Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but when you’re hunting for the perfect engagement ring, there are more “friendly” diamond alternatives out there that are just as stunning. Whether you’re looking for something less expensive that still possesses diamond-like qualities, or something more unique to fit the person wearing it, there are countless possibilities.
There are a few ways to select the best diamond alternative, depending on the most essential elements to you or your partner. Maybe you’re looking for the closest you can get to a natural diamond without having to pay premium prices, in which case substituting another precious stone may be ideal.
If the alternative search is primarily about funds, some stones will present similarly ornate while being much easier on the pocketbook. If you’re worried about diamond mining ramifications on the ecosystem and communities, a lab-grown diamond might be just what you’re looking for.
Last but certainly not least, if your focus is finding an extraordinarily unique or rarer stone than a diamond, there are many other beautiful, naturally mined gemstones that deserve your attention.
Jump To A Specific Section:
- The Mohs Hardness Scale
- White Sapphire
- Cubic Zirconia
- White Topaz
- Lab-Created Diamonds
- Salt & Pepper Diamonds
- Black Diamonds And Other Unique Colors
Understanding Quality Ratings: What To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Stone And What Raises The Price
Rather than thinking solely of “quality,” it’s important to know that gem and diamond appraisal ratings are valued by their rarity. Since there has to be a way to compare stones and describe them, scientists created systemic methods. A precious stone’s value depends on several factors but mainly pinpoints the rarity of each specimen.
Certain characteristics are less commonly found. Polishing alone makes a gemstone worth far more than a raw version, but for polished stones destined for the jewelry industry, rarity is key.
When searching for your stone of choice, note the quality ratings and recognize that a higher-rated stone is not necessarily better. These ratings affect the per-carat price.
Professionals rate diamonds and gemstones using the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grading scale, which uses four components to describe and classify each stone. Stones are judged by Clarity, Color, Cut, and Carat Weight. Known as the 4Cs, the rating offers a brief glimpse of a precious stone’s value determined by its rarity compared to demand.
Rating By Color
For diamonds, color is rated on a scale from D to Z, with categories of colorless, near colorless, faint, very light, and light. The GIA determination is not made randomly against other available diamonds; the stones are compared to rounded diamonds of confirmed color values, known as Masterstones.
The highest-graded and most expensive diamonds will be colorless. Some compare the ideal “color” essence to a drop of clear water. On the other end of the spectrum, yellow diamonds are the cheapest, as the majority of mined diamonds bear at least traces of a yellow or brown tint.
Fluorescence is taken into account as well because most diamonds exhibit a blue fluorescence. This is good news for yellow diamonds because the blue in sunlight can help cancel out some of the yellow tones. On the other hand, if the fluorescence is too intense, the stone can appear oily or clouded.
While diamond imitators may be scored much as a diamond would, some gemstones are graded by their saturation or their hue’s intensity and purity. Stones bearing rich, basic hues—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, or purple—are much rarer and more desirable.
With several varieties of moderately priced gemstones lacking a set, the desired hue will be valued for their clarity, cut, and carats instead of their trueness of color.
Rating By Clarity Classification
Anything formed in nature will most likely contain imperfections referred to as “inclusions.” In both gemstones and diamonds, inclusions refer to anything interfering with the passage of light. Diamond value significantly drops even from inclusions not visible without professional magnification.
Inclusions may be particles from minerals, tiny fractures, or even hollow areas within a stone — anything that changes the light refraction’s visual perception. Truly flawless diamonds are so few and far between that many professionals never encounter one in their career.
The GIA clarity classifications for diamonds are separated into 11 grades:
- Internally Flawless
- Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 & VVS2)
- Very Slightly Included (VS1 & VS2)
- Slightly Included (SI1 & SI2)
- and three levels of Included (I1, I2, I3).
Originally these markings were referred to as “imperfections” instead of “inclusions,” but the term was recently replaced.
The less intense diamond clarity classification is grading for colored stones. Instead of extreme magnification, they are determined “eye-clean” on three different levels referred to as:
- Type I (Usually Eye-Clean)
- Type II (Usually Included)
- Type III (Almost Always Included)
One major exception would be emeralds, which automatically tend to classify as Type III. Inclusions are simply part of their unique makeup, so when picking an emerald, focus on the brilliance of color.
