Friday, 12 February 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 12 February

Rupert Murdoch parted with £2.4m, but how much should Mr Average spend on an engagement ring? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
With the delightful news that Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdoch are engaged, and with Valentine’s Day looming, could you advise on the vexed question of how much a man should spend on an engagement ring?
Vera Cox, Ashton-under-Lyne

Dear Vera,
Much piety, of course, on this subject along the lines of: it’s the lovely inner soul that counts, not the outward glare of diamonds. Needless to say, we’ve all been gasping to see Jerry’s ring and finally, outside a London restaurant late last month, the Texan beauty was in possession and making an apparently enthusiastic display. Experts have diagnosed a 20-carat marquise-cut diamond at the guesstimate price of £2.4m. To drive away the last of your anti-materialist revulsion, may I remind you of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (it’s a song): The French are glad to die for love/They delight in fighting duels/But I prefer a man who lives/ And gives expensive jewels.

This was sung by Marilyn Monroe, among others.

To give a rough idea to anyone hoping to make or receive a marriage proposal on Sunday, Princess Diana’s ring (bought for £28,000 in 1981) is worth today a modest £300,000, the Queen’s is £100,000 (£10,000 in 1947) and Michelle Obama’s (oh dear, look down in shame) £20,000 – it was £7,500 on purchase in 1991. It helps if an important family jewel can be wheeled out for the occasion at no cost (David Cameron had this advantage) but, just as very few of us have tenants we can visit at Christmas, so hardly any of us will have a well-stocked strongroom in the cellars of our stately.

What is an ordinary bloke to do? And how is a gracious lady to respond? The received idea is that the ring should cost between one and three times a man’s monthly salary but it seems that was a notion put about by De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond merchants, in the 1930s. In America, surveys suggest that men spend on average $3,531.72 (£2,411.71), which is 8.44 per cent of average annual salary (rather than 25 per cent). The younger the couple and the higher the perceived status, the more is forked out.

As you know, I take the Jane Austen view of marriage: it has an important rational, practical and material aspect. We know that the commonest cause of marriage failure is financial problems. So there. The tradition that the engagement ring should be costly, more costly than the wedding ring in fact, makes some sense. And a woman is entitled to feel disappointed, if not alarmed, by a measly ring.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

What to do about… former partners

Keeping up the love and marriage theme, but from the other end, as it were, I see that Joan Bakewell’s affair with Harold Pinter is in the news again, owing to the publication of her book, Stop The Clocks, in which she claims Lady Antonia Pinter didn’t wish her to attend Harold’s memorial service, even though her affair with and Lady A’s marriage to Pinter in no way coincided. Dame Joan was advised by friends that it wasn’t usual for a former mistress to attend although, as we know, Queen Alexandra allowed Alice Keppel, one of her husband Edward VII ’s many mistresses, to be present at his deathbed.

So deathbed, okay. But funeral or memorial, no. But what about former live-in partners or even ex-husbands and ex-wives. Are they p-non-g at the obsequies? If there are children, they will be there for them, as with the Prince of Wales at Diana’s funeral – but usually at the back. I like to think that at the moment of passing, a person’s whole life will be revealed in all its glory and horror (if necessary). So formers of all kinds – feel free to pile in.

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