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Alternative Engagement Rings

When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s culture was based on tradition. What was done in the past should be carried on today and in the future. Example, one of our family traditions revolved around the dinner table. At the appointed time, everyone in the household was required to attend the evening meal. (I was the oldest of ten children). In those days, eating together is how we bonded as a family. We discussed current events, religion, philosophy, personal challenges and our hopes and dreams. The best things about family dinners (besides my mother’s home cooking) were the stories and jokes. We loved to laugh! There were other traditions like going to church on Sunday, taking family vacations and always responding to adults with “yes sir/mam”. Great memories!


In 2021, alternative is the new buzz word. The big one is “alternative lifestyle.” In 2021, some of the family values I grew up with are not practiced by the younger generations. The same can be said when it comes to choosing an engagement ring. Many brides are opting for stones and styles that express their own unique personality. In my humble opinion, this is a good thing. Here are several alternative engagement ring options.

Alternative Diamonds

The traditional diamond engagement ring sported one or more mined diamonds. These marvels of nature are formed deep in the earth’s crust under intense heat and pressure. The process of mining, sorting, faceting and marketing them is fascinating and remarkable. This is sometimes what is referred to as “the romance” of a natural diamond. Some alternative natural diamond substitutes are:

Lab Grown. The first lab created diamonds were introduced in the 1950’s and were for industry. Since then, technological advances have made it possible to create a purer form of diamond in a laboratory. These diamonds have the same chemical and physical properties of natural diamonds.

comparison showing a natural diamond (left) and a lab grown diamond (right)

Moissanite. Unlike lab created diamonds, Moissanite is a diamond simulant. It looks like a diamond but does not share the same chemical composition. It too is made in a lab, although there is natural Moissanite, it is found in very small quantities mostly in meteorites.

Cubic Zirconia. Also known as CZ. This is another diamond simulant. It can be produced cheaply and therefore a viable option for those on a limited budget.

White Sapphire. Part of the corundum family. Sapphire comes in a rainbow of colors including white (clear). Many like it because unlike the CZ, white sapphire is a natural gemstone.

Colored Diamonds. One great option for an engagement ring are colored diamonds. They can be used as the primary stone or as accents. There are twelve beautiful colors to choose from. The brown (champagne) and black diamonds are the most plentiful and affordable. Red is the rarest and most expensive. The largest and most flawless red diamond is the 5.11 carat Fancy Red Moussaieff Red Diamond. Its estimated value is in excess of 20 million dollars. Most red diamonds are small (less than .20 carats). Blue and green diamonds in intense colors are also rare and expensive. Yellow diamonds are more plentiful. Today they are very sought after. In fancy and intense colors, they can command tens of thousands of dollars per carat.

Natural untreated colored diamonds can cost tens of thousands of dollars a carat even in smaller sizes. An affordable option would be irradiated stones. Like other colored gemstones, colored diamonds can accept treatments to enhance their color or hide inclusions. Irradiated colored diamonds are a fraction of the cost of an untreated colored diamond.

Colored Gemstones

a blue oval sapphire center stone surrounded by a halo of diamonds

The late Princess Diana had a beautiful blue sapphire engagement ring. Using colored gemstones for an engagement ring is more popular in countries like Great Britain. However, there are some American brides considering colored gemstones as a viable option in their engagement ring due to the influence of Princess Diana and other celebrities. Some of the more popular choices for engagement rings are:

Corundum Family. This includes ruby, sapphire and fancy colored sapphires. These gemstones are a great option because of there multiple color options and they score a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. Diamond is 10. This is important because engagement rings are typically passed down through generations. You need a stone that is durable.

Spinel. This colored gemstone is not as well known but is gaining popularity. Spinel is actually rarer than rubies and sapphires. Spinel colors are, blue, green, red, black, yellow, white, pink, purple, brown, and orange. Interestingly, a red spinel was discovered in the Crown Jewels after the invention of gemological identification equipment. It originally was thought to be a ruby. Spinel ranks 7.5 – 8 on the Mohs hardness scale.

Emerald. One of the three Kings of gemstones (ruby and sapphire are the other two). Emerald is 7.5 – 8 on the Mohs hardness scale. The challenge with emerald is that it is usually highly included with long fissures. This makes emerald very brittle and can break apart under a jeweler’s torch.

Alternative Styles

The traditional choice for engagement rings is the solitaire. Here are some styles that can be a great alternative.

Three Stone. Sometimes referred to as past, present and future. Usually consists of three larger diamonds. The round, princess and oval are typically used.

Floral. Diamonds set in the pattern of a leaf.

Asymmetrical. Custom shapes that are endless.

Pave Disc. Melee diamonds pave set (small beads of metal) in a disk-shaped mount giving the appearance of a larger solitaire.

FYI, Don’t Be Scared!


Traditional engagement rings have their place and will continue to be the default for many couples. But don’t let that detour you from peering into the world of alternative engagement rings. Just a couple of suggestions. Make sure if you choose a stone other than a diamond that it is a least a 7.5 or higher on the Mohs hardness scale. Durability is very important for rings that are worn every day. For peace of mind, consult with jewelers and gemologists when it comes to picking stones and custom design work . Finally, remember that alternative engagement rings can cost significantly more than cookie-cutter engagement rings depending on the complexity of design and gemstones/diamonds selected. Take your time and enjoy the journey. Whether you gravitate towards traditional or an alternative creation, be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think!

Michael Shanlian G.G., Ph.D.
Michael Shanlian (aka Doc Mike) career includes jewelry appraiser, pastor, adjunct professor, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and leadership consultant. Doc Mike earned his G.G. (Graduate Gemologist) diploma through The Gemological Institute of America and his C.G.A (Certified Gemologist Appraiser) with the American Gem Society. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from Tennessee Temple University. He and his wife Susie live in St. Augustine, Florida.