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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What Gems Not to Wear in Engagement Rings (or No, No, No Emeralds in Engagement Rings Part 2)

yellow gold pendant with a tear drop shaped multicolor opal and green stone
22k and 18k gold boulder opal and tsavorite garnet pendant
I know.  I know.  It's been forever since I've written a new post.  Suffice it to say I've been a wee bit busy and a little distracted. But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy getting ready for the upcoming season.  Actually my cases are really well stocked right now so it's a great time to see some new stuff.  I've got a couple of pictures of new pieces here and I will be posting more shortly (I promise no more long delays between posts for awhile). 

I thought that for today I would review a topic in a much earlier post because it seems to get more comments and questions than any other posting and it seems that I haven't been able to get my point across clearly enough (at least given the questions I keep getting).  It has to do with what stones you can use in every day wear rings (like engagement rings).  You can view the original posting here or you can just read this one.

Simple ring with an emerald cut orange sapphire in a bezel setting
18k gold vibrant orange sapphire ring
Because of the supposed issue (which really is moot at this point but most people aren't aware of that) of conflict diamonds many people today want to stay away from diamonds for their engagement rings.   And frankly I'm not opposed to this as an idea because I love colored stones.  However there is a reason diamonds are such good engagement ring stones (besides the sparkle that is).  They are, quite simply, the most durable gem materials available today.  They aren't just a little more durable.  They are a LOT more durable.  It is just about impossible to scratch diamonds unless you are rubbing another diamond against them.  While diamonds can break (you can break any stone if you try hard enough), and they can chip over a long period of time, they simply do not get scratched and they are somewhat harder to chip then most other material. 

So what do you do if you want to stay away from diamonds (for whatever the reason)?  You go to sapphires or rubies.  Sapphires come in a plethora of colors (except for red because then they are called rubies) so you do actually have a good selection of colored stones to choose.  Sapphire is 9 on the hardness scale of 1-10 and only diamond is harder.  The hardness scale is a relative scale so while sapphire is 9 it is actually much softer then diamond.

All other gem materials are truly not hard enough to be worn on an every day basis.  Some of them are more durable than others but if you are looking for a gemstone that will represent a lifetime of marriage nothing else is going to work. 

Emeralds in particular are problematic.  While their scratch hardness on the Moh's scale is actually pretty high, they are almost always filled with inclusions that make them extremely fragile.  Now if you don't mind replacing them every few years that's fine but they aren't exactly a cheap stone.  And if you're looking for green stones, this is really going to be a problem for engagement rings as green sapphires, while available (and relatively inexpensive) are not the kind of green that emeralds occur in.  They tend towards a light yellowish lime green with blue overtones to them.  Tourmalines are also too soft for every day wear.  They don't break that easily but they do scratch.  I gave my wife a 10.26 ct. tourmaline in her engagement ring and we're down to 9.50 ct. because of how many times I have had to have it repolished and she has only used it as an occasional wear ring after the first couple of years that she had it. 

Chrysoberyls, which include alexandrite, are also fairly high on the Moh's scale but again they are not as durable as sapphires or diamonds.  Anything in the quartz family or softer (this includes things like amethyst, opals, citrine, etc.) are a real problem because there is so much quartz dust in the air that the stones can actually get scratched just from that.  Opals break very easily as well. Pearls are an organic substance and they scratch very easily and are also subject to cleaning chemicals and other substances that you come in contact with on a daily basis.   

So here's what I tell people:  If you don't mind replacing the stone every few years (or if you are one of the more careful people out there every 5-10 years) go ahead and get whatever you want. But if you are looking for a meaningful stone that will be still be with you at your 50th anniversary party stick to the diamonds, rubies and sapphires.  All of the other ones will be problematic. 


