Man proposing girlfriend with diamond ring

Alternatives to Diamond Engagement Rings

When you think about engagement rings, often diamonds are what first come to mind. They have been a traditional choice for many years, and are overwhelmingly front and center when you search for engagement rings either online or in a jewelry store. 

Diamonds, however, are not your only option. Many gemstones and diamond-alternatives have grown in popularity in recent years due to our changing priorities both ethically and financially. Still, it can be difficult to figure out if it is okay to buck tradition or if you should stick with the tried and true. 

Engagement rings do not need to feature diamonds. Over the years, diamonds have phased in and out of popularity with some decades favoring gemstones or simple bands instead. While they may seem like the traditional choice, they are just one of many options. 

When choosing an engagement ring, one of the most important things to be aware of is the durability of the stone you choose. Taking some time to learn about your options can help narrow down your search and help you to find the perfect ring. 

The Popularity of Diamond Engagement Rings

We have all heard the phrase “a diamond is forever.” In the article How Diamonds Became Forever, The New York Times credits the signature line to Frances Gerety, who wrote it in 1947 for a De Beers ad campaign. Ever since Gerety penned it, the signature line has been used consistently by jewelers to market and sell diamond rings to spouses-to-be. 

Over the years, diamond engagement rings have come into and out of popularity, as you can see on the loose timeline below:

Source: Engagement Rings Through the Ages,

Diamonds were first used in engagement rings in the Middle Ages amongst royalty, but they did not remain in favor. In the 1700s silver and gold bands were used, and diamonds didn’t gain mass popularity until the early 20th century when they became more accessible due to the growing prosperity and middle class.

Throughout the mid to late 20th century, various takes on engagement rings from stackable to sapphires grew popular, often due to celebrities. Today we see a lot of different approaches to the engagement ring, though diamonds remain a popular choice.  

In 2013, the article How Diamonds Became Forever cited the president of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute as saying 75% of brides in the United States were still wearing diamond rings. And despite the multitude of reports that millennials are single-handedly taking down the diamond industry, diamonds are still an engagement ring staple today. 

In 2019 Tiffanys earned more quarterly profits than they expected. As people become more ethically conscious and financially frugal, the jewelry industry has made efforts to grow with their consumers to keep their profits up and keep diamonds mainstream. 

Tiffany CEO Alessandro Bogliolo spoke with the Boston Herald at the end of 2019. He feels that millennials approach marriage differently than previous generations but that the diamond is still considered a “symbol of love” to the current generations. 

Tiffanys is working to be more transparent about their diamond sources with their customers, and continue to see the same sale numbers for diamond engagement rings they have for years. 

Popular Gemstones for Engagement Rings

Gemstone ring the precious gift

According to a 2019 article from CNBC, more and more people are attracted to the idea of an engagement ring that features a colored or semi-precious stone. Due in part to our changing priorities, this trend is easier on the wallet and gives the newly engaged a chance to customize their ring to their personal style and tastes.  

One of the reasons that diamonds are a popular ring choice is because of their durability. When choosing a gemstone engagement ring, you should keep in mind that certain gemstones are not as hard as others, and can become damaged more easily. 

The Mohs Hardness Scale rates gemstone and mineral hardness. For context, a diamond is rated 10/10, a high hardness rating. Dust is a 7/10, meaning that any gemstone rated a 7 or below could be scratched by dust. 

GemstoneMohs Hardness RatingAverage Engagement Ring Starting Price

These gemstones are all rated at a level that make them durable diamond alternatives when you are looking for a unique engagement ring.

Other popular gemstones and diamond alternatives might not be great options for engagement rings due just to their rating on the Mohs scale. For example, opals are beautiful, often luminescent stones but they rate just a 5.5. Similarly, pearls can rate as low as 2.2 and Turquoise is generally a 5 to 6. 

Related: 15 Different Types of Stones for Wedding Rings

5 Reasons to get a Diamond Engagement Ring

Diamonds have been the traditional choice for engagement rings for many years. While this was due in part to the diamond industry and big wigs like De Beers encouraging this trend through ad campaigns, that doesn’t mean that diamonds aren’t a practical choice. 

