8 Gemstones for Diamond-Alternative Engagement Rings

Over the past 10-15 years, the wedding industry has seen a continuous shift towards personalisation in every aspect, from décor and destination to preferences in rings.

Although timeless traditions and classic styles remain popular, this increase in individuality and looking for that ‘personal touch’ now has an impact on every choice made on the journey to marriage – starting with the all-important engagement ring.

Throughout the jewellery world, many designers and vendors have seen a significant movement towards rings that feature colourful gemstones rather than the conventional diamond. In fact, it’s a major upcoming trend for 2020, as more and more couples are leaning towards alternative stones such as rubies and sapphires.

According to a recent blog post by London DE, a leading UK supplier of certified diamonds and coloured gemstones, the market for coloured gems in engagement rings is now seeing significant expansion. While diamonds accounted for more than 95% of the market at the end of the 20th century, it would appear that the tides are now beginning to turn!

Sean Gilbertson, CEO of Gemfields (a world-leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones) also highlighted this ongoing trend back in early 2019:

“The swing toward precious coloured gemstones is overwhelming, with robust demand prompting double-digit growth in many countries.”

A woman holding a coffee cup is wearing 3 Joshua James gold & gemstone rings

Why is this? Well, as mentioned before, many people enjoy the personalisation aspect of a more unique ring.  Although diamonds remain symbolic of commitment and enduring love – in part due to their unparalleled durability – other gemstones carry their own unique connotations and symbolism, making them attractive to certain couples and/or individuals. Picking your favourite gemstone – especially when incorporated in a bespoke design – means that your ring comes with additional meaning and originality.

Another reason is price. No one wants to skimp on their engagement ring, considering it’s a piece of jewellery that you’ll treasure for the rest of your life, but there are gemstones out there which will also last a lifetime (especially with the right care) while offering a more budget-friendly option. A 2016 study revealed that men were spending, on average, £537 on their partner’s engagement ring – while two to three months’ wages was often considered the norm in the past.

With all this mind, we’re keen to explore the advantages of the different gemstones out there. For example, what are the most durable gemstones for engagement rings outside of the classic diamond? So if you’re on the hunt for your own engagement ring and leaning towards a more unique and colourful option that reflects your personality, style and relationship…read on!

White gold ring from Joshua James Precious collection, featuring teardrop ruby surrounded by diamonds

1. Ruby

With a Mohs hardness rating of 9, the ruby is nearly as durable as a diamond. Its durability makes it an ideal choice for an engagement ring, but its rich history, fiery hues and rarity are what make it so desirable.

Renowned across the world as the gemstone of love and passion, it’s the perfect symbol for those who want their ring to capture those powerful, romantic feelings associated with taking a relationship to the next level. From a spiritual perspective, it is also believed to inspire confidence and harmony while protecting the wearer from sorrow.

Many were awed by the floral engagement ring of Katy Perry in 2019, featuring a purplish-pink ruby surrounded by a cluster of large, round diamonds. If you’re searching for a ring that will reflect your bold and colourful style and personality, then this is the gemstone for you!

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct White Gold with Ruby & Diamond Pave Teardrop Ring

2. Sapphire

This stone holds an impressive reputation as a stone of royalty, the most recent memorable example seen in the engagement ring of Kate Middleton. The ring consisted of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval sapphire set in 18k white gold, and was passed down from Princess Diana. Following the engagement announcement in 2010, sales of sapphire engagement rings went through the roof, and the jewel remains a popular choice today.

With a Mohs hardness rating of 9, it matches the ruby in scratch-resistance and long-term durability, and can actually be found in a variety of hues such as yellow, purple and green. In another royal engagement, Princess Eugenie of York received a ring featuring a pink sapphire – also known as a padparadscha, or a ‘lotus blossom’ sapphire.

For a precious, long-lasting ring that echoes regal style, sapphire offers the perfect choice – and with the option to select an uncommon shade such as pink or green, it can make a uniquely fascinating piece of jewellery.

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct White Gold with Sapphire & Diamond Pave Ring

3. Emerald

With a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs Scale, the emerald falls just behind the sapphire and ruby but is still incredibly scratch-resistant. Due to their natural inclusions (materials/characteristics trapped inside the gemstone during formation), they can be prone to chipping or cracking, therefore experts would advise to select a quality emerald with any inclusion at the centre of the gem – rather than near the sides – and to always buy from a reputable jeweller.

Despite any concerns over durability, the green emerald is another popular choice for engagement rings, in part due to its vivid, versatile colour. The gemstone can be found in a multitude of shades, and many claim that there is one to suit every skin tone: for example, if you have an olive complexion, a vibrant emerald is said to boost your skin’s radiance.

In addition, the emerald is attractive due to its positive symbolism. It is historically a symbol of truth and love, and perhaps even more importantly, a symbol of new beginnings. For those embarking on the first step of their journey as a married couple, this can make it especially meaningful!

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct Yellow Gold Ring with Emerald & Diamond Pave Deco Ring

4. Amethyst

This stunning variety of quartz is seen frequently throughout fashion and fine jewellery, and can be found in shades ranging from light lavender to dark purple.

