The New Engagement Ring Alternatives
Maybe he’s already proposed, or you’re expecting it any day now. Next comes the ring. But what to choose? Now more than ever, women want to channel their personal style with their engagement rings. No longer content to wear a ring they’ll see on everyone else’s hand, women are looking for alternative ways to express their unique love through pieces that incorporate colored stones rather than the traditional diamond. If you’re looking for something different, why not think outside of the box and add a little color to the ring that you’ll wear forever?
Diamonds are considered the most precious of stones, but three gemstones stand apart from the rest: sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. “They are often referred to as ‘The Big Three’ because they command so much attention in the market,” says Katherine Ward, our New York-based Senior Fine Jewelry and Watch Expert. “Various cultures have attributed countless qualities, spiritual and metaphysical, to these stones and associate them with saints and cures. I can only chalk this up to the fact that there is something eternally compelling about the depth and saturation of rich color that occurs in these stones,” she says. “If you’re looking for something truly rare, a colored stone may be the best way to signify a relationship that’s one-of-a-kind.”
Colored stone engagement rings have risen in popularity lately, both for their uniqueness and relative affordability. And you don’t have to eliminate diamonds altogether from your ring; styles with diamond accents like pavé stones, diamond “halos” surrounding the stone and diamond side stones are great options. Here, we’ll guide you through some alternatives to the classic diamond.
“Color is key when it comes to the value of these stones,” Ward advises. “Convention dictates that grass green, velvet blue and a red so intense it’s referred to as ‘pigeon blood’ command the most attention, and as a result, the highest prices.”
Rubies are said to symbolize sensuality, passion and courage. Their rich red color can be further enhanced by diamond accents, with the contrast of the pairing intensifying the overall look. When it came time to propose to his girlfriend Priscilla Chan, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg chose a three-stone ring, with a ruby at the center flanked by a diamond on each side. Whether set as an accent or a center stone, your ruby is sure to express the intensity and richness of your love. The cut of a ruby gem is often dictated by the clarity of the stone. A clear stone lends itself to a faceted cut, while stones that are more cloudy or milky are cut in a rounded cabochon to emphasize their color. “The pure intensity of a ruby is not limited to inclusion-free stones,” says Ward. “Rather, color remains the priority. Included stones with appealing color arrive on the market as cabochons, rather than cleaner stones, which are polished into faceted stones to highlight their clarity. Cabochons represent a great opportunity for a rich, intense colored stone at an accessible price point.”
Sapphire’s deep blue color evokes water and sky, and they are said to symbolize faithfulness and promote tranquility and serenity. Since ancient times, the sapphire has been a favorite of royals. The most photographed, and arguably the most famous, engagement ring in the world is a sapphire that originally belonged to the late Princess Diana even before its new owner — Kate Middleton — was gifted the jewel for her engagement to Prince William.
While a sapphire’s classic blue hue is the most well-known, “if you’re looking for a unique, big look and value, an attractive purple sapphire commands a fraction of the price that an equivalent blue sapphire does,” said Ward. “If you’re not afraid of a showstopping look, there are fantastic opportunities with sapphires that occur in yellow, pink, virtually any color, including green,” she explains.
Legend has it that emeralds, with their vivid green color, give luck and good fortune to the wearer, as well as reason, wisdom and sincerity. President John F. Kennedy presented Jacqueline Bouvier with a large emerald sparkler when he proposed. While emerald’s green color is mesmerizing and compelling, exercise caution when choosing an emerald, as they are softer and more fragile than their sapphire and ruby counterparts.
Emeralds are limited in their ability to withstand the incidental bumps of daily life, particularly in a relatively vulnerable context like a ring. “Emeralds without question offer incredible color,” says Ward. But if you go the emerald route, “hedge your bets and opt for a bezel setting,” she advises. A bezel setting frames the stone by lining the entire circumference, protecting the emerald from direct impact and potential damage. Tourmalines, which occur in green and a range of other colors, offer a durable alternative for emeralds as an appealing colored stone ready for day to day wear.
Ready to find the one? Shop our editors’ ring picks.