Category: Bridal

Non-Diamond Engagement Rings: Advice for Men and Women


Doesn’t everyone want a diamond engagement ring?  Most do, but not all.  There are plenty of proposees (I use the term “proposee” to mean women or men who will be proposed to rather than doing the proposing) out there who either feel a special connection to another type of gem, an ethical bias against diamonds, or simply have budgetary reasons for wanting non-diamond engagement rings.

This may make the proposer’s (the one doing the proposing and buying of the engagement ring) job a bit more difficult.  It means that you should know whether your future fiancée has a strong preference for a non-diamond engagement ring and if so, what the preferred gem is.  Now. . .if your proposee has merely mentioned once or twice that she likes the color red, I wouldn’t jump the gun and propose with a ruby.  I find people who want non-diamond engagement rings are extremely clear about it so if that’s the case, trust me, you’ll know!  If she/he hasn’t had a conversation with you along the lines of, “If I were to hypothetically get engaged, I would want a sapphire instead of a diamond,” I would say stick to a diamond.

As for the men or women doing the asking, there is one big benefit to choosing to propose with a non-diamond engagement ring: price.  I’m not saying all other gems cost less than diamonds–that is not the case.  However, gem prices are not as transparent as diamond prices so generally speaking, there is a larger range of price points for colored stones.  It is likely that you will be able to afford a larger colored stone than diamond of the same general quality level as long as you don’t care whether the colored stone has been treated for color of inclusions.  The flip side is that the lack of transparency also means it will be more difficult for you to determine quality and whether you are getting a good deal.  Colored stones is such a vast area that it takes jewelers decades to learn how to buy a brilliant stone for good value so for someone who is not in the industry it would be impossible to get up to speed fast enough.  Your best bet is to find a jeweler you trust and ask them to advise you and source the stone for you.  If you try to buy a colored stone online or from a gem dealer yourself I guarantee you will get fleeced.  It is not just about size and clarity.

What then should one factor in when choosing a gem for a non-diamond engagement ring?  Carat weight, inclusions, color, color distribution, cut, treatments, shape, and possibly origin.  Without getting bogged down in too many details that will not do you much good anyway, it is sufficient to know the following:

Carat- works the same way as for diamonds–it is the weight of the stone and the price is calculated per carat.  Ex: $5,000/ct for a 4.45 carat stone means the total cost of the gem is $22,250.  Keep in mind that is the cost of the gem, you will still have to factor in cost of any diamonds, gold, design fees and production costs if you are having a bespoke ring made so build that into your budget.

Inclusions- different gems will have different inclusions.  Inclusions are clarity characteristics caused by the way the gem was formed and the materials present inside during formation.  In colored stones however, you will not have the same clarity scale as diamonds.  The certificate for the gem will likely not state the clarity grade.

Color- in colored gems, the saturation and shade are important.  There are two ways to go about this, you can choose what the industry deems is the best color–for every different type of gem there is an ideal shade and saturation that is deemed the industry ideal–or you can choose the saturation/shade that you like best.  The industry ideal will always cost more but it will also appreciate more.

Color Distribution this is something a lay person would never consider so I break it out into its own analysis even though in the industry we factor it into the overall color.  In colored gems and diamonds the color is a result of an outside chemical or physical property that is present during the gem’s formation.  For example, diamonds consist of over 99% carbon but the presence of trace amounts of boron will produce a blue diamond.  As a result, the color is not always evenly distributed throughout the stone.  Ideally, one would want even color distribution but at the very least make sure the gem is not obviously more saturated with color in one area and lighter in another.

Cut- colored stones also don’t go by the same cut grade as diamonds nor will the certificate state a cut grade.  In fact, color considerations are far more important than the symmetry and polish of a colored stones.  I would say make sure the stone isn’t terrifyingly asymmetrical and that it is not too thin or too thick and you’re fine.

Treatments- in general try to avoid color or heat-treated stones if your budget allows.  Having said that, I make the distinction between emeralds, rubies and sapphires and all other colored stones.  Natural/non-treated emeralds, rubies, sapphires and certain rare and highly collectible stones (such as Paraiba tourmalines) will be exponentially more expensive and at times more expensive than diamonds.  For those gems, heat or oil treatment (for emeralds) are acceptable if a natural one is not in the budget but never ever accept a gem that has been dyed.  All other colored stones such as amethysts, tourmalines, kunzites, peridot, etc. should not be treated and they are not too pricy anyway so untreated stones of this kind are quite affordable for most budgets.  Never buy a dyed stone of any kind I don’t care what kind of austerity measures you’ve imposed on yourself–I can’t have people walking around with color bleeding onto their fingers or stones fading in the sunlight!  Oh the horror!

Shape- shape is purely about preference and colored stones are cut differently than diamonds.  Diamonds have brilliant cuts meaning 57 or 58 facets in a round diamond (read about them here), colored stones are rarely cut with as many facets as diamonds.  If they are, they are called “diamond cut” colored stones and they will be priced higher.

