The classic diamond ring as we know it has only been around for a little over 100 years. Developed and marketed by the diamond industry it became the must-have accessory for all of the newly engaged. But the times they are a-changing! Alternative engagement rings are becoming more and more popular.
Diamonds aren’t for everyone and nor should anyone be ever made to feel that diamonds must be for everyone. More and more people in Toronto and around the world are looking to non-diamond gemstone alternatives for their non-traditional engagement rings.
There are so many beautiful gemstones to choose from but some are more suitable to be set in an engagement ring than others. The most important thing to keep in mind is the durability of the stone. It needs to be tough enough to stand up to everyday wear.
This is one of the reasons why diamonds have been such a popular choice for engagement rings. Diamonds are exponentially harder than any other gemstone. That being said, there are plenty of other tough, beautiful gemstones to choose from.
A Ranking of the Most Durable Gemstones to use for Alternative Engagement Rings
First, let’s explore this ‘Best’ category of gemstone. The gemstones in the ‘Best’ category are the next most durable after diamond.
One way to measure a gemstone’s durability is with the Moh’s Scale of hardness. The scale is from 1 to 10 with 1 being very soft and 10 being very hard. An example of a stone that measures in at 1 is talc. The only stone that measures in at 10 is diamond.
Lab Grown Diamond Engagement Ring
I debated whether or not to include lab created diamond in this article since, after all, we are talking about diamond alternatives. Lab diamonds are chemically identical to diamonds that are found in nature so they are, in fact, diamonds. But I decided to include them anyway since they are not what we would think of as a traditional diamond.
A synthetic or lab created diamond is a great choice for an engagement ring. As noted above it’s chemically identical to a natural diamond so that means it is an extremely tough and durable stone with a Moh’s hardness of 10.
Moissanite Engagement Ring
Moissanite is a newer alternative to diamond. Although naturally occurring moissanite has been known for over a century it is only recently that a bright white material has been successfully reproduced in a lab. Measuring in at 9.25 on the Moh’s Scale, Moissanite is a great choice for your custom engagement ring. It’s a beautiful, double refractive stone meaning that it actually has more ‘fire’ or reflective properties than diamond.
Recently the company that creates Moissanite, Charles & Colvard, has developed the whitest material of moissanite yet,the Forever One line. For more information about moissanite engagement rings check out my post!
Moissanite is also available in colours other than white although fancy colours are not offered through Charles & Colvard. I have, however, recently sourced some moissanite available in a limited amount of colours that is very beautiful. The main image on this page is of a peacock blue moissanite from this source. It can be tricky to find quality moissanite and that is why I always work with trusted suppliers.
Any of the “Better” category of gemstones can also be used in your non-diamond custom engagement ring without any worries. They are all durable, hard gemstones that will stand up to wear and tear. All of these gemstones have a Moh’s hardness of 9.
Natural and Lab Grown Sapphire Engagement Ring
As with lab created diamond, lab created or synthetic sapphire is also chemically identical to natural sapphire. Whereas natural sapphire is available in a multitude of colours, the colours available in lab sapphire are much more limited.
Lab grown sapphires are very saturated in colour while there’s a greater tonal range available in natural sapphire. I’ve also outlined a lot more about sapphire engagement ring choices in another post.
Below I’ve made a short description of the most common colours available in natural sapphire:
- White Sapphire: A true white but with less ‘fire’ than a diamond
- Yellow Sapphire: Ranges from pale yellow to bright, sunny yellow
- Orange Sapphire: Typically a saturated tangerine colour, lighter orange is less common
- Padparadscha Sapphire: A padparadscha sapphire is a very particular colour, either 60% orange and 40% pink or 60% pink and 40% orange
- Pink Sapphire: Typically a deep, vibrant pink – pale pink is less common
- Purple Sapphire: A ‘classic’ purple, lighter and brighter than an amethyst purple
- Blue Sapphire: Ranges from light blue to navy blue with the classic blue being described as ‘ceylon’
- Green Sapphire: Typically an earthy green, not a bright kelly green like emerald or tsavorite garnet
In comparison, here are the shades available in lab grown sapphire:
Lab Grown or Natural Ruby Engagement Ring
Ruby and sapphire are actually the same mineral, corundum. The classic colour of a ruby is described as ‘pigeon’s blood red’ – I know – gross. If a ruby is too pink or purple it’s called a pink or purple sapphire instead. The colour of lab grown ruby is that classic red while natural ruby ranges more in colour from purple-red to pink-red and all shades of red in between.