Rating By Cut
Cultivating a cut that properly features both the capturing and refraction of light is a prominent display of craftsmanship and time investment. Each tiny facet and angle will affect how much light returns to the observer’s eye. Faceting plays a significant role in a gem’s dispersion level.
The dispersion or “fire” of a stone comes from white light entering the stone and “dispersing” or traveling back out separately at different wavelengths, which will emit different colors. This element gives diamonds their rainbow flashes. Not to be confused with scintillation, which describes the sparkle or contrast of light and dark.
For a “Round Brilliant Cut,” most common for diamond rings, the “crown” refers to the upper tabletop area, and the “pavilion” describes the cone-shaped bottom half of the diamond, starting where the stone creases and then tapers down to a point.
For diamonds, this means that if the light is directed inward, down towards the pavilion, the stone will appear darker because the light isn’t reflecting to the appraising eye above. Diamonds with ideally cut proportions will appear colorful and full of light.
Faceted gemstones should bring out the brilliance of light and color. Before judging too much, make sure you know what shade the gem ought to be.
Blue Topaz, Tanzanite, and Sapphire will all have different hue features that make them more or less valuable. Gemstones with pleochroism will reveal different colors depending on the viewed angle.
Cabochons, or cabs, are gemstones where the light is best served by cutting a flat bottom and smoothly doming the top. This is a typical cut for opals, moonstones, or dumortierite.
You can tell whether a cab was polished well simply by rotating the gem to see how light moves across its surface. You should see a fluid flow of light, no snaking up and down.
Rating By Carat-Weight
Most buyers are aware that diamonds and other precious gems are weighed in carats or “ct.” What many people don’t realize is how precise this weighing system is.
One metric carat is equivalent to one-fifth of a gram, which is about the weight of a tiny paperclip. From there, the metric carat is broken down by 100.
When diamonds are weighed, they record to the thousandth of a carat and then rounded to the nearest hundredth. This means that the slightest weight difference, utterly invisible to the naked eye, can mean substantial price differences in a quality diamond.
Gemstones are weighed in the same manner. Particularly with rarer stones, the tiniest difference in weight could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars difference.
Realistically, not everyone wants the largest size stone they can get. The centerpiece is the stone that draws the most attention in a ring.
Some people crave one standout centerpiece with a large center stone, but jewelers can also cluster smaller jewels together to give the appearance of a larger piece at a lower cost. These are generally known as “illusion settings” and significantly decrease price since diamond prices increase exponentially with size due to larger rocks being less common.
Which Precious Stones Are Best For Everyday Wear?
Wearability from day to day depends on a mineral’s hardness, that is, its resistance to being scratched or chipped. This is where diamonds are unmatched because they are the hardest mineral on earth.
The Mohs Hardness Scale
Mineral specimens are rated on the Mohs Hardness Scale with values ranging from softest (talc at 1) to hardest (diamonds at 10). This scale of hardness will help the user determine how durable their chosen stone is.
Man-made diamonds, also known as lab-created diamonds, have the same composition as diamonds, are still diamonds and will rate at ten on the scale. They’re perfectly comparable without the downside of displaced earth, in addition to their more accessible price tag.
Beyond diamonds, durable gemstones such as sapphires, rubies, topaz, and aquamarine are all at a hardness rating of 8 or above, making them all good prospects for daily wear.
Why Are Diamonds So Desirable?
Not only are diamonds insanely durable, but they have high brilliance levels and longstanding traditions as both gifts of love and representations of status. They can also be considered a long-term investment.
Nothing quite replaces the idea of a diamond developing over many years, deep under the earth in volcanic rock.
Since extreme pressures are necessary to create diamonds, they crystallize under specific conditions in kimberlite, an igneous rock found in the upper mantle of the earth’s crust.
These elements set diamonds, depending on quality and cut, between $1,500 and $18,000 per carat.
