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Thrifty, Nifty, and Thriving: The Best Engagement Rings Under $500

·6 min read

Yaaaas fam you totally read that right! Finding an engagement ring under $500 is definitely doable! With a little design flare and some creative ideas, I strongly believe we can make anything happen. So, I’ll be laying out some of our best options for the classic diamond engagement ring look (without the hefty cost), plus different gemstone replacement possibilities and ring concepts that might have been exactly what you’ve always been looking for but just didn’t know it yet! If you’re stressed about finding the perfect ring with a modest budget, don’t be! We’ve got this… plus honestly, I think the hardest part about this whole process was finding the perfect person to spend life with anyways. Choosing a ring to symbolize your love is the fun part, like the icing on the cake!

Simulant and Lab Grown Synthetic Diamonds

The reason we see a diamond engagement ring as the standard (other than excellent marketing) is the fact that diamond is the hardest substance on the planet. Hardness is the resistance to scratching, so when choosing a gem that is worn on the hand just about every day, diamond makes sense. Simulants and lab grown synthetics are two of the best, budget friendly, options we have to create an engagement ring aesthetic that will still look or act pretty similar to the standard diamond engagement ring. If you’re only interested in buying a natural diamond though we’ve also got the perfect budget savvy tips for you here!


A simulant is a material that will look like a specific gem but doesn’t have the same atomic composition as said gem. Essentially, a simulants job is to “simulate” a gem and can include both natural and imitation stones. An example would be something like a colorless sapphire (natural stone) or a piece of molded glass (imitation stone) that could be used to mimic a diamond because both can look similar, but neither are as hard as a diamond, or sparkles quite like a diamond does.

There are tons of diamond simulants out in the world (YAG, GGG, colorless sapphire, etc.) but the three most popular are CZ, synthetic moissanite, and zircon. Each of these will have their own pros and cons…for instance - synthetic moissanite in particular is actually very close to a diamond’s natural hardness (which I know you know is important for us)… but it can give off this extreme fire or brilliance that may almost appear fake (because it looks too good). In general, though, all 3 of these will commonly be used in place of a diamond. Simulants are really great options for the budget because they will forever be much more affordable than natural diamonds.

Lab Grown Synthetics

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

A lab grown synthetic diamond has literally the same composition as a natural diamond, but it is grown in a lab instead of naturally forming within the crust. This is significant because it means lab grown diamonds will be the same hardness and brightness as natural diamonds instead of only just merely resembling a diamond. This option can be slightly more expensive than what a basic simulant could cost but can for sure still be found within our budget and is definitely worth the small upcharge.

Basically, what you can take from this is that there are many ways of mimicking a diamond engagement ring without actually having a diamond, or more importantly, the substantial cost of a natural diamond. If you are a traditional diamond ring type of person definitely check some of these options out! But if you are open to unique or different ideas, then continue on…

Alternative Options

There are other gemstone options we have, besides the diamond, when considering an engagement ring. And further beyond that… there are rings without stones or even alternatives to rings themselves! The options become endless when you’re willing to get a little creative with it.

Substitute Gemstones

Again, boringly, hardness is still going to be extremely important for us when we are considering alternative gemstone options. Rubies and sapphires would be the next step down on the hardness scale and a good choice if you’re interested, but naturals will probably be slightly out of our budget.

This leads me to beautiful topaz! A major plus with this gemstone is that topaz comes in many colors, almost every color actually, so custom designs are easy and quite affordable. On the flipside, topaz will eventually scratch (everything except diamond will eventually scratch)… but even still, I would say it is still hard enough for an engagement ring.

Beryl gems, like an aquamarine or a moganite, are other pretty good options for us as a gemstone for rings. Their hardness is slightly lower than topaz but is still within range for an engagement ring. Morganite’s soft pink tint, and aquamarine’s seafoam shades are both beautiful hues that cannot disappoint any fan of subtle color.

morganite ring .jpg

There might be a few other popular and affordable gemstones that we see used, like an amethyst or citrine quartz, or perhaps an opal, but these gems start to get a little too soft or unstable for an engagement ring. I would never say no if these are your absolute favorite but just be aware that the softer gems will most likely have to be replaced in the future.

Rings without Stones

So contrary to popular belief, not all engagement rings have to contain a stone! In fact, sometimes the minimalistic feel of a non-stoned ring is actually preferable for some. I think this is a great chance to get a little creative with the metal work of the band. Interesting designs, like geometric patterns (imagine a band of interlocking triangles) or nature inspired motifs (like ivy or leaves cascading around the finger), are just two examples of what is possible. There is an entire world of beautifully creative metal band work out there.

wedding bands .jpg

Also, mixing and matching the metals, like yellow, white, or rose golds, platinum, titanium, etc., is another fun way to spice up the design aesthetic of the ring. Two-toned rings can add just a hint of intrigue to the band without getting too crazy, which is a nice touch for a simplistic ring.

Ring Alternatives

Sometimes the standard ring just isn’t it. Not everyone wants the tradition of being presented a ring as an engagement offering. If you’re not a ring wearing person maybe doing the ring as a necklace (shoutout Carrie Bradshaw) might fit your personality better. Or possibly a locket filled with a picture of you two, or a sentimental charm bracelet that can be added onto at every big occasion might be more meaningful. There are many forms of jewelry that could easily substitute as long as there is some thoughtfulness behind it!

Let’s say jewelry in general isn’t your flow… maybe a tattoo of a ring is? Or perhaps some kind of other romantic notion, like officially naming a park bench (after you two of course) where you and your significant other sit as a couple over the next 50 years, or planting a tree in honor of your love and then watching it grow throughout life as your love grows, could feel much more special than a ring. I think anything truly from the heart here would be an absolutely great, extremely thoughtful, way to show your love.

Listen guys, there is a whole spectrum of engagement ring options under $500 (don’t forget to check out financing options too). We have barely skimmed the surface today but hopefully you now have a place to start your search. It really truly just depends on how creative you want to get with it but just about anything is possible. Ultimately, it’s not about the cost of the ring though, it’s about what the ring represents… and what it represents is a promise of commitment and love and partnership for all of life - so no ring, no matter the budget, could ever be more beautiful than that!

Breean Mokede
Educated as an earth scientist, trained as a graduate gemologist, soul of an artist, lover of all things beautiful, and here to be your personal gemstone guru.