RiRi’s Ruby Ring

She may have, as her fans described her, looked “like a diamond in the sky”, but Riri’s 2023 Super Bowl Halftime performance was not without its share of controversies. One bling on a finger stood out

Rihanna’s red-hot pregnancy was not the only thing noticed in her Super Bowl performance. Another protrusion was picked up—this one on the fourth finger of her right hand. The singer was wearing, according to media reports, a massive red jewel framed by what appeared to be diamonds. The New York Times reported a day after the performance that she had on a “19.47-carat Bayco ring on one hand”. To ensure that there was no ambiguity in that, the Madison Avenue fine jeweller described the ring—estimated to cost around US$3 million—on Instagram that Rihanna “bedazzled in an uber-rare Bayco ruby and diamond ring.” And if that was not sufficient, they added, stressing the massive stone’s one-of-a-kind appeal, “featuring a rare natural, unheated 19.47-carat sugarloaf cabochon Burma Ruby and 5.66-carats of trillion-cut and round-brilliant colorless diamonds set in platinum and 18kt yellow gold.” One problematic word in that puffery was Burma.

These days, we know the Burmese nation as Myanmar, part of the ten Member States of ASEAN and a nation mostly ruled by the military junta since it gained independence from the British in 1948. It amused itself with an election in 2020, but soon returned to the army’s control a year later. Myanmar is beset with what the East Asia Forum warned as “abject deterioration”. According to a World Bank report last January, the country’s “economy remains subjected to significant uncertainty.” To steady the spluttering amid on-going protests against the junta, it is alleged that the powers in Naypyidaw (also Nay Pyi Taw) had to resort to not quite legit means. The activist group Justice for Myanmar Twittered that “Myanmar gems fund junta atrocities” in reaction to Rihanna’s flashy display. Human rights watchdog Global Watch calls the Burmese stones “conflict rubies”, and that the “country’s natural resource wealth is proving to be an economic lifeline for the generals”. The New York Times reported in 2021 that “political conflict and trade embargoes have made rubies from Myanmar highly controversial for more than a decade, creating complicated sourcing problems for jewelers.”

Yet, the 42-year-old Bayco was not discreet about the provenance of the ruby seen on Rihanna’s finger, even boasting about it being from a country known for their specific corundum with a covetable brilliance and depth of colour. It is likely the ring was on loan to the singer (as every piece of jewellery on her was?) and it did not occur to her to ask if the gem was ethically sourced. Compared to accusations of her lip-synching during much of the half time performance (that seemed somewhat rushed), the charge of deliberate ignorance of where the ruby was from is moot and is likely to elicit fierce objection than the possibility that she was not really singing. Performing for an audience of that size for the first time in six years, it was hardly surprising that she was so sized up. Every single item on Rihanna was noted, especially the many pieces of jewellery adorned to offset the unspectacular costume. Even her gloves: We are now aware that they were made of lambskin and produced in Hungary. Rihanna chose to outfit herself to be as noticeable as her baby bump. Unaware of controversies pertaining to what was worn won’t win her sympathy.

Photo: baycojewels/Instagram