Nov 23, 2016
Early in her marriage, a friend of mine came home from work one evening, exhausted and ready to pour herself a glass of wine. Her husband suggested she go for champagne instead: there was a bottle of Krug chilling in the fridge. She opened the fridge and found not just the champagne, but something from Cartier, too, tied with the signature red bow. Inside were earrings her husband had just happened to see that day and thought would look stunning on her. Indeed they did. He was a master of the grand gesture, who understood that the gift was just one thing but that the presentation was everything else.
While sometimes extravagant and unnecessary, the grand gesture – whether it is a simple picnic basket with a secret love note stuffed inside, or an entire symphony orchestra performing a surprise serenade – can win your heart if it hasn’t been won yet, and seal the deal if it hasn’t been sealed yet. It is seen as a confirmation of love and commitment, and as an effort to maintain an element of romance and excitement in relationships that in this day and age are challenged by all sorts of attractions and distractions. It’s the emotional equivalent of the chocolate on your pillow in a luxurious hotel: at the very least you feel pampered and special – and you may just be enticed to stay a bit longer.
The grand gesture, nevertheless, is not enough to save a doomed relationship, though it could force a stay of execution. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s tempestuous relationship included gifts of spectacular jewellery. The first piece of jewellery Burton ever bought for Taylor was the 33.19-carat Asscher-cut Krupp diamond. As grand gestures go, that alone is hard to beat. But Burton went on to make her gifts of even more sparkling gems, among them a 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond that came to be known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond.
The Taylor-Burton passion was legendary. Each was said to be the great love of the other’s life, although their love was ultimately doomed. So legendary was their passion that Burton once said he would have liked to buy his wife the Taj Mahal. That would have been the grand gesture to trump all grand gestures. Burton’s get-out was: “But it would cost too much to transport.”
Like sex for long-married couples, the grand gesture is perhaps best reserved for special occasions lest it becomes trite – a mere obligation, rather than a sincere, albeit orchestrated, expression of affection. That is, unless the grand gesture is made by someone so emotionally stunted that everything has to be accompanied by theatre. Either way, it becomes tiring after a while, and the recipient of the grand gesture may feel pressure to reciprocate with gifts presented with equally dramatic flourishes. All in all, it’s not sustainable.
For my birthday one year, the first I had spent with him, my boyfriend at the time planned a romantic evening in Ascona, on the Italian side of Switzerland: a walk along ancient, cobbled paths and dinner at a place with a view of the shimmering lake. When the first course arrived, it was served on beautiful china. The waiter lifted the silver cover from my plate to reveal a matching necklace and bracelet. It was a lovely gesture, and I was deeply touched: it had been a while since anyone had done something so grand and romantic for me. When we arrived home later that night there was another surprise awaiting me, in a box perched on my pillow. It was lingerie, sheer and silky, and – it soon became evident – meant to be worn straight away, the lateness of the hour notwithstanding. The grand gesture, thrilling as it may be, almost always comes with strings attached. Still, I suppose, it’s the thought that counts.