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By Reviewed By Andreas Zabczyk Oct 14, 2009 Updated Feb 09, 2022

Gemstone Engagement Rings

Pink Sapphire Engagement Ring
Pink Sapphire Engagement Ring

It took the diamond industry a long time to establish the diamond engagement ring as an essential part of the culture of marriage. In fact, the De Beers consortium mounted a concerted decades-long advertising campaign, beginning in the late 1930s, to firmly ensconce the association of diamonds with love, courtship and marriage, under the now familiar slogan "diamonds are forever". The campaign was probably one of the most successful feats of social engineering in the 20th century.

More recently, however, the diamond ring tradition has begun to weaken. Many couples have strayed from the tradition and started to look seriously at colored stone engagement rings as an alternative. There appear to be several reasons for this. One reason is the publicity surrounding "blood diamonds" - diamonds mined in war zones and sold to fund armies. Another reason is that some consumers have become aware that diamonds are actually not rare and that the high prices are maintained by a cartel that controls the supply and distribution. Yet another reason is that colorless diamonds don't display much individuality; they are in fact commodity products that are produced by the millions. Unless you have a great deal of money, it is rather difficult to purchase a truly unique diamond engagement ring.

Unheated Blue Sapphire from Tanzania
Unheated Blue Sapphire from Tanzania

In addition to these reasons, one cannot discount the effect of the famous blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring that Prince Charles gave to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. His brother, Prince Andrew, continued the trend when he presented a 'pigeon blood' ruby and diamond ring to Sarah Ferguson upon their engagement in 1986. Consumers now had both pro and anti-establishment reasons to move them toward colored stone engagement rings.

Burmese Ruby
Burmese Ruby

The jewelry industry has not been very effective in marketing colored stones for engagement rings, and undoubtedly the diamond industry has exerted pressure on the trade to keep retailers in the diamond camp. Thus many couples who select an engagement ring with a colored gemstone do it as a project that involves selecting a stone and then a ring design and setting. The result is typically a truly personalized ring.

Since engagement rings need to be very durable, the most popular colored gems for this purpose are sapphire and ruby, since they have excellent hardness (9 on the Mohs scale) and no cleavage. Other good choices include spinel, aquamarine and some of the garnets. Some very popular colored gems, such as tanzanite, are not a good choice for engagement rings due to their lack of durability.

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