The Case of the Missing Diamond Ring

I heard an interesting story recently. A woman at a dinner party said that her mother (let’s call her Jane) was having lunch at a well-known and expensive New York restaurant when she went to the ladies’ room. While washing her hands, she made the cardinal sin of removing her diamond ring, and then forgot to retrieve it before she left.

Jane realized what she had done and, according to her estimate, returned to the ladies’ room within 10 minutes. But the ring was gone. It had about 5-1/2 carats of diamonds, emerald cut and channel-set all the way around the ring in yellow gold. She immediately reported the loss to the restaurant’s owner, but the ring had not been reported found by any of the restaurant’s staff, including the ladies’ washroom attendant. Jane had noted that the attendant was not in the ladies’ room when Jane washed her hands, but that she seemed to have visited in the intervening 10 minutes, since the towels had been refreshed (and the tip plate emptied) since Jane’s first visit to the ladies’ room. But the restaurant owner assured Jane that the washroom attendant was an employee of good and long standing, and could not have taken the ring. After hanging around a while longer and leaving behind a note begging for the ring’s return, Jane finally left the restaurant empty-fingered.

When she went to file a police report, the detective made an interesting remark. As far as his experience was concerned, he said, Jane would have been more likely to have the ring returned at a McDonalds than at the very swanky restaurant where it had been lost.

I would love to know if that is true. There are a lot of variables to consider, among them:

1. The quantity and characteristics of the other patrons.

2. The quantity and characteristics of the employees.

3. The volume of traffic in the ladies’ room.

4. The presence of surveillance cameras.

Etc., etc., etc. This strikes me as a potentially interesting experiment to run (a job for the MythBusters, maybe?) — planting a ring in a few McDonalds’ as well as in a few upscale restaurants, then comparing what happens. I’m guessing the hardest part would be to get a video camera allowed in the bathrooms. And I guess you might want to use a fake ring (which, of course, might well alter the outcome of the experiment).

What do you think would happen?

At the very least, we’d also learn what kind of people are most likely to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

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  1. Toni says:

    Interesting poser. My first thought was that the person who found the ring felt the owner could afford to lose it (had other pieces and/or insurance). Or there is the chestnut about the inherent honesty of poor versus rich. I would like to see this experiment done. Where are grad students when you need them?

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  2. Toni says:

    Interesting poser. My first thought was that the person who found the ring felt the owner could afford to lose it (had other pieces and/or insurance). Or there is the chestnut about the inherent honesty of poor versus rich. I would like to see this experiment done. Where are grad students when you need them?

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  3. Madge says:

    I guess the reasoning of a lost 5-1/2 carats ring at a McDonald has a better chance of being returned is that people will think the ring is very likely a fake and thus not worth keeping. Who has that much money would use a McDonald washroom?

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  4. Madge says:

    I guess the reasoning of a lost 5-1/2 carats ring at a McDonald has a better chance of being returned is that people will think the ring is very likely a fake and thus not worth keeping. Who has that much money would use a McDonald washroom?

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  5. ebaa says:

    This situation reminds me of the bagels sold on the honor system that you mentioned in your book. If I recall correctly you also mentioned that CEO’s were more likely to not pay for the bagels as compared to lower level employees.

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  6. ebaa says:

    This situation reminds me of the bagels sold on the honor system that you mentioned in your book. If I recall correctly you also mentioned that CEO’s were more likely to not pay for the bagels as compared to lower level employees.

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  7. Mike B. says:

    Individuals eating at McDonalds are less likely to be economically successful — lack of economic success strongly correlates with lower intelligence — lower intelligence strongly correlates with religious belief — only someone who believes in hell (or is stupid) would return a 5 1/2 carat ring?

    Is that the logic? Because the argument that “rich folks” are less ethical than “poor folks” induces an almost automatic eye-rolling reflex.

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  8. Mike B. says:

    Individuals eating at McDonalds are less likely to be economically successful — lack of economic success strongly correlates with lower intelligence — lower intelligence strongly correlates with religious belief — only someone who believes in hell (or is stupid) would return a 5 1/2 carat ring?

    Is that the logic? Because the argument that “rich folks” are less ethical than “poor folks” induces an almost automatic eye-rolling reflex.

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