You’re getting hitched. And according to tradition, that ancient wisdom everyone decided on without your input, you’ll need a ring. And that ring’s gotta have a big, honkin’ diamond on it — right?
It’s fairly common knowledge that the connection between diamond rings and engagement was concocted by the De Beers diamond cartel around the middle of the 20th century. If that isn’t enough to dampen the diamond-love connection, there’s also concern that many diamonds — called “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds” — are mined in war-torn areas, thereby funding the violence.
Even so, there are cultural expectations around engagement rings and the diamonds on them: How expensive? How big? How sparkly? These material questions are bound, correctly or not, with ideas about love, commitment and security. So we’re not just digging up diamonds here. We’re excavating some serious feelings, too.
That’s why it’s important to have an honest discussion with your significant other about priorities before you get engaged. You might not need a ring at all — and if you do, diamonds aren’t the only option.
Ring it up?
You’re likely to spend a big chunk of money on a diamond ring. It’s not unusual to drop $3,500 on a one-carat diamond in a basic setting, and you can easily find diamonds and settings that cost more.
Few people spend that much money regularly, and it’s worth thinking about other ways you could use it. The obvious one: a down payment on a house. Or maybe you need to kick-start your retirement savings or pay off student loans. What’s more romantic: a shiny rock or releasing your partner from debt prison?
If you want to keep that spending related to the engagement, you could use it on the wedding. The Knot, a wedding planning website, estimates that the average wedding cost $35,329 in 2016.
It comes down to this: What’s meaningful to the two of you? What makes a statement about the kind of life you hope to build together? For some, it’s a diamond. But that’s not the only way to symbolize your commitment.
If you’re set on an engagement ring but not one with a traditional diamond, there are other attractive — and less expensive — options. We talked with Jenny Seeger, owner of San Francisco jewelry shop No. 3, which focuses on alternative engagement rings. She ran us through some alternatives to the traditional diamond.
If you’re opposed to diamonds only because of the price — not in principle — take a look at colored diamonds. You’re familiar with “white diamonds,” the classic, colorless stones. But diamonds also come in hues including neutral grays, yellows, browns and blacks, and colorful greens, blues, reds and so on.
These diamonds aren’t considered as desirable as colorless diamonds for purely traditional and subjective reasons, so Seeger estimates they can be almost 65% to 75% less expensive. However, these colored diamonds, too, might be mined under unethical circumstances.
Lab diamonds are just that: diamonds grown in a lab. They’re chemically indistinguishable from natural diamonds and you might save 20% off the natural equivalent, Seeger says. And there’s no question about shady provenance with these stones.
Sapphires, emeralds and rubies
Pay attention to the Mohs scale ranking of alternative stones. This number describes how hard a stone is, or how easily it can be scratched by another substance.
The hardest mineral, a diamond, is ranked at 10. The only thing that can scratch a diamond is another diamond. A mineral with a Mohs hardness of 5 can be scratched with a knife. Sapphires and rubies rank at 9, and emeralds generally rank around 8.
If you opt for one of these stones, make sure it’s set in the ring in a way that reduces its likelihood of being chipped.
Morganite, quartz AND sunstone
These stones also commonly turn up in alternative engagement rings. Again, pay attention to the hardness and durability of the stone and setting, but don’t be afraid to jump on a more obscure stone if you like the look. Sunstone has the lowest Mohs ranking of these three minerals at a 6, and you won’t want to go any lower than that.
If you’re researching alternative engagement rings, you’ll likely find mention of moissanite, which looks similar to a white diamond and has a Mohs hardness of 9.5, so it won’t chip like the much reviled cubic zirconium. Seeger, however, prefers not to sell moissanite, as she says it tends to lose its fire over time.
An earlier version of this article had an incorrect spelling for moissanite. This article has been corrected.
Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated July 19, 2017.