Looking for the best diamond alternative for an engagement ring to save a bit of money but still get that same sparkle?
Great — you're right in the place!
In this Learning Jewelry Guide you'll learn:
- What is the best diamond alternative for an engagement ring?
- Are diamond alternatives fake diamonds?
- Is white sapphire the best diamond alternative to diamonds?
- What’s the best diamond alternative?
Best Diamond Alternative & Substitute
Whether you’re considering buying an engagement ring, a pair of diamond earrings or a diamond bracelet, there are many alternatives to the traditional diamond that offer excellent value at a much more reasonable price point.
Let’s get started!
Below is our top list of diamond alternatives for engagement rings and wedding rings. Keep reading to learn more about each and how they compare to one another. On the flip side, if you are still considering the idea to buy diamonds, we have plenty of reviews and other content to make sure you choose what's best for you.
Why Choose a Diamond Alternative?
As you’re no doubt aware, diamonds are both expensive AND difficult to shop for. On average, most people spend about $5,00 on an engagement ring.
But what if you can’t afford traditional diamond jewelry or you’d simply like a gemstone that also carries more meaning?
A diamond alternative might be just what you’re looking for!
In terms of similarity, you’ll find many gemstones that can offer the beauty of diamonds at a fraction of the price.
But all of these diamond simulants and diamond alternatives are less expensive than mined diamonds. Buying a diamond alternative can help you save money and cash in on bigger stones.
Many fake diamond types, such as white sapphires, white zircon, white topaz and cubic zirconia, can make for a stunning statement — not to mention that they have their own unique properties as well.
Read also: White Zircon vs Lab Grown Diamonds
Keep reading to learn more about the best diamond alternative for an engagement ring.
Our Favorite Best Diamond Alternative
1. Lab-Created Diamonds
The first diamond alternative on my list are lab-created diamonds.
If you're not familiar, lab-created diamonds are identical to diamonds at an atomic level; however, they are made in a lab as opposed to being formed under the ground and extracted in a mine.
A lab grown diamond isn't considered a diamond simulant, but is still a mined diamond alternative. A lab grown diamond is a real diamond. They have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as mined diamonds.
Many people are choosing lab diamonds because they're the best diamond alternative for an ethical engagement ring. Other alternative gems and have lower resistance to dust and dirt. Lab grown diamonds are the best diamond alternative for everyday wear.
An engagement ring with a lab created diamond will be excellent for an engagement ring you plan to wear every day.
A lab-created diamond has the same brilliance and light performance as a mined diamond.
Ideal cut lab diamonds are just as good as ideal cut natural diamonds.
Like a natural diamond, a lab created diamond is measured on the GIA clarity scale. They are also capable of providing lab created colored diamonds.
This is where things get very different for lab-created diamonds.
Lab diamonds are often 20-50% cheaper than comparable natural diamonds because there's no longer the need to mine and protect them on their long journey to warehouses and then transported again to be sold.
They start and end their journey in a lab, drastically reducing the costs of production.
Below you can see the exact same lab and mined diamond with the same color, cut, carat, and clarity, but with VERY different pricing.
Lab diamonds are an expensive diamond alternative, but they're the closest you can get to a natural diamond without paying the same cost. Lab grown diamonds are also the more ethical and eco-friendly option to a natural diamond.
Not all lab created diamonds are sustainable, so make sure you have proof of companies claiming this. Lab grown diamonds use less fossil fuels than mined diamonds, but they still use them.
It is a great choice buy diamond alternatives to mined colorless and colored gemstones. They also carry fancy colored lab grown diamonds. You can build your own lab diamond engagement ring online.
Why we love them: They carry affordable GIA certified lab grown diamonds.
Moissanite was first discovered in 1893 by a French scientist named Henri Moissan.
Initially, moissanites were thought to be diamonds because of their hardness — at 9.5 on the Mohs scale, they’re the second hardest mineral in the world behind diamonds.
Later, it was determined that moissanite crystals were, in fact, composed of silicon carbide.
Natural moissanite is said to be from space, earning it the nickname of the Space Diamond. However, all commercial moissanite engagement rings and jewelry is lab grown.
However, while considered a good diamond alternative, it is quite different from a real diamond and there are a few well-known problems with moissanite to be aware of before purchasing.
The light performance of a moissanite vs a diamond is very different. Moissanite has a high refractive index compared to diamonds. Its higher RI gives the gemstone its disco ball brilliance.
Some love the light performance of a moissanite engagement ring and others think its too much.
Moreover, moissanites have a high refractive index of 2.65-2.69. A diamond is is 2.4. which is higher than a diamond (at 2.4). Generally speaking, the larger the moissanite specimen, the more noticeable the difference when compared to a traditional diamond.
