From classic solitaires to glittering halos, every engagement ring—like the relationship it represents—is special. And while many brides select traditional colorless diamonds as their rings’ centerpieces, more and more modern couples are branching out and choosing alternative gems. In fact, after learning about the most popular engagement ring gemstones, you might find yourself gravitating toward a nontraditional rock as well.
Meet the Expert
- Lorraine Brantner is a gemologist at James Allen.
- Barry Verragio is the founder of NYC-based Verragio jewelry.
- Valerie Madison is the owner and creative director of Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry.
According to Lorraine Brantner, a gemologist at James Allen, it’s that nontraditional aspect that usually draws couples to different gemstones in the first place. “We say that diamonds are like snowflakes in which no two are exactly alike under magnification, however, a colored gemstone says, ‘I am different!’ from a distance,” she explains.
The History of Gemstones
Even though the concept of a non-diamond engagement ring might seem trendy, Barry Verragio, the founder of the Verragio jewelry brand, explains it’s actually hundreds of years old. “The history of these unique engagement rings goes back to when Napoleon Bonaparte gave his future empress, Joséphine, a sapphire and diamond engagement ring in 1796,” Verragio says. “Before we understood the potential with diamonds, people gravitated towards gemstones because their color was evident before the stone was cut and polished,” adds Brantner.
With celebrities like Megan Fox, Jennifer Lopez, and Katy Perry choosing alternative gemstone engagement rings, Valerie Madison, the owner and creative director of Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry, encourages modern couples to do the same. “Don’t overlook this opportunity for self-expression,” she urges. “When you come across the right gem, it’s like you’re looking at yourself but in gemstone form...Color is an easy and exciting way to reinforce your style and voice.”
As you’re comparing popular engagement ring gemstones, Verragio says that similar to diamonds, the 4Cs (color, clarity, cut, and carat) are crucial to making your ring selection. “Color plays a major role in the gemstone’s appearance, especially when considering the saturation and intensity of it,” he explains. “Durability is also very important when it comes to gemstones withstanding daily tasks.”
How to Care for Gemstones
Brantner adds that since almost all alternative gemstones are more susceptible to scratches and chips than diamonds, proper care is important. “Remove [your ring] before sleeping, showering, exercising, and doing the dishes,” she says. “It is also not recommended to wear your jewelry while swimming, especially since gold and gemstones can be damaged by exposure to chemicals in pools and hot tubs.”
Once you’ve gotten the care down, though, gemstone engagement rings are one of the best ways to showcase your style and celebrate your love. If you’re considering a nontraditional stone, check out some of the most popular engagement ring gemstones below, complete with expert tips and recommendations.
Fancy Color Diamonds
While colorless diamonds might be synonymous with engagements, colored ones are getting more popular thanks to their pretty hues and impressive strength. “Fancy color diamonds are appealing to those wanting the durability and rarity of a diamond, but with an added twist,” explains Brantner. Fancy diamonds come in a variety of intensities, and the Gemological Institute of America grades colored diamonds one of six grades: Fancy Light, Fancy Yellow, Fancy Dark, Fancy Deep, Fancy Intense, and Fancy Vivid.
While fancy color diamonds can come in virtually any hue, the rarer shades include red, green, and purple. Yellow diamonds—while a popular engagement ring choice—are one of the more common fancy color hues and can sometimes even cost less than a colorless diamond. Whichever hue you choose, Brantner says if you can afford it, this might be your best option for a nontraditional engagement ring look. “Fancy color diamonds display high levels of brilliance, fire, and scintillation that you simply cannot find in other colored gemstones,” she says. “They are truly the best way to have overall color and rainbow flashes gleaming from your ring.”
Mohs Hardness Scale: 10
Coming in second only to the diamond, Brantner says sapphires are the most durable color gemstone available. Naturally, this makes sapphire engagement rings a popular choice for brides who don’t want a traditional rock. “Sapphires have long been one of the most desired gemstones for any piece of jewelry,” Brantner explains, with blue being the most common hue (and often worn by royals). What makes sapphires so popular, though, is the fact that they come in virtually every color from green to pink to yellow to purple. There are even colorless sapphires, which are great diamond alternatives for brides who still want the classic engagement ring look. In fact, there’s actually only one color the gem doesn’t come in: red.
