The Femail Face-off: Can a £19 ring ever really say I love you?

The Femail Face-off: As a budget engagement sparkler starts a fierce debate… can a £19 ring ever really say I love you?

  • The need for an expensive engagement ring is argued in a Femail face-off
  • Rachel Johnson says £19 is the sort of money she would pay for a blow-dry
  • Rowan Pelling says an expensive ring isn’t as important as finding true love 


By Rowan Pelling  

Do I need a vast diamond to take a marriage proposal seriously? Hell, no — I’d happily take a ring-pull from a can of Sprite if my intended gazed into my eyes with true love.

A £19 ‘diamond-inspired glitz’ engagement ring from jeweller Warren James has divided opinions online. The woman who posted a photo of it said: ‘Great for an engagement or wedding ring and you’re on a budget.’

But a deluge of women who replied to her post were horrified. As one said: ‘Surely love doesn’t come with a price tag.’

I couldn’t agree more. When I first fell madly in love with my husband, my sole interest was getting this handsome, clever Scotsman to ask me to be his for ever. Not asking: ‘Where’s the ring?’

My dad never gave my mum a ring, declaring they were ‘unlucky’ (they had been for him, as he’d been married twice before). She never felt the lack of one and seemed amused he’d given her a practical watch instead.

Rowan Pelling argues against expensive engagement rings. She said: ‘My dad never gave my mum a ring, declaring they were “unlucky” (they had been for him)’

In fact, I did get a modest diamond engagement ring, almost as an afterthought, which had belonged to his late mother. We were watching TV one evening when I said grumpily: ‘You know, I won’t be sitting here in five years if you don’t marry me.’ He replied: ‘I was going to ask you on your birthday, but I’ll ask you now . . .’ which made us both laugh. 

Half an hour later he nipped upstairs and came down with his mother’s ring. The stone’s a fraction of the size of most of my married friends’ engagement rings, but worth the world because it came from him.

My dear friend Annie, who is 44, got engaged last year. Her partner Dave pretended he’d won a ‘rare’ vinyl single in a competition and suggested they listen to it at home.

At first, she was bewildered by the vocalist’s terrible singing. Then she realised it was her bloke crooning ‘Oh Annie, let’s get married’ to the tune of King Creole’s ‘Oh, Annie, I’m not your Daddy’.

Then he handed her the ‘ring’, which was made from plastic cable ties: a blue one for the loop and yellow and red ones bound round as ‘stones’. She wears it proudly. As she said: ‘Why buy a fancy ring when we’re saving for a house?’

It’s bizarre to me that anyone would equate the value of a ring with the depth of intent and passion. Women who demand costly rings are tacitly saying their love is for sale.

Sixteen years ago my husband gave me a ring he’d actually bought. It’s a not-very-expensive silver one with an amethyst. I’d never have chosen it for myself, but I wear it every day. He gave it to me in the spirit of love and that’s all that matters.  


By Rachel Johnson  

Would I be insulted if my future husband asked me, on bended knee, if I would do him the honour and proceeded to put a £19 trinket, like something out of a cracker, on my finger?

Of course I would! That’s the sort of money I would pay for a blow dry, not the symbol of our love till death us do part.

So I absolutely sympathise with the women who, on seeing the £19, cubic zirconia-embellished engagement ring from Warren James, said they’d honestly rather be single.

It is still customary in bourgeois traditional circles for a chap to spend a month’s salary on the sparkler for the wife-to-be.

Rachel Johnson said a cheap sparkler doesn’t show a man loves his future wife. She added: ‘That’s the sort of money I would pay for a blow dry, not the symbol of our love’

Obviously, the grand, the titled, and the rich are different, and such pieces tend to be handed down.

Princess Diana chose an off-the-peg engagement ring from the Crown jeweller Garrard, which cost many thousands. 

But her choice to go retail was considered rather déclassé, much as Tory grandees used to sneer at Michael Heseltine for having to buy his own furniture.

My husband hails from a grandish lineage himself, but the snag was the heirloom engagement ring his mother had given him to give to his future bride had already been assigned to his first wife, and she hadn’t given it back after their divorce. 

So he went to S.J. Phillips in New Bond Street and lashed out three grand on a new one for me.

One evening we were standing at Westminster Tube station. He was going back to the Commons where he was a lobby hack and I was going home. 

The Circle Line train arrived and I made to leap on. ‘Wait,’ he said, producing a promisingly small navy leather box. 

He opened it. I saw diamonds encircle a sapphire the size of the Ritz twinkling at me from white satin. ‘Will you marry me?’

I snatched the ring from his hand and squeezed myself back through the closing doors. ‘Yes!’ I mouthed at him as the train moved off, not having wanted to wait for another one.

 He opened it. I saw diamonds encircle a sapphire the size of the Ritz twinkling at me from white satin. ‘Will you marry me?’ (file image)

Reader, I married him. But I lost the ring years later when it broke and fell off my finger.

A few years ago he retrieved his mother’s engagement ring — a large ruby also set in diamonds — from his first wife to give to me. 

This, too, now resides in a ‘special place’ (our code which means, it’s somewhere but I don’t know where exactly).

So, yes, I would be cross if a man thought I was such a cheap date that he could splash less than £20 on the bague de fiancailles and get away with it. But still: think of the guilt-free relief after I lost it. 

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