Gemstones That Look Like Diamonds Without The Hefty Price Tag
Several gemstones circulating the industry today can replace diamonds in engagement rings without losing the romanticized flair. Proper sparkling is vital after all!
The great imitator, moissanite, stands as an alternative to diamond favorite. They can easily be confused with natural diamonds—despite their utterly different chemical structure¬—because of their excessively dispersive nature.
Naturally occurring, jewelry-worthy moissanite is incredibly rare, so almost all moissanite is created in a lab for quality purposes. With similar visual properties, moissanite is considered a diamond simulant¬, meaning it is made and meant to look like a diamond. It is not, however, a synthetic diamond.
Lab-grown diamonds are synthetic diamonds because they have an actual diamond’s chemical and structural properties. The molecular structure here is meant to be that of moissanite, making it synthetic moissanite.
Being artificial, moissanite is automatically eco-friendly and is second to diamonds on the hardness scale. Ranked at 9.25 on the Mohs Scale, it can be worn for a lifetime with little worry about scuffs or chips.
Topping off this high-level durability is its extreme dispersion, refracting light into endless rainbows, making it almost indistinguishable from a real diamond to the untrained eye. Its refractive index is higher than that of a diamond, offering even more brilliance and dispersion when in motion.
With excellent stability in extreme temperatures, plus its hardness rating, this popular choice will keep its fire for a very long time.
Although this gem is developed in labs, scientists only discovered how to make moissanite colorless, or nearly so, in recent years. Because of this, a variety of colors and classifications exist. Classic moissanite (the original lab creation) is yellowish-green in color and worth far less than its colorless counterparts.
Rated by the same hue values as diamonds, moissanite splits into three distinctive classifications:
- Forever Classic
- Forever Brilliant
- Forever One
Forever Classic generally scores around J-K, Forever Brilliant between G-I, and the newest, Forever More, can classify as high as D-F. This means the best versions are comparable in clarity to a traditional colorless diamond.
Regardless of color, a moissanite engagement ring is an affordable diamond alternative. A 1ct colorless moissanite gem will probably cost you around $600.
Many women ask if moissanite for an engagement ring is tacky or if they will regret their decision. The answer to that is it depends on why you choose it.
Suppose you’re in love with the fiery aspect, the brilliantly flashing rainbow hues, or sustainability perks. In that case, you’ll be thrilled and most likely stay thrilled because moissanite is a genuinely beautiful stone and valuable in its own right.
If your only goal is to hope other people assume it’s a diamond, then you might end up wishing you had a diamond instead.
If it’s crucial to have a diamond developed from the earth for either concept or status reasons, then moissanite probably won’t keep you happy. On the other hand, as far as aesthetics go, many women fall in love with the fiery brilliance of moissanite as one of the top alternative engagement ring options.
Shop Moissanite engagement rings on Amazon.com by clicking on the picture.
2. White Sapphire
A considerable visual difference exists between diamonds and white sapphire gemstones, but the diversity still makes it an exquisite option for an engagement ring. White sapphires are far rarer, plus they are often left untreated or entirely natural. No heating takes place to improve color or clarity.
Although both stones are ideally colorless, each bears its own style of shine. The white sapphire handles light differently than a diamond. Its lower refractive index and dispersion give it an elegant yet subtle silver sparkle and brilliant gleam.
In addition, the cut sapphire won’t have the scintillation, or the intense rainbow effect, that a similarly cut diamond will. This can make the white sapphire appear at times almost dull in comparison.
Still coming in at a nine on the Mohs Scale, it’s durable for constant wear but requires regular cleanings. There is no mistaking the significant price difference, especially as the weight increases. Even natural, AAA-grade white sapphires are an affordable option and will be around a fifth of a mined diamond price.
The best way to decide between white sapphire and a diamond is to know what suits you. If you’re aiming for bursts of flashing rainbow, go with diamond or moissanite.
With a white sapphire, you’ll have a regal-looking stone with a silvery sparkle. It is naturally stunning but is going to maintain essentially the same body color. This should go without saying, but if you choose white sapphire, it’s important you love it for the qualities it has.