When talking about color, moissanites are usually considered colorless, but then can sometimes exhibit a yellow or grayish hue. If compared to diamonds with a D (or colorless) color rating on the GIA scale, moissanites will appear more colored and not as ‘bright’.
The cost of a moissanite engagement will depend on its quality. High quality moissanite is separated as Premium or Super Premium. Unnamed moissanites are considered general quality.
High quality Moissanite can cost between $300-$1500.
Right now, our top pick to buy moissanite goes to Brilliant Earth where you'll get a great bang for your precious buck.
3. Cubic Zirconia
The second best diamond alternative, cubic zirconia (or CZ) is a diamond simulant that’s very popular in modern jewelry designs.
Cubic zirconia is, in fact, lab-grown zirconium dioxide and is often regarded as visually similar to natural diamonds. It was first discovered in 1937 by two German mineralogists, von Staclzelberg and Chudoba.
At 8.5, cubic zirconia scores lower than moissanite on Moh’s hardness scale, which makes it a slightly softer gemstone. Unlike diamonds, which are not easily chipped or scratched, cubic zirconia gems are not as durable, especially if they’re not properly looked after.
It’s not uncommon for owners of cubic zirconia jewelry to have their CZ center stone replaced by their jeweler due to scratches and chipping.
The kind of brilliance seen in cubic zirconia gemstones is very similar to that of moissanites. CZ stones have a higher level of dispersion of 0.066, which means they emit very pronounced rainbow flashes. On the other hand, diamonds have a level of dispersion of 0.044, which is also why their sparkle tends to appear ‘whiter’.
However, the refractive index of cubic zirconia is 2.15 - 2.18, which is lower than a diamond. If brilliance is important to you, then moissanite might be a better choice than cubic zirconia.
Because cubic zirconia are lab-created, manufacturers are able to control their level of colorlessness to a very large extent. As such, CZ stones will almost always have the same stunning colorless look of D-rated diamonds just like how this Hoops & Loops 6 prong bridal ring.
Colored cubic zirconia is also available and meant to replicate the look of colored diamonds at a fraction of the price.
Speaking of price, cubic zirconia is possibly the cheapest diamond alternative. A CZ stone is specifically produced to replicate the qualities of the finest diamonds — they're colorless, free of inclusions and blemishes, and cut in many different shapes, such as princess and marquise cut.
While a 1-carat diamond with an excellent cut, flawless clarity and D color, like this one from James Allen, can cost you over $11,000, a 1-carat cubic zirconia will cost you around $20. That’s a massive price difference, which is why those on a budget prefer CZ jewelry.
4. White Topaz
A popular choice in alternative diamond engagement rings, bracelets and other jewelry, white topazes add a quirky touch to jewelry designs.
A variety of topaz, white topaz is a commonly found, affordable semi-precious gemstone that forms from the silicate minerals of aluminum and flourine. White topaz is considered the purest topaz variety and is often lab-treated to obtain more desirable colors, such as blue.
If you compare the hardness of white topaz to diamond, white topaz comes in at 8 on the Mohs’ scale, which means it is also softer than moissanite and cubic zirconia.
This is also why white topaz jewelry shouldn’t be worn on a daily basis, as it’s very prone to scratching and chipping. Thus, white topaz might not be the best choice for, say, an engagement ring, which you’d wear every day.
With a refractive index of just 1.64, white topazes are not nearly as bright and brilliant as white diamonds. Another important consideration is the hardness of the gem. Because white topaz isn’t as hard as a diamond, it will naturally acquire scratches over time, which will reduce its brilliance and give it a dull, cloudy look.
To maximize the brilliance of white topaz jewelry, choose a stone that is clean to the naked eye as any inclusions can further impact its brilliance. Check this one out from James Allen, so you'd see what I mean.
While the name 'white topaz’ might imply that the gemstone is white, this isn’t actually the case. White topazes are colorless gems. However, they tend to have a ‘glassy’ appearance, unlike diamonds, which have more depth due to their scintillation and fire.
Moreover, the presence of any impurities inside the stone might alter its color, making it appear milky.
The price of white topaz jewelry is far more affordable than diamond jewelry. Because they’re quite common and not as rare or exceptional as diamonds, white topazes make a great substitute if you’re on a budget.
For a white topaz gem of the same size as the 1-carat diamond we mentioned earlier, you’d only pay around $100-$150, which is nearly 110 times cheaper.
Read also: White Topaz vs Lab Grown Diamonds
5. White Sapphire
White sapphires have long been used in jewelry-making to replicate the beauty of diamonds. They're the colorless variety of corundum. Corundum is the same mineral species as ruby and other colored sapphire varieties (such as blue sapphire).
Blue sapphires are the most common colored gemstone mixed with colorless diamond rings and wedding bands. Vera Wang engagement rings all feature a blue sapphire in the ring setting somewhere.
