After nearly a century of seeing engagement rings exclusively in diamond, other stones are making a serious comeback or breaking into the market for the first time. But with so many options out there, how do you choose? Here’s a breakdown of five different gemstones and the pros and cons of proposing with them.
This is a surprising one, but we actually made an engagement ring featuring tourmaline stones this year. Mined from a number of sources around the world, tourmaline can be found in a wide variety of shades. The most popular in our experience has been pink tourmaline, also an alternative birthstone for the month of October. Other options include green tourmaline, chrome (which produces a vivid brighter green), and Paraiba (named for the location it was first found, this is an exceptional electric blue or blue-green that is truly stunning).
Tourmaline rates a 7-7.5 on the Moh’s hardness scale and has a fair amount of toughness. Both are important to consider in a ring that will get daily wear like an engagement ring or wedding band and yes, they are different! Hardness refers to how easy or difficult it is to scratch a stone, while toughness considers how easily it can be broken. So while you will have to take a little extra care with it, a tourmaline engagement ring could certainly be worn every day.
The rare and beautiful color of the emerald has long been prized. This May birthstone can, in large sizes and high color and clarity grades, rate an even higher price than diamonds! Emerald is considered one of the four ‘precious’ gemstones, alongside ruby, sapphire, and diamond. It is unusual in that inclusions can be visible even in top-quality stones. In emeralds specifically these are referred to as “jardin” (French for ‘garden’) due to their somewhat moss-like appearance.
Emerald is a 7.5-8 on the Moh’s scale but has poor toughness. Thus while it can resist most scratches, it can be broken if handled too roughly. It is important to bring any emerald jewelry in need of repair to a reputable jeweler who will take care and replace any accidentally broken stones. You can also, if you have your heart set on an emerald engagement ring, take the precaution of choosing a low setting, and/or one where the stone is well-protected by metal.
Even though ‘blue’ is often assumed when talking about sapphires, they do come in a full spectrum of colors. Yellow, pink, green, purple, white, and other shades are all possible.
Even though ‘blue’ is often assumed when talking about sapphires, they do come in a full spectrum of colors. Yellow, pink, green, purple, white, and other shades are all possible. However, when corundum (the mineral of which gem quality specimens are normally called sapphire) occurs in red, the resulting gemstone is called ruby. But because they had been called that for so long before scientists realized the mineral was the same, rubies have kept a separate distinction. Blue sapphires, in addition to being the September birthstone, have proved popular in the past as engagement rings due to their symbolism of loyalty and faithfulness.
Any sapphire, no matter the color, is a 9 on the hardness scale and possesses good toughness, making it an excellent choice for an engagement ring. It also tends to be the most affordable of the precious gemstones, though of course this can still vary for certain ‘fancy’ (this is what jewelers call alternative colors of gemstones) hues.
The iconic ruby is a stunning and surprisingly rare gem. Large stones of high clarity and good color can command higher prices than diamonds. For many years, lesser stones such as spinel were often misidentified as ruby. In fact, the most famous example is a spinel called the Black Prince’s Ruby, in England’s collection of crown jewels. Genuine ruby can be found in dark pinkish or purplish red shades, though of course the true blood red is the most desirable. Ruby is also the July birthstone and its color makes it a lovely representation of love.
Like sapphire, ruby is corundum, and has the same hardness and toughness characteristics. This makes it perfect for the everyday wear of an engagement ring. Be aware though of the differences between glass-filled rubies (a common treatment that is required to be disclosed, but retail department stores have been caught misidentifying these stones as genuine rubies), synthetic (lab-created, just as durable and chemically identical to natural stones), and imitation (not structurally the same, a substitute like spinel or cubic zirconia).
Yes, I know diamonds are not a surprise for an engagement ring, but hear me out on this. There is a reason that diamonds are the ‘gold standard,’ so to speak, in the jewelry industry. They are the hardest, at 10 on the Moh’s scale. This makes them capable of taking and keeping a superior polish over any other gem. They have good toughness, so though they can be broken, they can also take a lot of punishment. They handle heat well. So well, in fact, that jewelers can solder right next to diamonds without damaging them or having to remove them. You may not think of transparency as a particularly valuable property, but diamond is unrivaled in this, which means it allows light to pass through with minimal to no blocking or distortion. Diamond’s handling of light is what makes it so beautiful. It has a high refractive index and a high dispersion, which combine to display both brilliance, or reflection of light, and dispersion, or splitting that light into the spectrum of all colors (this is sometimes called fire).
But don’t think that the word ‘diamond’ limits you to a round brilliant solitaire. Or any shape of diamond, for that matter! Check out some of my past solitaire designs here. Diamonds, like sapphires, also come in a wide range of colors, from the more common black and shades of brown and yellow on into blue, green, pink, purple, and more. Cognac and champagne shades (yes, including the ones some companies market as ‘chocolate!’) look particularly amazing set in warm rose gold. These various fancy colored diamonds are as real as their white counterparts and are merely different either in chemical make-up, though only by a fraction of a percent, or in structure, meaning the layout of the carbon atoms is distorted. But whether you choose a fancy color or a white diamond, the bottom line is that diamonds will provide the one-two punch of durability and sheer sparkle better than any other stone out there.