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3. Cubic Zirconia
As far as savings go, cubic zirconia stones are the cheapest alternatives to diamonds because they are a lab creation and carry very little market value. Made famous by Swarovski in the 1980s, it offers a bright, sparkly option at exceptionally low prices.
Cubic zirconia stones range from $30 to $200, which is about as inexpensive as engagement ring stones get. Their dispersion rate is high, creating the oft-desired rainbow, but the stones have no real brilliance of their own.
Still holding at an 8.5 on the Mohs Scale, this inexpensive diamond alternative is suitable for everyday wear but may become scratched or take on a cloudy appearance with time. This sustainable diamond alternative is still a favorite for people on a budget.
Shop for Cubic Zirconia stones on Amazon by clicking the picture above.
4. White Topaz
White Topaz’s enticement is pretty straightforward. This natural stone is both largely durable at a hardness of 8, and the size selection is vast. If you’re aiming for a lower price but a true showdown size of natural rock, white topaz is for you.
Unlike diamonds or moissanites, the light refractions aren’t going to emit a range of brilliant hues but rather a grey-white sparkle. This becomes important when picking out the size of a white topaz centerpiece stone.
The larger a white topaz is, the more apparent it will be that it lacks the scintillation of a diamond. Also, if you’re using it as a substitute to traditional diamonds, check for inclusions. The larger the stone, the higher chance of noticeable internal flaws.
Despite measuring at a hardness of 8 on the Mohs Scale, white topaz may break from a sharp, direct blow.
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When It Has To Be A Diamond
There is something to be said about the unique beauty of diamonds that make a diamond engagement ring the most popular choice for newlyweds. If you are dead set on a diamond but can’t afford the steep prices, there are several alternatives that may work for you at a fraction of the price.
5. Man-Made Diamonds – The Closest Alternative To A Natural-Mined Diamond
Most similar to the genuine article, a lab-grown or man-made diamond is still a real diamond, making it the closest option to a traditionally-minded diamond developed underground. A lab created diamond is still a genuinediamond in terms of the chemical properties and appearance being the same.
Regarding the quality being like a diamond, we repeat, they still have the composition of and are actual diamonds. In that sense, you can’t beat them. Since there are fewer steps in between creation and consumer, lab diamonds cost less.
This does not mean they come cheap (they are diamonds after all), but the same grading level will be 20% to 40% less expensive than a mined diamond. You could potentially select a larger carat size, better cut, or save your money for a future fancy date night.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Same as moissanite stones, you know with complete confidence your diamond is 100% ethically sourced as opposed to the traditional diamond industry. Some consumers feel compelled to purchase “the real thing” because they don’t understand that lab diamonds are genuine diamonds with the same qualities and structure.
Diamond mining is dangerous work resulting in excessive mineral waste, and many diamond mines are located in politically unstable regions, funding civil wars and earning the term “blood diamonds.” Buying a diamond from a lab, you can rest assured you are both environmentally and socially responsible with your purchase.
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6. Salt & Pepper Diamonds
Flawless diamonds may be the rarest and most valuable, but lately, a new trend has caught on for engagement rings: Salt and Pepper Diamonds.
Opposite of flawless, the whole point of these speckled stones is how inclusions make each uniquely beautiful. Emitting a darker, mysterious vibe, they’re an excellent way to steer away from the classics for a matchless, uncommon beauty.
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7. Black Diamonds And Other Unique Colors
What creates a black diamond? So many inclusions make the diamond appear black. Although rarer than white diamonds, there is less demand, so a black diamond will remain more affordable at around $1,500 to $3,500 for a 1ct stone. There is also only one color grading for black diamonds known as, “fancy black.”
Colored-body diamonds can have an intensity between “very light” and “vivid.” Slightly rarer yellow diamonds follow them, then blue, green, and pink, starting on the low end of rarity and the price spectrum with browns and greys.
The most expensive diamonds are the extremely rare violet and red diamonds, which can sell for over $100,000 per carat, with the finest of them selling at $1,000,000 per carat.
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Diamonds do attract oils that will lessen their best visual qualities. Regular cleaning is ideal for maintaining maximum brilliance. Soak your ring in a gentle, or watered down, degreasing solution, then lightly clean with a very soft brush, such as a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush.
