Looking for the best alternative to buying a diamond 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 are the best alternatives to diamonds for engagement rings?
- How do the prices compare for each options?
- How do the colors change for each options?
- And much more!
Let’s get started!
Top 6 Best Diamond Alternatives
Below is our top list of diamond alternatives for engagement rings and wedding rings. Next to each, I listed the best place to buy for your conveniance. Keep reading to learn more about each and how they compare to one another.
Why Choose a Diamond Alternative?
As you’re no doubt aware, diamonds are both expensive and difficult to shop for.
Before you can actually start looking for diamond jewelry, you need to have a good understanding of the four Cs: carat, color, clarity and cut.
These four elements will determine both the diamond price and its beauty, so they can help you find a product that offers great value and doesn’t break the bank.
What if you can’t afford 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. Many diamond alternatives, such as white sapphires, white topazes and cubic zirconia, can make for a stunning statement — not to mention that they have their own unique properties as well.
Keep reading to learn more about the best diamond alternatives.
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, just they are made in a lab as opposed to being formed under the ground.
Lab created are gaining a ton of popularity in recent days because they are so much cheaper than their earth counterparts as well as a more ethical solution to buying diamonds because it is easier to ensure they are not sourced from conflict zones.
Check below to see a screenshot I pulled from Google Trends showing you how over the last 5 years things have exploded.
When it comes to brilliance, they are identical because again, lab-created diamonds are actually diamonds made from carbon atoms opposed to cubic zirconia, which are not actually made from carbon, but are made from synthetic zirconium dioxide. So the fire and scintillation you'd get from a natural diamond will be the same for a comparable lab diamond.
Again, the color of lab-created diamonds are the same. They follow the same color grading scale as do normal diamonds, which colorless being "D" and very tinted being S - Z grade.
This is where things get very different for lab-created diamonds. Lab diamonds are often half the price of normal 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 their journey in a lab and end their journey in a lab, which drastically reduces the costs needed to bring them to market for sale.
Below you can see the exact same diamond with the same color, cut, carat, and clarity, but with VERY different pricing.
The lab created is less than half the cost!
This is why lab diamonds are #1 on my list, because you essentially get the same thing for less than half the cost and check the box on you being a more ethical consumer.
Right now our #1 recommended place to buy lab diamonds is James Allen with Clean Origin being a close second with better pricing but less selection.
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.
What makes moissanites truly unique is their exceptional rarity. That’s why the moissanite available today is synthetically produced in laboratories. However, while considered a good diamond alternative, moissanite is quite different from a real diamond.
First, moissanites exhibit a different kind of brilliance compared to diamonds, which is partly because their faceting pattern is also different. While a diamond reflects light in three ways (brilliance, fire and scintillation), moissanite emits very vivid rainbow flashes that can be compared with a “disco ball” effect.
Moreover, moissanites have a refractive index of 2.65-2.69, 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’.
If you’re looking for a cheaper diamond alternative, you’ll be pleased to know that moissanite jewelry comes with a very affordable price tag. The main factors that influence the cost of moissanite jewelry are the gem size and whether it’s Premium or Super Premium. Of course, the precious metal used to create the piece and the presence of any additional stones can increase the cost.
Right now, our top pick to buy moissanite goes to Helzburg diamonds. Brilliant Earth also sells moissanite but there pricing tends to be 20-30% higher than Helzburg.
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 real 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.
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.
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.
5. White Sapphire
White sapphires have long been used in jewelry-making to replicate the beauty of diamonds. They're a variety of corundrum, which is the same metal species that also includes ruby and other colored sapphire varieties (such as blue sapphire).
Usually, colored varieties of corundrum achieve their intense color through the presence of other trace elements. If none are present, the result is pure corundrum — 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.
Unlike white topazes, white sapphires are, in fact, quite white and not as colorless as diamonds. Their body color can be cloudy or milky sometimes, which can make them appear dull and quite unattractive. That’s why choosing a colorless white sapphire can make all the difference to the beauty of the jewelry.
It goes without saying that diamonds are the priciest of all gemstones, so if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, then white sapphire might be more appealing. They offer beauty as well as excellent value for your money, which means you can get a bigger carat size without paying an exorbitant price.
Generally speaking, you can expect to pay up to 15 times less for a white sapphire compared to a diamond of similar carat weight.
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. Because of this, they’re also more prone to scratching and chipping, so wearing opal jewelry every day is not advised.
Opals aren’t brilliant 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 tens 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.
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 7mm opal stud earrings in 14K white gold and these 1-carat diamond studs also in 14K white gold. While the size of the gems is very similar (7mm opal versus 6.5mm diamond), the diamond studs are 14 times more expensive.
What Is the Best 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.
Take the time to consider the diamond alternatives we’ve discussed above as you’re sure to find one that suits both your liking and your budget.