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Think Outside the Ring Box: Your Guide to Finding the Ideal Non-Traditional Engagement Ring



Three-stone Burma Ruby and Diamond Ring, 4.28 cts
You’ve found the love of your life, and you want to pop the question. Congratulations!



Now it get’s a little tricky. It’s time to select the engagement ring…the symbol of your everlasting love and commitment; the one piece of jewelry your partner will likely wear every, single day, presumably for the rest of her life.



Will you get her a one-of-a-kind antique ring? Are you thinking of getting a classic emerald cut ring or an oval ring? Which stone color do you think she will cherish the most? With literally thousands of options available, how do you choose the perfect engagement ring?




Ruby and Diamond Ring by Raymond Yard



First, A Little History

Believe it or not, diamonds weren’t always the most popular stone for engagement rings. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and even pearls were often the preferred gemstones chosen to symbolize one’s love and commitment to another, especially amongst the upper classes.



Diamonds gained some popularity in the 15th century after Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented his bride with the first recorded diamond engagement ring, but rings featuring unique settings of brilliantly colored stones remained in favor. For example, Napoleon presented Josephine with an elegantly simple sapphire and diamond engagement ring while Prince Albert popped the question to the young Victoria with a serpent shaped-ring that featured a glorious emerald, the Queen’s birthstone.






Things changed in the mid-1800s when the discovery of massive South African mines made diamonds much more accessible. Diamond engagement rings abounded, though most featured small, inferior stones. Prompted by ad campaigns sponsored by the burgeoning diamond industry, young men were persuaded that only a diamond could adequately and properly profess one’s love. Young girls swooned at the prospect of a diamond engagement ring…the ultimate prize of courtship.



In the late 1940s, the diamond powerhouse DeBeers launched a game-changing ad campaign that proclaimed “A Diamond Is Forever,” thus sealing the white diamond's status as the quintessential engagement stone.



For nearly a century, the diamond engagement ring has ruled as the de facto choice for young couples. And, while the clear, white diamond is still the overwhelming favorite for traditional engagement rings, an increasing number of couples are opting for less predictable and more uniquely personal options, including rare colored gemstones and brilliantly colored diamonds.



Choosing the Ideal Non-Traditional Engagement Ring

An antique engagement ring should reflect the personality, passion and unique style of your bride-to-be, and that might mean looking past the traditional diamond solitaire. Rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and a myriad of colored diamonds and gemstones are stunning alternatives to diamonds, with each possessing its own special meaning and character.





Burma Cabochon Ruby Ring, 6.31 Carats



So, how do you choose? We’ve put together a few helpful tips to assist you in selecting the perfect engagement ring.



Match the stone to your loved ones personality or to the traits you love most about her. Is your partner the life the party or more introspective? Does she love the latest fashion trends, or does she stick to the classics? Do you most cherish her loyalty, her courage, her sense of humor? Colored gemstones possess their own personality and deep-rooted symbolism; and finding the stone that best matches your mates unique qualities will add a deeper level of meaning to your unique engagement ring. (See the gemstone guide below)



Match the ring’s setting to your loved one’s style. Is she modern and edgy, or does she lean more toward classic or vintage styles? Does she prefer high heels or tennis shoes? Your non-traditional ring’s setting, as well as the primary stone, should complement, not contrast with her style. However, choosing a non-traditional engagement ring doesn’t mean you have to abandon tradition altogether. While you could choose a setting that defies all convention,  you could also opt for a classic design that simply substitutes a colored gemstone for the traditional white diamond.



Consider your partner’s lifestyle and hobbies. Careers such as those in the scientific or medical field, or  hobbies like hiking, gardening or sports could put extra wear and tear on a ring or expose it to chemicals and abrasives. You’ll want to select a stone whose durability is most compatible with your partner’s lifestyle. (See the gemstone guide below)



Don’t forget about colored diamonds. From brilliant yellows and oranges, to subtle pinks and blues, a rare colored diamond ring may be the perfect choice that melds tradition with that splash of singularity you are seeking in an engagement ring.



Consider Color. For colored gemstones, color is all-important and their value is largely determined by the overall color, or basic body color, of the stone. The color of a gemstone is determined by its hue (overall first impression of the color), saturation, and tone. As a general rule, the brighter and more vivid the color, the better. Whether you choose an antique opal ring or an antique emerald ring, make sure you understand and examine the gem’s history and value.



