Colored gemstone engagement rings are hot. They’re showing up on royalty and celebrities alike. They’re beautiful. They’re unusual. And they can be a great value. Here’s what you need to know when you go shopping.
In this blog, we cover:
- Why the trend in colored gemstone engagement rings
- What’s great about colored gemstone engagement rings
- Durability and colored gemstone engagement rings
- Other qualities to look for in colored gemstone engagement rings
- Caring for colored gemstone engagement rings
- Setting styles for colored gemstone engagement rings
- How to buy colored gemstone engagement rings
Why the trend in colored gemstone engagement rings
Colorful gemstone engagement rings are decorating the fingers of royals and other style makers, reviving a not-so-new trend for adding pops of color – and personality – to traditional colorless diamond engagement rings.
Some stylistas are achieving the color-me look with pink, yellow or blue diamonds, while others turn to the world of colored gemstones to find their splash of color.
More than 200 years ago, in 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte gave his future empress, Joséphine, a sapphire and diamond toi et moi (“you and me”) ring for their engagement.
Today, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, wears what is probably the most famous colored gemstone engagement ring. A beautiful creation that once belonged to Princess Diana, it boasts a 12 ct sapphire encircled by diamonds.
Kate’s recently engaged cousin by marriage, Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, opted for a slightly orangy pink padparadscha sapphire, surrounded by round brilliant cut diamonds. The style somewhat resembles the engagement ring her mother (the Duchess of York) received – a ruby with a halo of diamonds.
In the celebrity world, actress Jenny McCarthy wears a 10 ct yellow sapphire engagement ring framed by diamonds. Ashlee Simpson’s vintage-style ring features a marquise diamond surrounded by calibré cut rubies. Elizabeth Hurley sports a 9 ct blue sapphire framed by two trilliant cut diamonds in a classic design.
For these trendsetters – and many other brides – incorporating colored gemstones into an engagement ring offers myriad options to display their individual style and personality. It’s a look that’s both timeless and contemporary.
What’s great about colored gemstone engagement rings
There’s a lot to love about colored gemstone engagement rings. First, there’s the obvious: color. Explore the world of colored gems and you’ll find a rainbow, from the deep reds of ruby and blues of sapphire, to the grassy greens of tsavorite garnet and kaleidoscopic colors of spinel. There’s a gem for every hue imaginable.
Second, with colored gemstones you can add more depth of meaning to the engagement ring. For example, you could include your birthstone and your partner’s birthstone, alone or with diamonds. Colored gemstones also come with historic symbolism, and you could pick one that inspires you. Take sapphire – it has traditionally been associated with sincerity, truth and faithfulness.
You can also use colored gemstones to send secret messages. The Victorians turned this into an art form with acrostic jewelry – using the first letter of each gemstone to spell a word. For example, a diamond, emerald, amethyst and ruby set together would spell the word “dear.” Acrostic jewelry can also be designed to spell birthdays, private messages or a secret shared between you and your beloved.
Finally, there’s affordability. Colored gemstones are a great way to add size to an engagement ring. This is especially true if you look beyond rubies and sapphires toward gems that are less well known but equally as beautiful – and usually significantly less expensive. Examples include the pink beryl morganite, the many colors of spinel and tourmaline, or intense green, red or orange garnets.
Morganite engagement rings are recent favorites with brides-to-be – and for good reason. Pink has traditionally been the color of romance, and morganite ranges from pastel pink to purplish, yellowish or orangy pink. Similar hues are seen in pink diamonds, but you can have a large, attractive morganite for a small fraction of their cost.
Blue zircon, with its high dispersion, is often mistaken for blue diamonds. Yet while the cost of even a 1 ct blue diamond would be prohibitive for most buyers, a 3 or 4 ct blue zircon engagement ring is obtainable for far less than an average month’s salary.
Spinel and tourmaline are two other gems that offer a wide range of color options and great value. They occur in colors that are very similar to those of fine ruby or sapphire, but a top-quality 5 ct red tourmaline (rubellite) could be purchased for less than a third of the cost of a comparable 2 ct ruby – delivering more bling for your buck.
