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My mother-in-law gave me a ‘diamond’ ring. It’s a fake. What should I do?

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My mother taught me never to hold a grudge. It’s proven harder in practice than in theory: My mother-in-law gave me a “diamond” ring and said she wanted me to have it for everything I’ve done for her. I thanked her and let her know that it makes me happy when she is happy. 

When I took the ring to a jeweler to have it resized, the gemologist told me it was a fake — in fact — it’s costume jewelry (their words). I was dumbfounded. Is this a new form of evil? I’m trying to come up with a word, but I can’t seem to wrap my finger around it.

There seems to be a sense of entitlement to my mother-in-law rather than, say, passive-aggressive behavior. She expects VIP service from her family. If she does one nice thing, she will expect the entire world for the next 10 years. What should I do?

Daughter-in-Law

Related: ‘Death and money bring out the worst in people’: My stepmother wants me to relinquish my rights to my late father’s estate. How do I handle this gracefully?

“The price of this stone is solely dependent on the value you put on it.”


MarketWatch illustration

Dear Daughter-in-Law,

Fake diamonds are not a daughter-in-law’s best friend.

A gemologist identifies a fake diamond; a psychologist can detect a fake relationship. You are neither a gemologist nor a psychologist, and yet you appear to be drawing a line between the two. It’s hard to spot a fake, and your mother-in-law is not a gemologist.

The price of this stone is solely dependent on the value you put on it. It could mean that your mother-in-law is attempting to show her gratitude or, perhaps less likely, that she is using it as a sly commentary on your relationship (“you, my dear, are as fake as this ring”).

Your mother was right about not holding a grudge. She might also say that — without evidence to the contrary — it’s better to think the best of people (unless it’s a person who is trying to get you to invest in crypto). Choose to believe your mother-in-law acted in good faith.

Lab-made cubic zirconia lacks the natural imperfections of diamonds, according to MIke Fried, CEO of The Diamond Pro. And cubic zirconia? “They’re usually considered ‘too perfect’ or fake-looking.” But that may not hold true for civilians who don’t have his eye or expertise.

Diamonds and cubic zirconia can both scratch glass

In fact, the common method of establishing whether a diamond is real or fake is seeing if it will scratch glass. Your mother-in-law may have tried that, but she may not have been aware that cubic zirconia and quartz also scratch glass, helping them to masquerade as a gemstone.

But there’s a big difference between cubic zirconia and a diamond in price and provenance. The former is a synthesized material and the latter is a precious stone. A three-carat zirconia ring could sell for $300, while a three carat diamond could sell for $25,000 to $125,000.

Diamonds sparkle and have a higher light-refraction index, Fried adds. “You can get cubic zirconia wet, but repeated exposure to water will damage the stone. It’s best to take off cubic zirconia jewelry when doing water-related activities like washing dishes, bathing and swimming.”

Ruining a precious memory by revealing the ring’s provenance

What does all this mean? Diamonds and cubic zirconia may cut glass, but you could cut your mother-in-law some slack. She did a nice thing. If we were all to play Jessica Fletcher or Hercule Poirot, we might discover a re-gift or that an author’s signature on a book is fake.

Let’s assume that this ring was given to your mother-in-law by her husband or by another relative. Is it worth dashing a precious memory of that relationship by revealing that the ring is not a precious stone? Perhaps she was unsure of its provenance, but wanted you to cherish it.

Would you have been just as excited to receive this ring if you knew that it was costume jewelry in advance? Even vintage jewelry can also cost a pretty penny and be faked by unscrupulous retailers, and can be equally beautiful (if not as pricey) as a diamond, ruby or sapphire. 

The fake jewelry industry is increasingly sophisticated

Even supposed diamonds and rubies can come with fake certificates of authenticity. Just ask this New York tourist who was allegedly duped into paying $1 million for a range of “valueless composites” of rubies from East Africa with heat treatment and lead-glass clarity enhancement.

Your mother-in-law’s “diamond” ring is a drop in the ocean. The imitation-jewelry market size is valued at more than $16.7 billion worldwide and, of all regions, North America is expected to see the biggest rise in compound annual growth (almost 7%) over the next six years. 

Jewelry experts say Tiffany, Cartier and Van Cleef are globally recognized brands and much sought after; as such, counterfeiters are keen to copy them in the same way as they churn out fake (and often badly made) Gucci , Louis Vuitton
LVMHF,
-2.17%

and Hermes
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-1.46%

luggage.

Give yourself the VIP treatment and wear your mother-in-law’s ring with as much pomp and pride as if it was the $80 million Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. The biggest myth the diamond industry peddles is that the value of your relationship is reflected in the value of your ring. 

This ring cost you nothing, but it gave you a priceless story.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

My friend invited me to a concert at Carnegie Hall. After I agreed, he said, ‘It would be nice if you took me to dinner.’ Is this normal?

‘Our American dream turned into a nightmare’: I sold my home, but rising interest rates and prices locked me out of the market. What can I do? 

I borrowed $20,000 from my mother in 1996, but only repaid $5,000. She deducted the entire loan from my inheritance. I need that money. What now?

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Post your questions, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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