the diamonds looking back up at her, hypnotizing her young eyes. "I can't wait to have one of these."
I can't lie: While she said it, I had been digging through the display, trying to find a six-and-a-half sized set for myself. And I had been thinking the same thing.
And, when I was her age, I owned a number of wedding band sets. Why? I don't know. I still have them, too. They sit in my silver jewelry box, huge mulit-carated rings peeking up at me through a mess of dangly earrings and seldom worn bracelets.
But all Claire's is doing is confusing these almost-women with their giant rocks and luminescent bands. At thirteen years old, us gals are being conditioned to want the huge setting, the diamonds set along the sides, flawless stones. And we begin, as soon as we try on our first fake set, to equate these enormous stones with the amount of love promised by the man who gives it to us.
But one has nothing to do with the other.
When I was engaged, I would stare at my solitaire engagement ring for what probably totaled hours a day. It was beautiful. Perfect. And it wasn't huge or fancy. Just under a carat in size, the diamond sat on a thin and unadorned platinum band, just waiting for the plain platinum wedding band to cozy up next to it. I loved that ring, but it wasn't the ring I was in love with; I was in love with the promise David had made in giving it to me. It didn't have to be huge, and it didn't have to be flawless. It was beautiful.
My father's parents have owned a jewelry store forever. But when it came time to propose to my mother, my dad didn't buy some big ring from his folks' shop. He saved his money and bought the kind of ring he could afford. Five diamonds set to look like one big one, it gave the impression of grandeur without being obnoxious. For their thirtieth wedding anniversary, my dad gave my mother a beautiful Marquis-cut diamond ring. When it was time to replace the old ring with the new, she slipped the thirty year old ring from her finger and placed it gingerly in her jewelry box. "I love this ring," she told me, referring to her shiny new diamond. "But this one, this one,” she held the old ring between her thumb and forefinger, shaking it for emphasis, “is special. Your father saved his money for it. It will always be my favorite.” I doubt my dad could find a diamond big enough to convey his love for her.
I tried on a set of rings that just barely fit over my knuckle. It was a solitaire totaling maybe two and a half carats, resting on a band of smaller, just as shiny diamonds. It looked nice on my hand. I slipped that ring on, and suddenly I was one of the pre-teens in the store. I can't wait to have one of these scrolled through my head.
But it was just Claire's confusing me. I struggled to get the too-tight ring off of my finger.
I may still be charmed by a massive cubic zirconia, but I’ve grown up enough to know that when the right guy comes along, carat size won't matter.