Consider Quality and Carat Size. As with diamonds, it is important to consider quality factors, such as carat, cut, and color when selecting a colored gemstones. Like diamonds, colored gemstones can be found in an endless variety of cuts and carat weights and it often comes down to personal preference when choosing your stone’s shape and size. But, you should always look for stones with good symmetry, pleasing proportions, and a fine finish.



Consider Clarity. Unlike diamonds, whose clarity is scrutinized under magnification, a gemstone’s clarity, or level of inclusions, is often judged with the “naked eye.” Unless a microscopic inclusion has the potential to affect the stability and face-up appearance of the stone, these minor imperfections do not always affect the value of a colored gemstone. In some cases, especially with rubies, small inclusions can even improve the appearance of the stone -  adding value and increasing rarity.







Emerald and Diamond Ring, 6.02 Carats



Consider the cost. Budget might not be the most romantic consideration when it comes to choosing an engagement ring, but it is likely the most important. Prices for non-traditional engagement ring stones are wide ranging, from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars. Many colored gemstones are readily accessible, combining extraordinary beauty with great affordability. Other colored gemstones such as Kashmir sapphires, Colombian emeralds, and Burma rubies, are extremely rare and highly desirable and can command premium prices that can often outpace even the finest diamonds.



Work with a reputable jeweler to find the perfect gemstone for the perfect price. Selecting the right jeweler can be one of the most important steps in ensuring your success in discovering the perfect engagement ring. Ask about their qualifications and expertise in dealing with fine gemstones. Will the jeweler offer you personalized service? Ask about their guarantee and return policy up front and confirm that the return policy extends past the date of your proposal. Most jewelers will also offer third-party certification from organizations such as the Gemological Institute of America, when available for a particular stone.



Which Stone is the Right Stone for Your Non-Traditional Engagement Ring?

Colored gemstones can be found in a veritable rainbow of colors, prices, shapes and sizes, each with its own particular merits. Below we concentrate on three of our favorite gemstones, along with the pros and cons to consider when selecting them for an engagement ring.



Known as the “Big Three”, sapphires, emeralds and rubies are considered among the finest of all gemstones and are historically the most popular alternative, non-diamond engagement rings.






Burma Sapphire Ring, 10.30 Carats



Sapphires are one of the most popular non-traditional engagement stones, second only to diamonds, and for good reason. Blue sapphires have, since antiquity, represented honesty, loyalty, purity and trust. And, this versatile stone is available in a full spectrum of colors from vivid yellows and pinks, to fiery oranges and delicate greens. Kashmir Sapphires, Burma Sapphires, Ceylon Sapphires, Padparadscha Sapphires and Bubblegum Pink Sapphires are among the most coveted, and costly, of all colored gemstones.






    • Loyalty, honesty, purity, trust, wisdom, faithfulness


    • September’s birthstone





    • Available in many different colors, including purple, the important Padparadscha and green, among others


    • Available in a wide range of prices


    • Available in almost any shape and cut


    • Quite durable, measuring a 9.00 hardness on the Mohs scale. As with most gemstones, it is recommended that sapphire jewelry be removed during any strenuous sports or activities.


    • Perfect for daily wear


    • Easy to clean with warm water and mild soap





    • Extreme temperature fluctuations can affect the color of the stone



Many sapphires available on the market have been treated with heat to enhance and improve the face up color. Those that have not received any heat treatment - whose striking color is natural all on its own - are quite rare and therefore demand a higher premium. Simply ask if the sapphire you are considering has been treated to enhance its color. While some treatments such as heat are acceptable for some sapphires, you should steer clear of dyed stones or those using unconventional treatments.



Color is all important for the sapphire variety. While each color range is graded differently, the ideal color is that of a medium to medium dark tone and high saturation.




Princess Diana’s 18-carat sapphire and diamond ring just may be the most famous sapphire engagement ring of all time. Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with his mother’s celebrated ring in 2011.


Emperor Napoleon presented Josephine with a blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring. In what is known as a “toi et moi” or “You and Me” setting featuring offset jewels, the ring sold for close to $1,000,000 at auction in 2013.

(Looking for a one-of-a-kind ring to add to your jewelry collection? Shop our collection of estate sapphire rings now!)







