When it comes to engagement rings, diamond alternatives are having a moment. True, the most popular stone of choice is still natural diamond — but nearly a quarter of 2021 engagement rings featured a synthetic substitute, according to a report from wedding planning website The Knot, and one in 10 happy couples opted for another gemstone instead.
For many, the choice boils down to questions of affordability and environmental sustainability. Whether you’re contemplating tying the knot or simply looking to update your jewelry collection, here are a few suggestions to get started.
Moissanite is the “top pick” for non-diamond engagement rings this year, according to Shelley Brown, senior fashion and beauty editor at The Knot.
You might think, because of its rising popularity, that moissanite is a newer gemstone — but it dates all the way back to 1891, when chemist Edward Acheson noticed small crystals of silicon carbide hiding out in his heated mixture of carbon and alumina. More than a decade later, the French chemist Henri Moissan found a natural form of the gemstone in an Arizona meteor crater; thus, it became known as moissanite.
Because naturally occurring moissanite is so rare, however, those found in jewelry marketplaces are often created in a lab, according to gemologist and luxury jewelry entrepreneur Angela Cisneros. “It is not a natural moissanite and it has a lot of different aspects, like hardness and refractive properties, that are similar to diamond,” she says. “So it makes a great little diamond simulant if you don't want to spend the money on a diamond.”
Moissanite surpasses rubies and sapphires in terms of hardness; it’s second only to diamond, which is a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. (Moissanites are ranked at 9.25.) And though moissanite is a cheaper alternative to diamond, it shines more brilliantly than its pricier counterpart. Moissanite has a refractive index between 2.65 and 2.69, slightly higher than a natural diamond, according to Brilliant Earth, a jewelry company that specializes in lab-created diamonds and moissanites.
Another reason for its rise in notoriety? Diamond mining is often seen as morally bankrupt. As white diamonds fall to the wayside in favor of nontraditional options, less ethically ambiguous alternatives like synthetic moissanite are replacing the industry favorite. “They think, ‘well, if I can get something else besides diamonds, I'm being responsible,’” Cisneros says of the increased consumer interest.
Pretty in Pink
Another diamond alternative that’s gaining popularity is morganite. While buyers may favor moissanites because of their association with social responsibility, morganites seem to be gaining traction thanks to their romantic and feminine pink coloring — a hue caused by trace amounts of the element manganese.
Morganites are a beryllium aluminum silicate mineral, and are classified as a semi-precious type of rose beryl. (Emeralds and aquamarines both belong to the beryl family as well.) After its discovery in Madagascar in 1910, morganite was named after gem enthusiast J.P. Morgan — who’s better known for his large investment bank. Nowadays, the gemstones are found naturally all over the globe in regions like Pakistan, Brazil, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Madagascar and the West Coast of the U.S.
Morganites, like moissanites, are cheaper options than diamonds; they cost a fraction of what diamonds in a similar carat range are sold for. And while natural pink diamonds are notoriously rare and expensive, ranging from $10,000 to $700,000 per carat, a single carat of morganite can be as inexpensive as $300.
Of course, morganite doesn’t come with the same durability. While diamonds top the Mohs hardness scale at a ranking of 10, morganites range from a 7.5 to an 8.
Cisneros describes morganite as an excellent choice for an engagement ring center stone, but there are a few details to keep in mind. For one, morganite doesn’t play well with a lot of chemicals — so don’t clean the stone using an ultrasonic cleaning solution or an abrasive agent like toothpaste. Additionally, because of its softness, you should remove the ring when doing chores like laundry, dishwashing or gardening.
“Take off your morganite when you get home just like you take off your shoes,” she says. “That way, you're going to keep it in good condition.”