Read also: Where to Buy Blue Sapphire Jewelry?
Usually, colored varieties of corundum achieve their intense color through the presence of other trace elements. If none are present, the result is pure corundum — or white sapphire.
White sapphire scores 9 on the Mohs’ hardness scale, which means it’s much harder than cubic zirconia and white topaz. This makes it ideal for engagement and promise rings, as they are worn every day and are more prone to scratches and damage.
In terms of brilliance, white sapphires have a refractive index of just 1.76-1.77, which is nowhere near that of diamonds, which means it doesn’t have the same intense sparkle. This is one aspect where white sapphires simply can’t compete with real diamonds as the best diamond alternative.
Diamonds display a mix of rainbow light and white light. The light performance of a white sapphire is more silvery with no rainbow light.
White sapphires are clearer and represent a diamond better than a white topaz or opal. If cut well, they can sparkle pretty nice.
A white sapphire starts out colorless like a mined diamond. They have an excellent scratch resistance. A white sapphire runs a 9 on the hardness level.
A white sapphire may not get scratched easy, but it gets dirty. A dirty white sapphire will cause you beloved diamond alternative to look cloudy. A white sapphire has to be cleaned often. If you don't have the time to clean it often, it may not be the best diamond alternative for you.
Mined diamonds are pretty pricey. A lab-grown white sapphire makes a durable and inexpensive diamond alternative. Many promise rings use synthetic white sapphire as the center stone instead of lab or mined diamonds.
White sapphire is available in both mined and synthetic form. Natural white sapphire is more rare and expensive. Natural white sapphires are still less expensive than mined diamonds.
You might find a natural white sapphire priced around $800 per carat. A lab grown white sapphire will be priced around $40 per carat.
A white sapphire offers beauty and value as a diamond alternative. It's easy to find inexpensive white sapphire rings in a bigger carat size. It's much easier to get a bigger bang for your buck with white sapphire as your diamond alternative.
Want an idea of how much white sapphire is compared to a mined diamonds?
Mined diamonds can be 15x more than white sapphires of a similar carat weight. Check out the white sapphire selection from Brilliant Earth to see what I'm talking about.
The last diamond alternative on our list is opal, which is becoming an increasingly popular option for those on a budget.
While decidedly not visually similar to diamonds, opals carry a wealth of meaning and also display spectacular plays of color that make them uniquely beautiful.
Opal is formed when silica gel fills crevices in rocks. As the water evaporates, the silica is deposited in the form of tiny spheres, which are stacked like tiny Ping-Pong balls in a box.
Scoring between 5 and 6.5 on the Mohs scale, opals can’t compete with the hardness of diamonds. This diamond alternative is also prone to scratching and chipping, so wearing opal jewelry every day is not advised.
A lot of people want to choose opal as a diamond alternative for their engagement ring. But with this hardness rating, they will get damaged and likely need to be replaced.
Opals aren’t brilliant colored gemstones. They don’t sparkle the same way other gemstones do, so they’re not very comparable to diamonds from this point of view.
However, opals tends to be referred to as ‘brilliant’ when their plays of color are very vibrant and distinguishable. The more intense the colors, the more ‘brilliant’ the opal.
In my opinion, James Allen's opal jewels tops them all. You can see it for yourself!
Opals are available in a wide range of base tones, ranging from milky white to dark grey, blue, brown and orange-red. For purposes of comparison, we’ll talk only about light opal, which has a milky white base more similar to diamonds.
Light opals display beautiful plays of color, which can go from red to green, blue, violet and anything in between. What causes these plays of color are the silica spheres inside the gem. For example, larger spheres produce red, while smaller spheres produce violet. Sizes in between produce the other rainbow colors (blue, green, yellow, etc.).
While you can find two diamonds that are compositionally and visually the same, that isn’t the case with opals — there aren’t two exactly alike.
As with other diamond alternatives, opals tend to be very affordable without compromising on value. To illustrate the price difference, let’s take these opal birthstone earrings in 14K white gold and these 1-carat diamond studs also in 14K white gold. While the total carat weight of the gems are nearly similar, the diamond studs are many, many times more expensive.
Recommended Diamond Alternative
My personal preference is lab-created, but there’s no such thing as a universally accepted diamond alternative. It’s very much a matter of personal preference.
Perhaps you’re looking for a cheap option that offers plenty of color, like opal. Or maybe you’re looking for a gem that perfectly replicates the look of a diamond without the exorbitant price. The best diamond alternative is the one suited to your liking, your lifestyle, and your wallet.
Take the time to consider which stone might be the best diamond alternative for your situation. You can be sure to find one that suits both your liking and your budget.
And if we've peaked your interest around lab diamonds, see our comprehensive guide on the best stores to buy lab diamonds online in 2023.