One of the most exciting, if less well known, colored gemstones seen in engagement rings is the green garnet known as tsavorite. More durable and often brighter than emerald, whose color it mimics, a fine tsavorite garnet is usually less expensive than its counterpart.
With so many different colored gemstones available, your challenge will be finding one that sets your heart aflame – and making sure the gem is tough enough for daily wear.
Durability and colored gemstone engagement rings
Durability is a major consideration when searching for an engagement ring gemstone. The gem you choose must withstand the bumps and bangs of daily wear, plus the effects of heat, light, household chemicals and low or high humidity. Different gemstones have different properties and, as a result, different tolerances to these stressors.
One aspect of gemstone durability is hardness. The Mohs scale ranks gem and mineral hardness on a scale of 1 (least hard – talc) to 10 (hardest of all – diamond). Ruby and sapphire rank 9, meaning they are able to resist scratching and abrasions. This makes them great choices for engagement rings that will see a lifetime of active wear. Although less hard, spinel (8), morganite (7.5–8), zircon (7.5), and tsavorite garnet and tourmaline (both 7–7.5) are considered durable enough for everyday wear provided care is exercised (no rock climbing!).
Toughness and stability are two additional factors that determine a gemstone’s durability.
Toughness indicates how well a gemstone resists breaking, chipping or cracking. The way the atoms of a gem bond together and the strength of these bonds determine gemstone toughness. Examples of not-so-tough gems are opal and tanzanite which, if set in rings, are best reserved for special occasions – not everyday wear.
Stability refers to how well a gemstone can withstand exposure to chemicals, light and changes in temperature or humidity. Extreme temperature changes can damage some gems like opal and tanzanite. Opals can crack or craze in low humidity or with exposure to heat. Citrine, amethyst and topaz may fade or change color from prolonged exposure to sunlight. Light and/or heat can also negatively affect most organic gems – such as pearls, coral and amber – as will exposure to household chemicals.
It’s important to note that many colored gemstones are routinely treated to improve their color and/or clarity. Designed to bring out the inherent beauty of a gem, many of these treatments are widely accepted in the gem trade. However, you should be aware that some treatments can also affect stability. As a result, your gem may require special care.
For example, treatments such as coating and fracture filling can be removed by heat and strong chemicals. Although emerald ranks 7.5–8 on the Mohs scale, it is not a tough gem and is often treated with oil and/or resin to improve clarity. This treatment also disguises fractures in the stone that can cause it to break if banged against a hard surface. If you have your heart set on a green gemstone engagement ring you plan to wear every day, you might want to consider a more durable tsavorite garnet instead, reserving emeralds for earrings or pendants. Garnets are rarely treated and have good toughness.
Other qualities to look for in colored gemstone engagement rings
Color is king
Like colorless diamonds, the quality of a colored gemstone is determined by a combination of the 4Cs: color, clarity, cut and carat weight. For colored gems, however, color is by far the most important factor. In some cases, such as whether a gem is called pink sapphire or ruby, or green beryl or emerald, the distinction may be made based on color alone. Clarity is important, but for most colored gems there is no universal grading system or set of standards to evaluate clarity. And cut may vary greatly from stone to stone. The goal is typically to maximize size and color – or, as in the case of fantasy cuts, to create a work of art.
There are, however, some important considerations to look for when assessing the quality of a colored gemstone in addition to the durability factors discussed above. Many gems show more than one color. This can be an asset in a bi-colored tourmaline – for the bride-to-be who wants a truly unique colored stone engagement ring.
In other gems, such as blue sapphire, colorless zones seen on close inspection may detract from the overall appearance of the gem. And while high clarity is desirable in most colored gems, as it is in diamonds, a few identifying inclusions in an inconspicuous area (such as the culet) may ensure that the colored gem is natural (not synthetic) and untreated.
Colored gemstones also offer the possibility of certain phenomena, such as chatoyancy (the cat’s-eye effect) and asterism (a star), that are not seen in diamonds. These phenomena are caused by the reflection of light off dense inclusions of minerals in gems cut as cabochons. Such phenomenal stones provide exciting design options for a colored gemstone engagement ring.
