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.
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,