This image is a custom piece I made of a 14k yellow gold ring featuring a lab grown Chatham ruby.
Chrysoberyl and Alexandrite Engagement Ring
A less known stone, chrysoberyl is another tough gemstone that is more than suitable for a non-diamond engagement ring and able to stand up to wear and tear. Natural chysoberyl is a bright yellow or green-yellow stone.
Alexandrite is the colour change version of chrysoberyl. It changes in colour from red/purple in indoor light to green/teal blue in outdoor light. Alexandrite is quite rare and is often more expensive than diamonds of equivalent size. Luckily alexandrite is also available as a lab made stone with the same colour change properties but not the same price tag as its natural counter part.
And Finally the “Good” cateogry of gemstones. These are the ‘proceed with caution’ stones. With a Moh’s hardness of 8 they are technically suitable for engagement rings but there are other considerations to take into account beyond their hardness as outlined below.
Lab Grown Emerald Engagement Ring
You will notice, of course, that I haven’t included natural emerald here. This is because natural emerald, although hard, tends to be brittle which compromises its durability. You could select a natural emerald for your engagement ring as long as you are aware of, and willing to accept, the risks. You would hopefully be one of those people who aren’t too hard on their jewellery. You’d need to be cautious when you’re wearing your ring and keep it as safe as possible.
Because lab emerald isn’t as brittle as natural emerald it is actually a better choice for an engagement ring.
Topaz Engagement Ring
Natural topaz is available in a variety of colours. It’s often colour treated to create a more desirable or saturated colour, but the treatment is stable. Because of the affordability of natural topaz there really isn’t a market for lab made topaz. But, also due to its affordability, it is much easier to purchase a larger stone if that’s your preference!
Although hard, topaz has something called perfect cleavage (yes, that is a technical term) which makes it vulnerable to breakage. Due to the crystal structure of topaz, if it is hit in just the right spot the stone could ‘cleave’ or break off. Here are some common colours of topaz: sky blue, bright blue, denim blue, pink, green, white and yellow.
Some Final Thoughts
Perhaps the stone you were hoping to use isn’t in the Good, Better, Best list. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use it, you should do you after all. It just means that you will need to take the time and do some research on the stone of your choice. Then you will know the risks involved before selecting it for your engagement ring. Unfortunately, you will need to prepare yourself for the possibility that the stone may break. You’ll want to keep that in mind when budgeting how much you’d like to spend.
Below are some further lists of gemstones that I would classify as ‘Proceed with Caution’ and ‘Absolutely Do Not Use’:
Proceed with Caution:
Aquamarine, Emerald, Garnet (any kind), Morganite, Spinel, Tourmaline, Zircon
Absolutely Do Not Use:
Cubic Zirconia, Onyx, Opal, Pearl, Peridot, Quartz (any kind), Tanzanite
It’s impossible to predict how a stone will wear. Some people can wear an emerald ring every day for a lifetime without any problems. Others can break the stone within the first few weeks of wear. At the end of the day nothing is indestructible, not even diamond.
Whatever you choose, keep in mind that an engagement ring is almost like a car. It will last longer and look better if you bring it in for regular servicing every once in a while to make sure everything is ok.
If you are planning to make a piece of jewellery that will be worn everyday, such as an engagement ring, then you’ll want to make sure you select a gemstone that is tough and durable.