Hit & Run: Ring the changes

When Barack Obama took to the stage on election night, he was careful to court the dog lovers of the world by telling them he'd be buying his daughters a puppy. What he neglected to mention was the gift that he'd be giving his wife, Michelle. How, you might well have wondered, does a President-elect reward his first lady for putting up with two years of non-stop campaigning, and at least another four in the White House?

Well, now we know: he does it with a £20,000 piece of jewellery, crafted from the world's most expensive metal: rhodium. Rhodium?

The "Harmony" ring that Obama has ordered for his wife has been designed by the A-list Italian jewellery designer Giovanni Bosco, who's now busy knocking the thing into shape and encrusting it with diamonds before Inauguration Day rolls around on 20 January. Even dearer than those diamonds, however, will be the rhodium ring itself.

A hard metal from the platinum family, rhodium is mostly mined in South Africa and Russia, though only 25 tons of the stuff are extracted each year, most of which is put to work in aircraft spark plugs, precision optical instruments, LCD television screens and catalytic converters. Its typical worth is around £5,000 per ounce, hence the ring's estimated £20,000 price tag. Historically, when silver, gold and platinum simply didn't say "I love you", "Congratulations", or "I'm loaded" loud enough, rhodium has done the trick. Used in the world's most expensive pens and, indeed, to plate the Queen's crown jewels, rhodium was also the only metal sufficient to mark Paul McCartney's lifelong contribution to music. In 1979, the former Beatle was awarded a rhodium-plated disc by GuinnessWorld Records for being the bestselling songwriter and recording artist of all time. The Harmony ring, which Bosco's spokespeople call the company's "top of the range piece", is so sumptuous that even the jeweller will not disclose its true cost.

President-elect Obama's tastes are relatively restrained – he wears a functional watch, a simple wedding ring and sleek but unremarkable suits. His wife's sartorial success on the campaign trail wasn't achieved by spending big. In fact, her outfits are a solid mix of designer and off-the-rack, many found not on Fifth Avenue, but online at Jcrew.com. Not for Michelle the $70,000 outfits of Cindy McCain, nor the $150,000 shopping bills of Sarah Palin.

On the other hand, the First-Lady-in-waiting is not averse to a bit of bling, and has frequently been compared to that other White House style icon, Jackie Kennedy, whose jewellery continues to inspire knock-off collections to this day. (Fancy the look of a Jacqueline Kennedy Wedding Bracelet featuring 18 Simulated Pearls, 25 Swarovski Crystals and platinum plating? That'll be $99, thank you very much).

Michelle has occasionally invoked the style of Jackie with a string of faux pearls, made her distinctive brooches a staple of her public appearances and, on election night, complemented her controversial Narciso Rodriguez dress with diamond drop earrings and glittering silver bangles.

The rhodium ring, a gift truly fit for a First Lady, will make an impressive addition to her jewellery box. Tim Walker

Nick Clegg, lend us your ear

Some PR advice for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg: when describing your faith, don't fudge with "I am not an active believer", having previously replied to the unambiguous question, "Do you believe in God?", with the single word "No". Avoid discussing your personal life on the record with Piers Morgan. When asked how many sexual partners you have had – now, that's the time to deploy ambiguity. Do not say: "No more than 30." And when slagging off your front-bench team ("He's a problem. I can't stand the man"), avoid doing so on a Flybe budget airline flight from London to Inverness. Ian Burrell

There is rap after rehab

He has been off radar for four years, but the real Slim Shady is back. Having suffered the fatal shooting of his best friend, written his memoirs, battled against sleeping-pill addiction and piled on the pounds after rehab, US rapper Eminem is due to return with a new album in January. Relapse – his first since Encore in 2004 – will feature the second part to his hit "Stan", plus collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights Dr Dre and 50 Cent. His producer, Swizz Beatz, has hailed "Stan 2" as "genius". Perhaps it's thanks to the macrobiotic diet Marshall Bruce Mathers III (Eminem's real name) is rumoured to have adopted... Elisa Bray

The land where they really kill for a bargain

If you weren't already aware of the apocalyptically bad downside to capitalism, check out this cheery news. Bargain-hunters in America have become so frenzied in their quest to pick up cut-price gifts in the run-up to Christmas that they have started murdering each other.

Two men died in a Toys 'R' Us in Palm Desert, 120 miles east of Los Angeles, last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, known as "Black Friday". It is one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the US, so called because it is when American retailers' profits move into "the black".

The fracas happened after two women began scrapping and Juan Meza, 28, who was with one of them, pulled a gun. Alejandro Moreno, 39, then produced his own weapon and chased Meza. The two men exchanged fire and their bodies were found near the front of the store.

The same day, a Long Island Wal-Mart employee was crushed to death by a stampeding crowd that surged in at 5am, eager to pick up bargains. Wal-Mart had erected barricades and brought in extra security, but to no avail. "Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred," said a Wal-Mart spokesman, with magnificent understatement. The end is indeed nigh. Rob Sharp

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