There is often debate around the subject of the ‘green amethyst’, which you will also see in a variety of jewellery: technically speaking, this is a separate variety of quartz (called prasiolite) that is produced after the purple amethyst undergoes heat treatment.

With a Mohs hardness rating of 7, the amethyst is a hardy gemstone that is resistant to everyday hazards and will stay stunning for years with the correct care.  

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the amethyst is its name, derived from Greek to mean ‘not drunken’. In the past it was believed to prevent intoxication, and over time has come to be associated with calming energies and general contentment. While at first this may seem an odd choice for your engagement ring, to some it is the perfect indicator of a love that is ready for a fulfilling relationship that will endure the test of time.

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct Yellow Gold with Amethyst & Diamond Pave Oval Cocktail Ring

5. Garnet

Everything about the garnet is varied and colourful, from its eventful history to its rich colour palette. Although generally it is the red garnet that first pops into everyone’s head, it actually exists in a rainbow of colours, including green, orange, purple and even blue. Found throughout ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the garnet has been used in jewellery for thousands of years.

Throughout history, the garnet has remained a symbol of love and friendship, making it the ideal choice for an engagement ring. It is also particularly meaningful to couples who may have to spend periods of times apart for whatever reason, thanks to a Greek myth about Persephone and Hades: according to this story, the garnet symbolises a swift and safe return to your lover.

Ranging from 6.5 to 7.5 in hardness, certain garnets will be more prone to common wear and tear – anything under 7 can be scratched by everyday hazards such as household dust – but don’t let this put you off! A high quality garnet will remain beautiful for years, and will generally make a much more affordable engagement ring than the other gemstones mentioned previously.  

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct Yellow Gold with Garnet & Diamond Oval Ring

6. Aquamarine

The obvious choice for any lovers of the sea, the aquamarine has evolved over time to become more than just a protective stone for sailors. Today, it is used to symbolise the overcoming of stormy waters in more than just the physical sense, and can therefore offer a meaningful choice for certain couples as an engagement stone. A symbol of faithfulness, courage and clear communication, it is brimming with positive energy.

As a further bonus, it has a hardness rating of 7.5 to 8, meaning that it will last a lifetime with proper care and servicing.

Many people are drawn to aquamarine due to its unique sea-green colouring, which is considered flattering for many skin tones as well as eye-catching. Lighter varieties of the gemstone can even be mistaken for diamonds!

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct White Gold with Aquamarine & Diamond Pave Ring

7. Pearl

Once considered old-fashioned, the pearl has made an impressive comeback over recent years, and is now seen frequently throughout contemporary fashion trends. This trend stretches to modern-day engagement rings, as more and more people are considering the pearl as their chosen gemstone.

This is partly due to the vast range of options available, from saltwater to freshwater, meaning there is a pearl for every price tag! While the most popular colour of pearl for an engagement ring is white, there is actually a myriad of colours available, with black coming in second place. You can also select from a variety of shapes, although the most favoured (and valuable) is a pearl which is perfectly round.

Known historically as the ‘stone of sincerity’, the pearl is often associated with loyalty, integrity and faith. Due to this, in the past it was a highly desired stone for engagement rings across Europe and America, before the discovery of diamonds.

Many people are put off by the hardness rating (2.5 to 4.5), which admittedly makes this stone more susceptible to scratching and discolouration. However, with the correct care – including a gentle wipe down after every wear – a pearl ring can stay looking lustrous for years!

We fell in love with Emma Stone’s engagement ring, an antique-style piece consisting of an 8mm untreated Akoya pearl surrounded by 0.37 carats of diamonds.

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct Yellow Gold with Mabe Pearl & Diamond Pave Ring

8. Morganite

Super elegant, alluring and eye-catching: this is the stone to watch out for in the coming year. This pretty pink gem can be found in a variety of shades, from light peach to vibrant magenta. It presents the obvious choice for the woman with a very feminine style, and its rosy shades will complement any complexion.

This rising star does not hold much of a history to date as a choice for engagement rings, in part due to the fact that it was only discovered in 1910 – relatively recently in comparison to the more traditional stones mentioned so far. For this reason, it actually makes a very attractive choice for many women, as it offers something new and unique.

On top of this, it has a hardness rating of 7.5 to 8 – on par with the emerald – and unlike the emerald, morganite is relatively free of inclusions. This can make it more attractive to the naked eye and easier to care for in the long-term.

Finally, this gemstone is believed to increase patience, alleviate stress, and improve communication skills. Although it might be lacking the passion of the fiery ruby, these things are arguably more important for a lifelong relationship!

Pictured: Joshua James Precious 9ct Rose Gold with Morganite & Diamond Pave Teardrop Ring 


Let us know what you think…

We want to know your thoughts! Let us know if you prefer the classic style of the traditional diamond engagement ring, or if you’re leaning to something a little more alternative in the form of a colourful gemstone ring.


In need of a little more guidance on how to find the perfect engagement ring? Check out our complete engagement ring buying guide, with advice on how to find the right size and tips on how to keep your ring looking beautiful for years to come!

And for those who may be looking to pop the question this Valentine’s Day… make sure to read our recent blog post on how to make your upcoming proposal as special and meaningful as possible!

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