Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
My dilemma concerns jewelry. I have a diamond ring – actually two rings, one real and the other its doppelganger, identical by all appearances but fake – of my grandmother’s. Not just any ring, either. It is a 4-carat behemoth that was valued in the mid five figures, and that was 30 years ago. (I’m getting it appraised right now to get a current value.) My grandma’s style was over the top, and mine isn’t so much, but I do like to wear it from time to time. But I do as my grandma did before me: I wear the fake one and keep the real one in the safe deposit box.
I think my grandmother got a charge out of knowing she owned the real deal; I, however, feel conflicted about it. On the one hand, the real ring was special to my beloved grandma and also is super fabulous. On the other hand, the fake is also super fabulous and that money could do a hell of a lot of good in the world *and*, you know, beef up my kids’ college fund or whatever, and how much good is the super fabulousness doing in my safe deposit box?
If I were to sell the ring, which I’m tempted to do, I would split the proceeds among me, my brother, and my cousin (my grandparents’ only surviving descendants); I ended up with the ring by default, not by a clause in the will or anything, and I don’t think any of us realized its outsized value when I did. I’d also donate at least part of my share of the proceeds (maybe to an organization that helps people affected by wars funded by blood diamonds). But I still feel kind of strange and cold about selling what is, after all, a family heirloom. Yet I’d keep and wear the fake, a simulacrum family heirloom that actually sees the light of day. Honestly, we’re not short on family heirlooms, though this is the most valuable.
What should I do?
Bedazzled in California
Dear Bedazzled in California,
You need to talk to the other heirs. You say you ended up with it without anyone truly realizing its value. Get the appraisal, make a plan you think is sensible, and present it to your brother and cousin.
That plan? Sell the ring.
Plain and simple. Sell it. Unless one of the other heirs is willing to buy the others out in order to own it, that is. In either case, do with your proceeds as you like (donations are lovely, college funds are sensible, a new piece of jewelry you’d actually wear is perfectly reasonable). What any sensible Midwesterner would agree with is that keeping something that never sees the light of day is absurd. Heirlooms are treasures only because we treasure them. As much as your grandmother loved the real ring, you, clearly, do not. This is fine and you should feel no guilt about it. The Sensible Midwesterner has never understood the notion that not attaching feelings to things is “cold.” Things are things and they don’t feel back. And if the ring did have feelings, how do you think it’s enjoying that vault?
The one sensible argument that occurs to the Sensible Midwesterner is that the ring could further appreciate in value. One could maintain the position that the diamond is an investment, similar to a stock portfolio or piece of real estate, that should be kept in trust for future generations since its value will increase.
And yet…. There are no sure things in this life. Diamonds could, theoretically, dramatically decline in value. The bank and its safety deposit boxes could be destroyed in an earthquake/fire one-two punch. George Clooney and his cronies could rob the place in Oceans 14. And all this could go down as the insurance company (you sounds sensible, so one can only assume this valuable gem is properly insured) goes belly-up in some Ponzi scheme. The world economy could collapse and the market for 4-carat diamonds completely dry up. All things are possible even as they are unlikely. The Sensible Midwesterner merely mentions these scenarios to make the point that the ring is not doing anyone any good sitting in a box somewhere. The answer might be different if you said you took it out once or twice a year to wear to… the Oscars? The opening at the Met? But you specifically say you never wear it.
The odd brilliance of a woman who had a copy made of a real diamond in order to be able to wear it without worrying about it impresses the Sensible Midwesterner in an odd way. I suggest you think of the fake as the real family heirloom, one that reminds you of a woman blessed with both crazy blinged-out taste and extraordinarily sly cunning. Get a kick out of knowing its story, and pass that along to your heirs. You could even use your proceeds from the sale to have copies made for any other descendants who might enjoy the tale.