Colombian Emerald and Diamond Ring, 3.04 Carats



Emeralds have captivated mankind for thousands of years and were revered for their perceived mystical powers. For centuries, they been the engagement stone of choice for royals like Queen Victoria and style icons like Jackie Kennedy.  A symbol of love and rebirth, emeralds are also known as the gem of Venus. Unlike sapphires, emeralds are almost solely judged on their singular green color. Deeper, more vivid hues command higher prices and those hailing from the famous Colombia mines are considered among the finest and most valuable of all gemstones.






    • Love, eternity, rebirth, fertility, nature, courage, hope


    • May’s birthstone





    • Available in various cuts, though the emerald cut is the most classic and most popular


    • Available in a wide range of prices


    • With proper care, emeralds can last for generations





    • Apt to be included, more so than other gemstones, and these clarity characteristics can weaken the durability of the stone


    • Measures 7.5 to 8.0 on the Mohs Hardness Scale


    • Routine care must be taken to protect the stone


    • If treated, the stone may need to be re-treated to maintain it’s appearance


    • Special care in cleaning is required, ultrasonic and steam cleaners can weaken fractures



When selecting an emerald, color is key. Look for stones with a vivid intensity or saturation. Even slight variances in the secondary hue can drastically affect price. When considering a fine emerald engagement ring, a reputable and knowledgeable jeweler is critical in making an informed and thoughtful selection.



Opt for stones that have been minimally treated or not treated with oil or heat. In many cases, oil is often injected into emeralds to improve the appearance of inclusions and this treatment may have to be repeated over time to maintain that appearance.





When Prince Albert presented a young Queen Victoria with an engagement ring in the form of a gold snake set with an emerald, it sparked a trend for serpentine jewelry. Representing eternal love, passion and commitment, the serpent ring was a fitting adornment for this couple, whose extraordinary love story has become legendary.



Then U.S. Representative John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier with a 2.88-carat emerald and baguette diamond ring in 1953. In 1962, Jackie redesigned the ring to include an additional 2.88-carat square-cut diamond. The ring is now part of the JFK Presidential Library Collection.







Burma Ruby and Diamond Ring, 3.95 Carats


Long considered the Stone of Kings, it was once believed that rubies could secure eternal love and happiness. Perhaps more than any other colored gemstone, the ruby represents the ideals of love, passion and romance, making it an ideal symbol of betrothal. While the rarest and most desirable stones hail from Burma and possess an extraordinary richness and depth of color, stones hailing from other mines around the globe present fine opportunities to acquire an exceptional stone.






    • Love, passion, romance, power, desire, courage, prosperity


    • July’s birthstone





    • Quite durable, measuring a 9.00 hardness on the Mohs scale, just under diamonds and on par with sapphires.


    • Perfect for daily wear


    • Undeniably magnificent. There is no mistaking the brilliant red of a fine ruby.


    • Available in a wide range of prices


    • Available in almost any shape and cut


    • Easy to clean with warm water and mild soap





    • If you are looking for a large stone, rubies weighing over 5 carats are exceedingly rare.



Just like emeralds and sapphires, color is key. Those rubies with a lively, bright pure red tone are not only the most sought after, but the most rare and valuable. Rubies tend to have black spots, known as extinction areas, that can negatively affect the color of the stone. Those rubies without this characteristic are all the more pure, bright, and beautiful.



The most important color that a ruby can display is the rare "pigeon-blood" variety. Not a term to be used casually, these types of rubies are those that display the most vivid, pure red hues. A ruby is only "pigeon-blood" if it is denoted on the official jewelry certification as such.



As with most colored gemstones, judge a ruby’s clarity based upon “eye cleanliness,” which simply means viewing imperfections with the naked eye. Most rubies will have inclusions. If a stone is too perfect, you may suspect that it has been treated. Your jeweler should be able to disclose any treatments.





Prince Andrew proposed to Sarah Ferguson with a stunning Burmese ruby and diamond ring that he designed himself. Though their marriage didn’t last, the fiery ruby was the perfect choice for this fiery redhead.



Famous soccer star David Beckham has, over the years, presented his bride, Victoria Beckham, with more than a dozen engagement rings, including one that features a sizable and magnificent ruby.



After just a few days of courtship, Prince Rainier III of Monaco professed his devotion and asked Grace Kelly for her hand in marriage with a simple eternity band of rubies and diamonds designed by Cartier.


Explore our collection of ruby jewelry to browse exquisite rare ruby pieces for yourself.




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