Origin- origin only matters if you are purchasing a colored stone with an eye towards investing–and by investing I mean vis-a-vis other collectors in the auction house sense of the word, not in the “I have a collection of sapphires from Costco and I’m going to invest in one more” sense.  Anyway, collectors should care about origin–everyone else should note it but not let it sway you too much in your buying decision.  If I were making an emerald ring for myself and I had the choice between a gorgeous, crisp, clean African (considered less sought after) emerald with ideal color, or a murky forest green emerald from Colombia (considered the best provenance) for the same price, I would go with the looker from Africa.  Remember, you’re wearing the rock not the certificate.

Non Diamond Engagement Rings: Advice for Men and Women

Emerald and diamond engagement ring, by JZP for Jean & Alex.  By special order only.

Alright, that should give you enough information to confuse the hell out of you.  Like I mentioned before, find a jeweler you trust for non-diamonds engagement rings and have her advise you and source for you.  There is no way this blog post is going to provide you with enough information to select a stone yourself but it will arm you with the right questions to ask your jeweler or sales person.  At the very least, if you can’t find someone you trust you can always ask yours truly by commenting on this post or contacting me.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,



Is Diamond Clarity Important?


I find that people either underestimate or over-estimate the importance of diamond clarity.  This is a travesty that I intend to rectify.  First, lets start with the basics:

Flawless- No inclusions inside or on the surface with 10x magnification.  This is the definition of perfection.

Internally Flawless- No internal inclusions at 10x but there might be blemishes on the surface of the diamond.

VVS1/VVS2 Diamonds: Very Very Slightly Included.  These have minuscule inclusions that are very difficult to spot under a 10x magnification. The inclusions are not visible to the naked eye.

VS1/VS2 Diamonds: Very Slightly Included.  The inclusions are not visible to the naked eye, and are difficult to see under 10x magnification.

SI1/SI2 Diamonds: Slightly Included.  The inclusions in these diamonds are usually not visible to the unaided eye, but are visible under a 10x magnification.

I1/I2 Diamonds: Included.  These diamonds have visible inclusions to the unaided eye.

Is Diamond Clarity Important?

I generally don’t use stones that are more included than VS2 for my clients.  Similarly, the high-end jewelry retailers like Harry Winston, Cartier, Van Cleef, Tiffany’s etc. don’t use SI or I clarities either.  However, in order to reach the desired price points, commercial retailers like Blue Nile, Zales, etc. use a great deal of SI, I1, I2 and even I3 stones to make diamonds more accessible.  Similarly, many of the fashion jewelry houses that use diamond slices or “brown diamonds” are using I3 goods.  My stance on all this is that you have to know when to buy investment jewelry (VS2 or higher clarity) and when you’re buying fashion jewelry (which will never appreciate in value but it looks good).  There is nothing wrong with dabbling in the entire spectrum but I would much rather my DMD darlings make informed decisions.

I an mot going to sit here and wax poetic about what clarity of diamonds you should have.  One’s budget will always dictate the diamonds.  If that means you have to sacrifice clarity in order to have a diamond engagement ring then so be it–no shame in that.  However, if you have a larger budget but purchase SI or I goods because you like the design of the piece and don’t know any better, shame on you.  Always get the best quality for your budget.

Size vs. Clarity

Different standards apply for different size stones and budgets.  In a larger diamond, you should first scan the market to see what approximate size diamond you can get with your budget and then adjust clarity and color upwards or downwards.  Let’s say your budget is $50,000.  On today’s market, that could get you either a 1.25 carat D flawless round diamond or a 2 carat F, VS1 diamond.  At that point, I would go for the 2 carat F because F and D colors are both in the colorless spectrum (click here to read my post on the diamond color scale); and given that VS1 inclusions are not visible to the naked eye, I would much rather a larger colorless diamond than a smaller flawless one when no one will be able to tell the difference anyway.

Alternatively, let’s say Kanye gives Kim a budget of  3 million to spend on her next engagement ring (this is starting to sound like one of my old law school hypotheticals).  Rather than go for a 20 carat, G colored, VS2 like she did last time, I would advise her to go for a 8 or 9 carat D flawless.  Why anyone would get a 20 carat mediocre stone over a D flawless that is half the size is beyond me–8 carats is worthy of jewelry arthritis as it is, and it is both more stunning visually and a better investment.  Clearly the emphasis is on the flash appeal rather than on the quality or investment value.  I would never advise someone in that direction–it’s just reckless disregard for logic and good fiscal planning.

Color vs. Clarity

Sizes being equal, what if I was posed with the choice of a 2 carat F VVS1 or a 2 carat E VS2?  The second option being one step up in color but two steps down in clarity.  Ahh, here I would go for color because color is more visible than clarity to the naked eye.  The only instance where I would choose to upgrade clarity over color is if there is a large disparity between the two.  Let’s say I have a 2 carat F color SI2; if given the choice to upgrade to an E, SI2 (one step up in color) or an F, VS2 (two steps up in clarity), I would choose the F, VS2 because SI inclusions can be visible to the naked eye whereas VS inclusions are not and that makes it a better investment.


