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A Shift to the Right

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Clever JWT ads make diamond rings a girl-power symbol

This campaign for a new kind of diamond ring ends with a passionate call to action, the rallying cry, "Women of the world, raise your right hand." You gotta hand it to a tagline that effortlessly combines the specter of Karl Marx with an old Sure deodorant slogan.

The tagline is only one of the brilliant provocations and breakthrough ideas here, starting with the revolutionary product itself, the Right Hand Ring. It establishes a new dialectic of diamonds: the split between romance and independence.

In the past, De Beers, or as it now calls itself, The Diamond Trading Company, might have sold us on moonlight and forever, and the idea of a guy giving up two months' salary to prove his love in the form of a solitaire with a couple of carats. (And keep proving it, honey, with the three-stone anniversary ring.) Now the company is saying, "No more third-finger-of-the-left-hand oppression! Whether you have a rock on the left or not, you owe it to yourself to cover the right!" From the sheer dark side of marketing, it's a genius move.

Four beautifully executed print ads are running in September issues of upscale magazines. Smartly written and designed, each features a different edgily self-aware woman who stares almost rudely at the camera in a setup that suggests Lara Croft relaxing at home in her Manolos. (Three of the four wear modest wedding bands on their left hands.) Indeed, the photos are so heavily stylized that some of these women (only one of whom looks anywhere near 40) could be superhuman mutants of the future. Their laserlike stares are matched by laserlike light beams radiating from their right-hand ring fingers.

On the spreads, one side is all kick-ass photo of the ice warrior, the other artfully designed copy and photos of rings. The dichotomy is poetically established: "Your left hand is your heart, your right hand is your voice. ... Your left hand rocks the cradle. Your right hand rules the world. ... Your left hand says, 'I do.' Your right hand says, 'I did what?' "

Giving women permission to buy their own rings certainly has been a long time in coming. It's good to finally acknowledge the large market of women who have the means to do so. At the same time, leave it to the diamond people to sell female independence as the latest commodified status symbol.

In my very small, unscientific survey, women were divided on the subject, and their feelings express the paradoxes and contradictions of gender roles in our times. (It's also confusing that some of these "success" rings look like happening engagement, a.k.a. "bondage," rings.)

Working women in their 50s, married or not, tend to love the ads and the idea; those in their 40s don't want to admit publicly that they need to buy their own jewelry (although they would); those in their 30s are embarrassed but a bit interested; those in their mid-20s merely laugh and think it's cheesy. I guess for them it's, "Never mind the full and delightful single life, this is tantamount to admitting you'll live alone with 27 cats."

Then again, if you've always planned to buy a really nice ring, you don't need the DTC to issue the blueprint. Certainly, it's ironic that this right-hand innovation is partly due to the mega-success of the left-hand-oppression camp: Engagement rings have become so huge in the past few years that small stones are the only ones manufacturers have in large supply.

After almost 40 years of feminism, most women find that they can't have everything and that progress can be a paradox (with their new power, they can buy themselves a diamond ring!). But here's one small way to have it both ways: It's like a rock, except it's the anti-rock.