1. Diamonds are Durable

  • Diamonds are a 10/10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale
  • You will want your engagement ring to last for many years, and to be durable enough to withstand whatever the wearer puts it through. 

2. Diamonds are Traditional

  • Many people imagine a diamond when they think of an engagement ring. 
  • While some people prefer the look of a gemstone engagement ring, others will prefer the traditional look of a diamond ring. 

3. Diamonds Have a Clean Look

  • The clear, bright look of a diamond will go with everything
  • With changing trends, a diamond is something that never looks jarringly out of style.

4. Affordable Synthetic Diamonds are Available

  • According to an article by CNBC, “70% of millennials said they would consider buying a lab-grown diamond.” 
  • Synthetic diamonds are made ethically in labs and are much more affordable than real diamonds

5. Ethically Sourced Diamonds are Available

  • One concern people have about diamonds is the source. Many do not want to contribute to the unethical circumstances that surround the diamond industry
  • Some businesses are transparent about the source of their diamonds and allow you to buy with a clearer conscious. 

Diamond Alternatives That Look Like Diamonds

Gold ring with white zirconia enchased

If you do not want to buy a diamond but like the look of diamonds, there are some options available to you. 

Diamond-Like AlternativeMohs Hardness RatingAverage Engagement Ring Starting Price
White Sapphire9/10Synthetic:
Moissanite (synthetic)9.5/10$500

Cubic zirconia is a popular diamond alternative due to its price and structure. It is probably the best diamond alternative in terms of appearance, and it is man-made, making it a great contender for an ethically sound choice. 

Quartz is cutting close to being too low on the Mohs Hardness Scale at a 7/10, so it may not be your best option for durability. However, it is an attractive stone and some quartz mimics a similar look to a salt and pepper diamond for extra intrigue. 

Sapphire has a high rating for durability and is a fraction of the price of a real diamond. They do not scintillate like diamonds (emit light flashes) but they do shine and sparkle in their own way. 

Synthetic Moissanite rates the hardest of any diamond-like alternative and boasts a refractive index that is similar to that of a diamond as well.  

Simple Engagement Bands

Young man is taking off the wedding ring. Close up view. Divorce concept

While traditionally the engagement ring is a bit flashier than the wedding ring, it is perfectly acceptable to go with a simple band with no gemstones or diamonds at all. 

Diamonds and gemstones became popular as the middle class grew and prospered towards the end of the Victorian Era and into the Edwardian Era, but prior to that different types of bands were the most common options. 

In the 1700s gold and silver bands were used for engagement rings, and at the beginning of the Victorian Era, band motifs were popular, ranging from hearts to snakes, a symbol of eternity. More recently, in the 1950s Audrey Hepburn popularized stackable engagement bands. 

Bands can be a more practical option for long-term wear, as protruding gemstones or diamonds can scratch objects, catch on clothing or generally get in the way. 

Options for band metals include:

  • Yellow or white gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten

Both tungsten and titanium are durable, tough metals that can hold up to wear and tear better than other metals. Tungsten is the toughest, rating between 7.5 and 9 on the hardness scale. Titanium falls around a 6.

Gold and silver are both rated fairly low on the Mohs Hardness Scale and are considered to be reasonably soft. However, they are popular options for their appearance. Platinum is a bit more durable than gold and silver, and that is reflected in the price difference between the three. 

Most of these options can be scratched through daily use, but don’t let that deter you. You or a jeweler can polish and buff your bands back to new more easily than you could restore a gemstone, especially if you make an effort to take good care of your ring. 

Key Takeaways

  • Diamonds do not have to be featured on your engagement ring
  • Gemstones engagement rings have become popular in recent years
  • Budget, ethics and style can be factored into choosing your ring
  • Many diamond alternatives give the look of a diamond without the price or sourcing concerns
  • Engagement bands with no stones are also a valid option. 

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