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Finding an Affordable Alternative Engagement Ring: Consider Gemstones, Black or Brown Diamonds, or Moissanite

Updated on May 29, 2012
A pink sapphire ring as glamorous as any diamond
A pink sapphire ring as glamorous as any diamond | Source
A lovely handmade green tourmaline engagement ring
A lovely handmade green tourmaline engagement ring | Source
Jessica Simpson's three-stone ruby stunner
Jessica Simpson's three-stone ruby stunner | Source

Gemstones

Since an engagement ring is both a highly symbolic token and something your prospective fiancé will wear every day, it should be something she truly loves, that reflects both her personality and your relationship. One way to personalize her ring is through including gemstones. The inclusion of the bride or groom's birthstone is one unique and meaningful possibility, or you could consider a stone in a color she particularly loves.

While diamonds cost thousands of dollars, other beautiful gemstones can be had at a fraction of the cost. Yet in spite of this, the idea is trendy and stylish rather than cheap. After all, Kate Middleton and Princess Diana both wore the same sapphire engagement ring, while Duchess Sarah Ferguson sported a similar ruby. Jessica Simpson also wears a gorgeous ruby rock, while countless other millionaire celebrities like Anna Kournikova, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Lopez have shown off pink or yellow diamonds that look much like pink or yellow sapphire available at a much lower cost.

Possibly the biggest concern with this approach is the durability of gemstones versus diamonds. Diamonds are the hardest gemstone on the Mohs Scale, meaning that they are very scratch-resistant. They're also extremely tough, meaning that they're incredibly difficult to fracture. Other stones will not always have the same staying-power, an essential quality in a stone your future fiancée will be wearing for the rest of her life. If you do decide to go the gemstone route, be sure to stick with more durable stones, such as corundum (sapphires and rubies) or aquamarine. Softer stones, like opal and garnet, might need replacing as they accumulate scratches or fall victim to accidents over the years.

However, in spite of durability issues, never fear having to settle for a blue sapphire or red ruby if your heart is really set on a purple, green, or orange stone. Sapphire is actually available in a surprising array of colors, from blue, yellow, and pink to violet, lavender, green, and even orange, known as padparadscha sapphires. Regardless of your color preferences, you can find a long-lasting, affordable stone in the corundum family.

A white sapphire three-stone engagement ring
A white sapphire three-stone engagement ring | Source
Unconventional black
Unconventional black | Source
A half carat four prong brown diamond ring
A half carat four prong brown diamond ring | Source
An imitation Twilight engagement ring-- Many tiny diamonds for far less than the price of one larger stone.
An imitation Twilight engagement ring-- Many tiny diamonds for far less than the price of one larger stone. | Source

If you'd like something closer to diamonds...

If colored gemstones aren't really your thing, there are still other, non-diamond or alternative diamond options. One of the most common is white sapphire, which possesses the classic look of a diamond with all the durability of other sapphires. However, you should be aware that white sapphires do not have quite the same fiery brilliance as diamonds. Their sparkle will generally be more subtle and purely white, having what might be deemed an icy-- or in some lights, a glassy appearance. If sparkle is a major factor, try finding a cut that reflects more light. Alternatively, white sapphires might be a good option if you'd like to call attention to an intricate setting, rather than the stone itself. Perhaps some of the money you save by using a sapphire can be put toward paying for a beautifully carved band, or even a custom made ring.

Or, if you're set on a diamond, but not necessarily on the color, black diamonds are a great way to save some money. Unique and edgy-- and therefore perfect for a girlfriend with a rebellious streak-- black diamonds are durable enough to last forever, but at a much lower cost and, unfortunately, with much lower sparkle. Brown or cognac diamonds are another alternative that tends to run a little cheaper. Unfortunately, other colored diamonds, known as "fancy" color diamonds and available in blue, yellow, pink, green, and a variety of other colors, will actually usually cost you much more than a classic white diamond.

If you are absolutely set on a white diamond, try finding one with flaws you can learn to live with. Perhaps you're alright with a smaller diamond or one that leans toward the yellower end of the white diamond spectrum. Alternatively, you could try getting a diamond with lower clarity, but a very-multifaceted cut that hides any dark spots-- also known as "inclusions." Since diamond prices increase vastly with each full carat size, one last tried and true method of reducing the price of a diamond is to buy a stone just under the carat size you want. A 0.98 carat diamond will be far cheaper than a full 1 carat stone, even though the difference in appearance is negligible.

Finally, if you'd like high quality white diamonds AND more sparkle than comes with a much smaller ring, you could try going the Twilight route. Since the price of diamonds increases exponentially as carat size goes up, a ring with many small diamonds will cost much less than a ring with one diamond of the same total carat weight. So, consider getting her a Bella-like ring, and she can have a total of one to two carats on her finger at a fraction of the cost.

A beautiful 1.25 carat ring
A beautiful 1.25 carat ring | Source

Moissanite

This is my favorite alternative to diamonds. Originally discovered in a meteor crater by scientist Henri Moissan in 1863, moissanite is literally from out of this world. In fact, it is so rare on earth that non-meteor moissanite wasn't discovered until the 1950s, and then only as an inclusion in another mineral.

Composed of silicon carbide, moissanite actually has more fire (the ability to disperse light into a rainbow of color, A.K.A. "sparkle") than any other gemstone-- including diamonds. It is also the second hardest gemstone in the world, second only to diamonds, rating a 9.25 on the Mohs Scale. This means that it's harder than ruby or sapphire and can last the decades of daily wear expected of an engagement or wedding ring.

Since scientists discovered how to produce moissanite synthetically in the 1990s, it has become an ethical and affordable alternative to diamonds. Whereas an ethically-mined 1 carat diamond with color and clarity similar to moissanite will likely cost you at least $4000, a 1 carat moissanite can be purchased for only $350. As an added bonus, it's available in "fancy" colors like yellow, pink, and green for only a small fraction of the cost of extravagant "fancy" colored diamonds.

An environmentally conscious, humanitarian girlfriend-- or a lady who can appreciate the value of a dollar-- might appreciate a moissanite ring just as much, if not more than a diamond.

Charles and Colvard's Moissanite Education Video

This question and answer video by Charles and Colvard, the company that owns the patent on moissanite, provides some useful information about the stone, along with a chance to see for yourself how beautifully it reflects light.

Hardness of Gemstones

Gemstone
Hardness on the Mohs Scale
Toughness
Diamond
10
Excellent
Moissanite
9.25
Excellent
Corundum (Ruby or Sapphire)
9
Excellent
Emerald
7.5
Good to Poor
Topaz
8
Poor
Aquamarine
7.5 to 8
Good
Amethyst
7
Good
Garnet
7 to 7.5
Fair to Poor
Opal
5 to 6.5
Poor

Whatever your budget and preferences, there are plenty of options out there to find an engagement ring that is both lovely and significant to you and your partner.

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