Where the gem comes from
For some gems, such as ruby and sapphire, country of origin may also play a significant role in determining value. For example, a ruby from Myanmar (“Burmese” ruby) can cost significantly more than a comparable ruby from another locality, such as Mozambique. Similarly, there is a premium for sapphires from Kashmir, due to both their distinctive “cornflower blue” color and their rarity: There has not been major production from this region for more than a century.
Who owned it before
Another important factor in determining price is historical provenance. An antique or vintage colored gemstone engagement ring may come with its own story, and that story may have value. In one of the most striking examples, when the Empress Josephine sapphire and diamond engagement ring mentioned above was offered at auction in 2013, the auction house estimated its value at $20,000 based largely on the gems alone. Ultimately, the winning bidder paid more than $1 million – a huge premium for the ring’s storied association with Napoleon Bonaparte and his first bride.
Quality and rarity drive value
Like diamonds, colored gems of high quality are rare, so buyers typically pay a premium for top-quality colored stones. Once you’ve decided on a gemstone for your engagement ring, it pays to comparison shop to understand its quality factors and how they affect value. You should also learn as much as you can about your gemstone of choice. GIA’s Gem Encyclopedia is a good place to start. It provides in-depth information for 29 of the most popular gems on the market. You’ll also find detailed buying guides for each gem describing the specific qualities to look for, the gem’s durability, common treatments and more.
Caring for colored gemstone engagement rings
After you’ve purchased your colored gemstone engagement ring, you’ll want to keep it like new. The right way to clean it will vary depending on the gem material you’ve chosen and whether or not it’s been treated. Usually, gentle cleaning solutions specially formulated for delicate gems – or just warm, soapy water and a soft cloth – are all you need. If you’re uncertain about the durability of your gem, avoid using ultrasonic cleaners and off-the-shelf cleaning solutions.
Setting styles for colored gemstone engagement rings
Engagement ring settings must secure the gems they hold as well as show them to their best advantage. Bezels, halos and other protective settings can play an important role in preventing the chipping or cracking of colored gemstones. But who said practical can’t also be beautiful? Settings serve as an essential design element, defining an engagement ring’s style and overall look. Settings let you introduce contrasts in color or harmonize them to get just the right amount of color pop in your ring. Consider these examples:
- A three-stone engagement ring. A three-stone engagement ring is rich in symbolism: The gems represent yesterday, today and tomorrow. Wear it and you’ll proclaim that your love is eternal. The style has also withstood the test of time – three-stone diamond engagement rings date to at least the 17th century. Adding color with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and onyx to a white canvas of diamonds and platinum was popular in the Art Deco era.
- A halo setting. This setting features a circle of gems surrounding the center stone. Diamond engagement rings with halo settings have been particularly popular these past several years because they’re beautiful, add sparkle and make the center stone look larger. The halo setting is also a favorite for colored gemstone engagement rings. You’ll often see the center stone providing a bold splash of color, while a circle of diamonds or colored stones adds sparkle and contrast – as well as protection for the gem they surround.
- A bypass ring. Want an engagement ring that looks a bit different and has color? Consider the bypass ring – a style where the band overlaps, instead of completing the circle. Bypass rings were popular in the Victorian era. The sentiment behind these toi et moi rings has an undeniably romantic cachet.
Jewelry designers are putting a contemporary stamp on three-stone, halo and bypass rings with colored gemstones. Their modern updates are a beautiful melding of past and present – pieces that pop with color and life. Look around and you’ll find a number of creative interpretations.
How to buy colored gemstone engagement rings
Now that you know about colored gemstone engagement rings, you’re ready to start shopping. But where? The GIA Retailer Look Up lets you easily find local retailers who have GIA-trained staff to help you through your gemstone selection process.
To make sure you get the best value, ask for an unbiased GIA Colored Stone Identification Report. The report will validate the gem’s identity and include detailed descriptions of its size, color and measurements, along with a color photograph. The report will also indicate whether the gem has been treated and, if it has, identify the type of treatment – important to knowing how to care for your gem. Depending on the gemstone, you may also be able to get information on its geographic origin.
Need more inspiration for colorful engagement rings? Read our article on how to buy antique and vintage engagement rings for some exciting examples.