If you’ve always dreamed of a classic engagement ring but don’t want to break the bank on a diamond, there are other options.
Sapphires are colorless stones that are often used to substitute diamonds in jewelry. We let you in on all you need to know about the perks and pitfalls of white sapphires to help you decide whether they would be a good diamond alternative for you.
What are Sapphires?
White sapphire ring by Eidel Precious. See it here.
Sapphires are precious stones of the Corundum mineral variety that share the same mineral makeup. They come in a variety of colors – most notably the deep Royal Blue that we most commonly associate with sapphires. Rubies are also classed as corundum, and though they are scientifically the same mineral, they are considered a different gem because of their red color. Corundum of all other hues, including those with no color are classed as sapphires.
Colored sapphires get their pigment from trace elements present when the stone is forming. A white sapphire is the gem in its purest form, untouched by any other minerals. This is quite a rare occurrence in nature, so many white sapphires are synthetically created in labs.
How are White Sapphires Different to Diamonds?
White Sapphire Engagement Ring in Rose Gold from Eidel Precious. Check Price Here.
White sapphires and diamonds can look almost identical to the untrained eye, but there are a few notable differences that are worth considering, particularly for a significant piece of jewelry such as an engagement ring.
Difference in Color
Diamonds, like sapphires, can also be tinted with color from trace minerals during formation. The lack of color in a diamond is measured on an alphabetical scale starting at D (pure white) and continuing to Z to measure slight increases in yellow and brown tinge. In their most pure forms, both diamonds and white sapphires will be equally colorless which is one of the reasons why white sapphires make a good diamond substitute.
Difference in Brilliance
Sparkle is where the two stones really differ. Diamonds are unparalleled when it comes to sparkle and unfortunately, white sapphires are known to be lack-luster in comparison.
Stunning sparkle of a diamond. See it here.
The technical jewelry term for how much light shines from the stone’s surface is ‘brilliance’. In other words, brilliance measures the amount of light that we can actually see when looking at a gem. Brilliance is measured as the ‘refractive index’ and is expressed as a value ranging from one to three. A diamond has a very high refractive index of 2.4 whereas a white sapphire has a lower refractive index of 1.77.
Sapphire solitaire ring by Jamie Park Jewelry. See it here.
White sapphires are characteristically ‘milky’ in appearance due to their mineral structure and look glassy and a little dull. So, while white sapphires may look like diamonds, they won’t shine and sparkle in the same way.
The cloudy appearance of white sapphire is made worse when the stone gets dirty. If you are planning to wear your engagement ring daily, it will inevitably trap dirt and dust which will obscure light. It will take more dirt to affect the shine of a diamond engagement ring because of its inherent brilliance, but a white sapphire will look duller quicker.
It is possible to mitigate this with regular cleaning or wearing your ring more infrequently, but this is still quite a difference in planning and effort which is something to take into account when weighing up the difference between the two.
Difference in Cut
In jewelry, cut refers to the way a raw or rough stone is cut for jewelry. The cut of a stone will affect the overall appearance through shape and the way light is refracted within and out of the stone. It is an extremely technical and precise art that greatly affects the look and value of a stone prepared for jewelry.
The cut of a stone is not inherently determined by whether or not it is a diamond or white sapphire because the major determiner of cut quality is the person cutting. Cut quality is difficult for many people to discern, particularly because it relates to proportions, polish and symmetry – characteristics that are near impossible to see with the naked eye.
This is why organizations such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society Laboratories (AGS) have their own grading system for diamond cuts. Diamonds are graded by GIA into five categories and by AGS into six categories. For the best quality cut diamonds, look for a grade that falls into the top two categories (excellent or very good from GIA and 0-1 from AGS).
Unfortunately, a cut grading system for sapphires does not exist and because a quality cut can impact the brilliance of a stone, finer-cut sapphires should be more sought after. What you can look for is a white sapphire’s A rating: a single A being the lowest rating and a triple-A being the highest rating.
White Sapphire Cluster Engagement Ring from Love Rings Design. Check price here.
A white sapphire is graded based on shape, color, carat, and whether or not a gem has undergone any treatment during the refinement process. An A rating will reflect on the general physical appearance of a white sapphire. In general, a superior AAA white sapphire should be cut with more precision than a lower graded sapphire (as cut impacts appearance), but it would be difficult to compare the cut quality of a diamond to a white sapphire.
Difference in Durability
The longevity of your engagement ring should be a major consideration. After all, it’s a piece of jewelry that you’ll want to cherish for life, or even beyond that if you plan on passing it on as an heirloom. This is why it is important to take the durability of your chosen stone into account.
One of the ways this is measured is the ‘hardness’ of a stone. The ‘hardness’ of a stone is measured on the Mohs scale from one to ten, and diamonds take the top position with a Mohs rating of 10. White sapphires don’t fall too far behind with a Mohs rating of 9. The Mohs scale doubles with each number, so a diamond at 10 is two times harder (or more scratch-resistant) than a white sapphire.
In relatable terms, a stone with a Mohs hardness of 1 can be scratched with your fingernail and a masonry drill can mark a stone with a Mohs hardness of 8.5. However, this doesn’t mean that either stone is resistant to wear. Even diamonds can still chip. It’s unlikely, but still possible. This is why both should still be treated with care.
It’s also important to note that scratched white sapphires can be professionally re-polished. However, this will come at an extra cost which is worth remembering when making your decision.
Difference in Price
Diamond halo engagement ring. See it here.
Price will be one of the most important factors for couples exploring different stone options, and this is one of the biggest differences between white sapphires and diamonds. When speaking in generalities, diamonds are by far pricier than white sapphires. You are also more likely going to be able to find your desired cut, setting, size and style of ring in your budget with a white sapphire – especially if you are looking for an engagement ring with a large stone or multiple stones.
However, it is worth noting that diamonds can also become more affordable if you know what to look for. Diamonds are priced according to the four ‘C’s: clarity, color, carat, and cut. Carat and cut are difficult to assess with the naked eye and can greatly impact the cost of a stone. It’s often suggested that couples shop for ‘eye clean diamonds’ if they are on a budget. That is, diamonds with no visible imperfections but which may have a low clarity grade. This can reduce the cost of a diamond which can make them more affordable.
The Bottom Line
One the most important characteristics of your chosen stone is its sentimental value, and this can only be measured by you. If you have dreamed of wearing a diamond your whole life, then look for a diamond that falls within your budget; or if all you’ve ever wanted was a big rock, find a large white sapphire that fits the bill.
You can also compromise by choosing an engagement ring that features both stones – a sparkling diamond, and white sapphire stones that compliment it. This is a great way to maximize shine without completely blowing your budget. Whatever your choice, just be sure that your chosen stone is true to you.
If you’re looking to browse diamond engagement rings, check here for some of the best on the market.
If you’re more interested in white sapphires, click here to browse Etsy’s impressive collection.