In actuality, when corundum—the mineral sapphires are made of—turns red, it’s called a ruby, explains Madison. Essentially the rock is the same, only the hue is different. “This means rubies have the same level of hardness and durability [as sapphires] which makes them a good choice for an heirloom ring.”
Mohs Hardness Scale: 9
Beloved for their pretty green hue and unique luminescent quality, emeralds are a popular choice for all types of jewelry. “Emeralds are eye-catching and vibrant, each one showing its own unique pattern of inclusions,” says Brantner. “These inclusions are affectionately referred to as ‘jardin’ as they can resemble the foliage in a garden.” As for colors, hues range from yellow-green to forest green to bluish green, all of which pair beautifully with different metals and settings. “Fine quality emeralds have a special glow about them and with proper care, can be the centerpiece to a stunning ring,” Brantner adds.
The catch is that because emeralds are softer than diamonds, treating them gently and avoiding harsh chemicals and light is essential to ensure they live long and chip-free lives. The other consideration is the cost. High-quality emeralds are rare—rarer, even, than diamonds—so they typically have a higher price tag. The good news is that because these gems have a lower density, a one-carat diamond will actually look smaller than a one-carat emerald, so keep that in mind if you’re considering an emerald engagement ring.
Mohs Hardness Scale: 7.5-8
Known for their pretty pink hues, morganite engagement rings are a popular choice for playful brides who don’t want diamonds but still prefer plenty of shine. “A few years back, morganite had a big moment due to its soft feminine color, ranging from peachy-pink to purplish-pink,” Brantner explains. And while there might be a recent surge in morganite interest, this is a timeless and budget-friendly choice for any bride-to-be.
Morganites are significantly less expensive than diamonds, but since the gems can be rather pale, they make a great diamond engagement ring alternative. They’re also known for their beautiful glittering effect due to the way light radiates off the surface. To really highlight the blush tones, Verragio suggests selecting a rose gold setting to give your ring a vintage feel. It’s important to note that since morganites rank lower than diamonds on the Mohs scale, you need to take extra precautions to ensure they remain undamaged.
Mohs Hardness Scale: 7.5-8
Beautifully blue and symbolic of health and courage, Verragio says aquamarine is one of the most beloved semi-precious stones around. “This sea blue gemstone is especially popular with those who enjoy nautical themes and the feeling of gazing across the azure seas,” he explains. “Aquamarine’s signature pastel blue shades offer a cool blue alternative to the usual diamonds, complimenting almost every skin tone.”
In addition to its stunning hue, another allure of an aquamarine engagement ring is the cost. Aquamarines are much cheaper than diamonds, making them a cost-effective choice. Before selecting this gem, though, you’ll want to consider the fact that aquamarines have a lower refractive index than diamonds, meaning they won’t have that same fiery sparkle. Additionally, they rank lower on the Mohs hardness scale, so continued care and upkeep are important for the life of the stone.
Mohs Hardness Scale: 7.5-8
If you like the look of a diamond but aren’t a fan of the cost or the ramifications of mining, Madison says moissanites are one of the best options out there. “Moissanites are popular for engagement rings largely due to their lower price point when compared to diamonds,” she explains. This means you don’t have to sacrifice color, clarity, or size to get your dream ring if budget is an issue. Not only are moissanite engagement rings more cost-effective, but since the gems are lab-grown, they’re a more eco-friendly choice as well.
Beyond price, moissanites are also durable—almost as strong as diamonds—and they have plenty of fiery brilliance. In fact, because moissanites feature more intricate patterns than diamonds, they reflect more rainbow-like colors making for a stunning effect when hit by the light.
Mohs Hardness Scale: 9.25
As you’re looking through different engagement ring options, Madison says selecting a gemstone that speaks to you is what matters most. “Seek out a center stone that matches your personality and makes you feel excited every time you see it,” she suggests. “If great care is put into the gemstones you select, these, too, can be heirloom-worthy and will be admired for a lifetime.”