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Gemstone Engagement Rings: Our Guide to Choosing Your Precious Stone

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What Are Gemstones?

Gemstones are pieces of mineral crystal. When the minerals are cut and polished, they form beautiful precious stones that can be used to make jewellery, decorate ornaments, and are even used in industry. The term gemstone also covers certain rocks and organic materials that are not minerals, such as pearls, horn, and things like lapis lazuli.

Gemstones' value lies in their lustre, shine, colour, or other aesthetic properties. They are also valued for their rarity.

gemstone engagement rings
A bespoke sapphire and diamond engagement ring during the stone setting process

A History of Gemstone Engagement Rings

Women wore rings to mark their betrothal as early as the Roman times. These were usually made of ivory, flint, iron, and copper. Gold also became popular later on in the period.

The Pope declared engagement rings as a mark for marriage in the year 850. Gold was the most popular material, and diamonds were nowhere to be found.

Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented the first notable diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. This ring featured a cluster of small diamonds in the shape of the letter M, a far cry from the solitaires we see today.

Gimmal rings were the popular choice for betrothals during the Rennaissance. Gimmal rings were plain metal made in three parts, shaped to depict two clasped hands. During the engagement, one part was worn by the bride, one by the groom and the third by a witness. The three parts were then reunited as the brides' wedding ring, on the day of the marriage.

Gemstone engagement rings peaked in popularity during the next two centuries. A popular choice was to use the first letter of the gem stone to spell out the name of the giver, the recipient or a word, such as "dearest" - diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, turquoise. Pearl engagement rings were also very popular during this time.

Diamonds gained popularity for use in engagement rings in 1947 when De Beers launched their "a diamond is forever" advertising campaign. This, along with the De Beers diamond monopoly which increased the illusion of rarity, made the value and popularity of diamonds skyrocket.

What Are The Best Gemstones for Engagement Rings?

So you want to choose a gemstone engagement ring. Minerals have different properties so some stones are more suited for everyday wear than others. This is mainly due to their hardness and durability.

Read on for our breakdown of the best stones for gemstone engagement rings.

Sapphires

Sapphire eternity ring
Channel set sapphire half eternity ring

Sapphires are excellent for use in engagement rings as they are one of the hardest precious stones. They are the 3rd hardest mineral after diamond and moissanite. They also come in all colours of the rainbow, meaning you have plenty of choice when choosing your stone. The price of sapphires can range a lot depending on where they were mined and what colour they are. Some colours are extremely rare, while others are more common. Sapphires that are completely untreated are worth far more than those that have been treated.

Sapphire engagement rings are popular with the royal family. Both Princess Diana, and subsequently Kate Middleton, wore the same sapphire engagement ring. Princess Eugenie sports a Padparadscha Sapphire, a rare stone that has a pink tint to it, surrounded by diamonds. Further back in history, Napoleon Presented Josephine with a Toi Et Moi ring featuring a sapphire and a diamond.

Rubies

A bespoke wedding set with rubies and diamonds

Formed from the same mineral family as sapphires, rubies are also a fantastic choice for durable gemstone engagement rings. The quality of a ruby is determined by its colour, cut, and clarity, which, along with carat weight, affect its value. The most valuable rubies are in a shade of red called blood-red or pigeon blood. Similarly to diamonds, a stone with good clarity will command a premium, but a ruby without any inclusions may indicate that the stone is synthetic.

Channel set princess cut ruby eternity ring

In 2021 Eric Johnson proposed to Jessica Simpson with a ruby and diamond engagement ring set in yellow gold. Elizabeth Taylor famously wore many rubies, including a ring set with an 8.24 carat gem that broke the 'price-per-carat' record for rubies.

Moissanite

Moissanite is a naturally occurring mineral discovered by  Henri Moissan, a French chemist who mistook the mineral for diamond. It is almost as hard as diamond at 9.5 on the MoHs hardness scale. Naturally occurring moissanite never exceeds a very small size. Because of this, moissanite used in jewellery is usually lab produced. It is a great option if you like the sparkle of diamonds and want to avoid choosing a stone that has been mined. Moissanite has a higher level of birefringence than diamonds. This means that light passing through it refracts into rainbows.

Moissanite has grown in popularity as a diamond alternative and uses in engagement rings has soared over the past decade. It can be available in any colour, so if the diamond look isn't for you you can consider a gemstone effect moissanite instead.

Gemstones that Require a Little More Care

Emeralds

Emeralds are a popular choice for gemstone engagement rings due to their beauty and rarity. In fact, they are as rare if not rarer than diamonds. Despite being a relatively hard mineral, at a 7.5-8 on the MoHs hardness scale, emeralds are formed with lots of natural inclusions which make them prone to breaking if struck. For this reason they need to be set in protective mounts.

Gemstone engagement rings: emeralds
A bespoke engagement ring made with the clients own emerald

Emeralds have been popular for many celebrity gemstone engagement rings. Halle Berry sports a 4-carat east-west set emerald, and most famously Jackie Kennedy wore a $1 million ring set with a 2-carat diamond and 2-carat emerald. The setting included baguette diamonds around the stones.

Pearls

Renowned for their luminous beauty, pearls were briefly the most popular choice for engagement rings. They form within the soft tissue of molluscs and other animals from calcium carbonate. Pearls can occur in many different hues and shapes, with the most valued being perfectly round. Baroque pearls is the term for pearls with uneven shapes. No two are the same, and natural pearls are extremely rare.

Formed of concentric layers of calcium carbonate, pearls are extremely soft and breakable. Pearls can shine in gemstone engagement rings, but you must carefully consider the mount that you choose to set your pearl into. Avoid damage to your stone by choosing a protective setting.

 Ariana Grande sports the most famous example of a pearl engagement ring. The pearl and diamond Toi Et Moi ring features a sentimental pearl sourced from her grandfather's tie pin.

Opals

People value Opal for its luminosity. Precious opal forms from hydrated silica, with silica spheres packed together in a lattice formation. The stone itself displays multiple flashes of internal colours caused by the interaction of light with the layers of the mineral. Due to it's chemical structure, opal is incredibly fragile and needs a protective mounting when used in jewellery. This is why you will often see opal rings with a diamond halo, or similar protective surround. Synthetic opal is much more durable than natural because it has plastic components added. A synthetic opal is more appropriate for daily wear.

The Australian government presented Queen Elizabeth II with a necklace and earrings made from the finest opal during her visit to the country in 1954. The necklace is still displayed in Buckingham Palace today, and considered to be one of the finest opals ever.

gemstone engagement rings sapphire
The completed bespoke sapphire and diamond engagement ring

Are you feeling inspired? Contact our bespoke jeweller to discuss sourcing your dream gemstone today! Gemstone engagement rings require just as much if not more work to source than diamonds due to the different aspects you may value in your stone, which is why we only offer them as a bespoke ring. We cannot wait to help you build your dream engagement ring.