  1. Great follow-up to your previous article!

    I've been looking at several brick and mortar retailers as well as some independent online jewelers to get a custom design sapphire ring. At a brick and mortar store I can obviously walk in and see what their stones look like in person but then I also have no idea what sort of reputation chains like Helzberg and Zales have among reputable jewelers as far as quality is concerned, since chains are what I have the most access to. One of the online jewelers I'm talking to has a great reputation as far as I can tell and have been very accommodating and attentive in our exchanges, but it seems they don't accept returns on their custom designs which worries me a bit just in case something goes wrong. But that policy and the fact that I wouldn't be able to see the ring in person until it's mine for ever is the only thing that makes me wary. Am I right in being concerned? Should I stick to a brick and mortar retailer if I'm already having this much anxiety? What would you do in my situation? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Shelby. You seem to have a number of issues. The first is that you aren't comfortable with the policy of the online jeweler you're working with. Many jewelers who do custom work have a policy similar to this one but not all do. Some of it depends on what you're asking them to do though. If you're asking them to make you up a ring with your initials all over it, or something with little dinosaurs running around it then you probably won't find many jewelers who will accept a return on custom work. If you're simply asking for changes in their existing work then they should be more accommodating. Or you could talk to someone like me who will redo a design up to 3 times with no additional charge (and honestly while I don't have an online sales program I am always happy to work with customers via email to work out projects---so maybe you should be talking to me). Your second issue seems to be that you don't have many smaller custom jewelers locally. I have no idea where you live and you may be right but if you let me know where you are I might be able to help you out in finding one. The third issue is whether you can trust the chain stores when looking for a quality sapphire and quite frankly I will almost always tell you no. Zales in particular sells junk for the most part. I'm not sure about Helzberg but I suspect they are not going to be selling great stuff either. The problem with colored stones is that there is no standard grading system as there is for diamonds. So while you could go into Zales and say I want a certed half carat E color VS1 clarity diamond and they should actually be able to come up with one (although since the cut determines how the stone looks that isn't always a guarantee either) there isn't any standard like that for sapphires. So you really need to actually see sapphires to understand how some are fantastic and many are just duds. People who come into my shop are always astounded at how my sapphires look because all they've seen before is the junk available in most chain stores. Pictures of stones online are no guarantee either. Often jewelers post a picture of the first piece (or one piece) they have made with a stone and then sell that one and put another one up for sale that has a new, and often, completely different looking stone. Also color corrections on computers are notoriously bad. Plus the photograph itself can be deceiving (not always purposely---some of my stones don't quite look like the photos of them because lighting on the stones makes a huge difference in how they look and the lights used for photography work is different than what you normally look at a stone under). So since you are so anxious about the process I would recommend either you work with someone local (but preferably not a chain) or you work with someone like me who will walk you through the steps of the project in a way that makes you comfortable. Admittedly, the way I would approach it would be more expensive than most because there would be a lot of shipping back and forth so you could see what is going on but for peace of mind it might be worth it.

    2. Thanks for the reply, Daniel!

      Would it be possible to email you and speak a little more in depth about what I'm looking for, and maybe see if there's a better jeweler I can visit in my area?

    3. Yes absolutely. You can email me at anytime!

  2. Dear Daniel,

    First of all, great blog! Discovered it recently and have been reading it quite often since.

    I am designing together with my partner my engagement ring. I would like to have a combination of diamonds and sapphires (either yellow or pale pink or light lavender blue) but I've heard they need to be professionally cleaned every 6 months otherwise they become very opaque. Is this true?

    Thanks In advance!

    1. Hi Davinia,
      All your rings should be cleaned on a regular basis. You are constantly exposing your hands to all kinds of dirt, food, etc. and stone settings tend to collect dirt. Properly set stones have a hole in the back so they can be cleaned but the holes tend to collect dirt as well. Any stone with dirt caked on and behind it will look terrible. I make all my customers who have rings of mine come in every 6 months for a cleaning and stone check (actually they don't have to do that unless they want to keep my warranty against stone loss but most of them do) and that is a bare minimum as far as I am concerned. Of course it depends on what you do in your life. Some people manage to keep their rings cleaner than others but it is always a good thing to have a jeweler clean them on and off because at the same time they can check that the settings are okay. If you want to clean your stuff at home a bit you can make a mix of grocery store ammonia, ivory liquid dish detergent (or any dish detergent) and water (proportions don't really matter) and scrub around and behind the stones with the mixture on a soft toothbrush. Please note that some organic substances (pearls, etc.) and very soft stones you may not want to do this on at home. You can use a warm mixture but do not heat it.

  3. Daniel, thank you for the quick answer.
    I've heard that they tend to get cloudy inside, my concern is if only the white ones or in general the lighter colors? I am more than fine sending them for professional cleaning but not sure if I need to polish them to avoid the lack of fire, which I guess it would end up downing the size of the stone eventually.

    As I said I would like to have a sapphire as the center piece surrounded by small diamonds (pave and/or halo) and not sure if those will look very sparkly compared to the sapphire.

    Thanks again!!

    1. I think you've confused the information you've been given (or someone has given you misinformation). Sapphires get dirty (in particular dirt cakes onto the back of them because of the holes in the back of the settings) which makes them LOOK more opaque but the stones themselves cannot get more opaque nor do they get more cloudy. They can, over time, get scratched which may make them look a little more opaque but that takes a significant period of time with sapphires and that is only on the surface. The gems themselves do not get more cloudy. Yes eventually a sapphire might benefit from a recut by a lapidary but a good one will remove less than a point or two in weight (100 points in a carat) when repolishing a stone. Diamonds will always be more sparkly than a sapphire. They have a higher refractive index. But that is why they make good accents for sapphires

  4. It's good to know that conflict diamonds are no longer an issue. Thanks for the info!