Do not use abrasive solutions, such as toothpaste or household cleaners, as they can damage or scratch gold or other standard metal bases.
Popular Engagement Ring Gemstones Rarer Than Diamonds
Are there gemstones rarer than diamonds I could use for my engagement ring?
Yes! Although diamonds seem to garner the most attention, several less expensive gemstones are rarer than diamonds. They can often lend a unique twist element to a ring since fewer people will be wearing them.
Increasing in value and popularity, morganite has lately become an increasingly popular diamond alternative for an engagement ring, falling just behind sapphire. The advantage with morganite is that it often forms large crystals, so there’s less of a price variation between smaller and larger pieces.
A member of the beryl family of stones, morganite usually starts off a pale peachy-pink color and develops a more stated pink hue upon heat treatment. An effervescent rosé, morganite proves gorgeous when a gold band is used for the setting.
The newfound popularity is unsurprising given its elegant appearance.
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Tanzanite went undiscovered until the 1960s and is found in only one area near Mount Kilimanjaro base in Tanzania. Although the mineral itself, zoisite, comes in an array of colors, the term Tanzanite specifically refers to stones ranging from blue to bluish violet and everything in between.
Although many purchasers aim for a darker, vivid blue as a substitute for sapphire, the beauty and appeal of Tanzanite is often the strong hint of purple that reflects alongside the blue. As a pleochroic gem, turning in in different directions and lights can make the stone appear with distinctly different colors.
One of the rarest gems in the world with a possible end of tanzanite mines in thirty years, it still runs at only $450-$650 per carat for a quality piece.
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More Rare Gems For Consideration
Natural, high-quality diamond alternatives such as sapphires, emeralds, and rubies are rarer than diamonds and fairly well-known to those unfamiliar with the gemstone industry.
On the less conventional side, red beryl, musgravite, and paraíba tourmaline are rarer than diamonds and can still be everyday stones with hardness ratings between 7.5-8.5 on the Mohrs Scale.
Taaffeite is one of two gemstones more expensive than diamonds and is extraordinarily rare if you’re going all out on incomparable rarity, and price doesn’t matter. With double refraction and a light mauve tone, Taaffeite runs about $35,000 per carat for a high-quality stone.
Taaffeite is an excellent diamond alternative if you are not worried about price.
Alexandrite runs just under the price of traditional diamonds at around $12,000 per carat for higher-graded gems. This variety of chrysoberyl bears impurities that offer it tremendous changes in color according to lighting.
The impurities in Alexandrite are what create its deep colors. In light, Alexandrite tends to appear an almost emerald shade, while in darkness, it can turn from anywhere between a mulberry color to a bright, ruby red.
The more saturated hues with greater refraction tend to be more valuable and priced higher. Much of this stone’s beauty will depend on the cut.
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Suppose you decide you’re open to a non-traditional color. In that case, it can be exciting to pick based not only on color and rarity but also on the meaning behind individual gemstones, such as a birthstone. Here is a list of a few popular examples for stones with long gifting traditions based on their meanings:
- Blue Sapphires: Loyalty, devotion, royalty.
- Ruby: Passion, love, courage, safety.
- Purple Amethyst: Peach, contentment, happiness.
- Green Emerald: Good fortune, luck, youth.
Regardless of the diamond or gemstone you end up purchasing for your engagement ring, always request the GIA or American Gem Society (AGS) laboratories certification. That way, you can rest easy knowing you actually have a quality stone and aren’t being ripped off.
How Do I Choose The Best Precious Stone And Diamond Alternative For My Engagement Ring?
Choose something you would want to wear every day. Think about color, cut, durability, and how much you want your stone to shine. Is it important that others notice your ring, or is it for your admiration alone?
If you’re picking a blue sapphire but prefer the more pastel colors, go with a lighter shade. Want to be absolutely sure you’re eco-friendly? Aim towards a synthetic piece.
If natural is essential, be sure you’re looking at naturally mined stones. Keep in mind that the grading system is based on valued rarity, not on your preferences. Picking an engagement ring is a situation where your personal preferences and happiness are the most important factors.