We’ve done the behemoths, now for the melees.  Mellees are what we in the industry call diamonds that we use for accents or pave settings.  For example, on an engagement ring with a diamond band, the diamonds on the band are called melees.  If you have a center stone, the melee should always match the center stone, that’s basic quality control.  What if you don’t have a center stone and have a ring paved in melee?  Is it worth it to splurge and get D flawless melee?  Absolutely not.  If you go for a high color, G or higher, no one is going to see the clarity difference between a VS2 and a VVS melee–you’d be wasting your money.

I am a big proponent of living within your means.  The more included a diamond is the more affordable it is.  Having said that, given one’s means, one should always strive for the best.  That my darlings, is why one needs to be well-informed and the reason I pen this blog.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,



How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring?


Prepare yourselves for a tirade.  Most of us have heard that the man should spend 3 months salary on an engagement ring–thank you DeBeers for that huge pile of hogwash.  I totally disagree.  In the current economy, how many men of marrying age do you know with 3 months salary saved up for a rainy day fund let alone an engagement ring?  So then how to determine how much to spend on an engagement ring?  I think a gentleman should spend what he can reasonably afford to match the expectations of his girlfriend.  Reason should trump expectations.  In more concrete terms, a man should spend up to the equivalent of 40% of his savings.  That does not mean actually spend your rainy day fund mind you, it simply means a reasonable amount to pay for an engagement ring can be up to 40% of the amount of your savings.  In some cases this will be less than 3 months salary and in some cases it will be more but it’s a more rational way of thinking about it.

How Much to Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Jean & Alex, emerald-cut engagement ring set in platinum.  Available by special order.

If a guy doesn’t have any savings, expecting him to spend 3 months salary on an engagement ring is preposterous and bad financial planning.  Remember that the two of you are getting married so his financial woes become yours.  Your priority should be building a healthy habits and a strong future for the two of you.  OK, enough doom and gloom.  The fact is, proper fiscal planning now means a brighter happily ever after.  So maybe you compromise on the flash now–who’s to say you can’t upgrade your ring in the future when doing so is more appropriate to your circumstances?  My father always told me that jewelry should be appropriate to your age, experience and circumstances.  If you haven’t earned it in experience or age it winds up looking terribly gauche.

So take heart in the fact that your boyfriend loves you and you’re building a wonderful future together.  He loves you enough to marry you, trust that he also will do everything in his power to make you happy.  If that means getting your dream engagement ring, he will do his best using all the means available to him at present.  You should also have him read my post about priorities when selecting and engagement ring to ensure you get the biggest and best diamond for his budget.  Here’s to happily ever after.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,


Diamond Color Scale


It seems like everyone is coveting and talking about fancy yellow and pink diamonds these days but I am always appalled at how few people know about the color scale of white diamonds.  This is a basic building block of jewelry connoisseurship my darlings that one cannot overlook.  White diamonds fall in a D to Z color range with D being the most colorless and Z having the most color–Z diamonds are obviously yellow or grey to the naked eye but keep in mind that such diamonds are not considered fancy colors.  Fancy colored diamonds are those that have more color than Z and have their own color scale.

Diamond Color Scale

D color is the most coveted because it is the purest and most crisp diamond color.  Diamonds in the D-J color range look white from their face-up position.  One can detect yellow in the G-J color range only face down (with the pointed end, called the culet, facing up) looking through the pavilion (looking at a perpendicularly through the longest edge of the diamond).  K, L and M diamonds are yellow or grey face up and face down; any diamond color below M is unmistakably not white.

For the engagement ring buyer, it is always wise to go for the highest color that your budget allows for without sacrificing the size you have your heart set on.  So many of the celebrity engagement rings, the 20 carat whoppers, are H-J colored and it always makes me wonder why they didn’t just go for a stunning 5 carat D flawless?  There is nothing wrong with H-J colored diamonds mind you, but if it’s within your budget, who  in their right mind would want 20 mediocre carats when you can have 5 pristine carats of diamond for the same price?  Warped priorities make for bad investments.

For those who are looking to simulate the look of a yellow diamond on a restricted budget, look for an X, Y or Z color but make sure the clarity is VS1 or better.  It’s a sneaky little loop-hole.  You are buying a diamond that looks yellow to the naked eye and if you have an excellent jeweler, he or she can make it look more yellow with a clever setting thus giving you the look of a fancy colored diamond for considerably less.  Keep in mind though that an X, Y or Z color is not a fancy colored diamond so while it may look marvelous after it’s set, it is not going to retain value as well as an actual fancy colored diamond.  Why VS1 clarity or better?  Because a diamond in the lower color ranges that also has poor clarity is just a shoddy diamond.  If you are going to sacrifice color for an intended effect, you have to make up the difference in clarity and symmetry in order to retain some aspects of the diamond’s fire and brilliance, otherwise you’re just buying an unattractive diamond.

Diamond Color Scale

Jean & Alex, yellow diamond ring.  Available by private order.

For a quick tutorial on diamond shapes, read “Diamond Shapes 101.”  Have a question? Leave me a comment or contact me at

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,