Finding the perfect engagement ring can feel a little bit like searching for the Holy Grail. Maybe you have a vague idea of what it needs to look like, but the task can seem momentous. I was lucky to have been in the jewelry industry when I designed my wife’s ring. I had the knowledge of what to look for in each aspect of the ring. Now, after years of helping countless people design their perfect rings, it is time to share the knowledge I have learned with you. Here are the secrets of building a perfect engagement ring, starting with the center stone.
Romancing the Center Stone
One of the most important things to consider when designing and building an engagement ring is the center stone. More than ever before, there are so many options available to choose from. People see rings of all kinds on Etsy and Pinterest and become overwhelmed by choice. These sites lack detailed information on stone durability and build quality. This can lead to disappointment after bad rings are worn everyday and start to deteriorate quickly.
Many of the pieces on these sites are designed and built by hobbyists, who treat it as an outlet for showcasing their art. Often times, these pieces just aren’t high enough quality to last over years of everyday wear. So how should you go about picking the right gemstone? If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to choose the perfect stone that will keep you and your significant other happy for years to come.
The Good, the Bad, and the Hardy – Durability
From a jeweler’s perspective, the best stones to choose are those with a reasonable hardness and toughness. Without getting crazy scientific, the best natural stone options are going to be diamond and corundum (sapphire and ruby). Generally, you can find these stones at any price point, however sacrifices will be necessary if you are on a budget.
There is a tool called the Mohs Hardness Scale which is used to determine the hardness of pretty much everything. From a practical sense, this tells you how easily you can damage your stone. The main reason we suggest diamond and corundum is that on the Mohs scale, they are the two hardest natural gemstones known to man. This means that they will wear much more slowly than anything else.
First and foremost, at the lament of artists everywhere, I will never suggest putting an opal, turquoise, or natural emerald into an engagement ring. Cost of really good specimens aside, all these stones are among the softest or least durable popular options people ask for. They are pretty, and there is really no good alternative to most of these stones, as far as looks go. If you move forward with one of these gemstones, know that optimistically, after 3-5 years of everyday wear, you will likely need to replace the stone.
Outside of the good and bad, there are the OK stones. I won’t list them all, but there are some decent go-to options I will suggest. My third favorite natural stones to use are garnets. Garnets have a reasonable hardness and durability, and have many vivid color options. Topaz are reasonably hard, but are easy to chip. However, they are very cost effective to replace.
Aquamarine and morganite are two other popular options, and are actually in the same family as emerald, which is beryl. These two stones, along with lab created emerald, are in the OK category for a couple reasons. Despite their relative hardness, they chip easily, and are still quite expensive to be replacing frequently. More often than not, I will suggest more economical or durable alternatives to these stones.
The Spectrum of Choice – Color
This is easily the most subjective category. There are many options to achieve most colors and looks. Garnets come in every color but blue, and tend to be bright and vivid. Outside the most common colors, the price of garnets tend to rise rapidly. If you want economical blue stones, topaz will be your friend. Corundum, both lab and natural, comes in practically every color, but tend to be a little more muted and deep. The price for good corundum varies a lot based on the desirability and quality of each specific color.
Diamond is an interesting beast when it comes to color. There are two categories here: treated and natural. Treated stones are usually lower quality stones that have been heated or irradiated to achieve various colors. Diamonds can be green, yellow, blue, black, orange, red, and pink. Many of those colors are also possible in natural conditions, but the cost can easily reach tens of thousands per carat.
Black diamonds are also the best black stone you can get. They have a cool glossy, black sheen that is beyond compare and have an extremely reasonable price per carat. Colored diamonds are ideal for durability and longevity, but won’t achieve the color diversity that you get from corundum or garnet.
For certain stones, such as the aforementioned turquoise and opal, there are no real stellar alternatives in the looks department. These stones really struggle to hold up to active lifestyles. You don’t even have to be a body builder or rock climbing enthusiast to have issues. The biggest culprits here are hair stylists and people that need to wear gloves or handle moderately harsh chemicals. Those who tend to lead a more indoor focused lifestyle will have better luck. If you must go with one of these gems, I strongly recommend getting a second band. This band would be to wear instead of the engagement ring during times of potential harsh conditions.
A Square Stone in a Round Hole – Shape/Size
Another couple important aspects of choosing the center stone are the shape and size of the gemstone. The most important thing to consider here is really what your significant other wants. Outside of specific types of stones, the shape and size are the most common thing people seem to know going into the process of picking a stone. I’m going to be brief and focus on diamonds, however, the general concepts will apply to almost any stone.
The most common gem shape is the round. They are cut as perfect as the crystal allows. Rounds tend to be the most common stone I design around. They are mathematically cut to refract the most amount of light, and have the optimal proportions for how a stone should look. Ovals tend to be the second most popular stone choice, often because they look bigger and generally cost less per carat. They are often not cut quite as perfectly as round stones.
The third most popular shape of stone is the princess cut, which is square shaped. Princess cuts can be really cool stones, but care must be taken because of the sharp corners. These corners, if not handled properly, are prone to chipping. Other gems with sharp points, such as marquis diamonds, also have chipping issues. The marquis cut was very popular in the 70s and 80s and looks kind of like an oval cut with sharp points on either end of the stone.
The last stone shape I will discuss is the emerald cut stone. It is a rectangular shaped stone with clipped corners. This has been one of the most popular options lately, and can be a really cool gem to design around. With emerald cuts, you will want to get the highest quality stone you can, because you can see pretty much every imperfection.
In regards to the size, there are two schools of thought. The first is that bigger is better. The second is what fits the design and the person its intended for the best. The most common sizes tend to be from about 4.5mm to 6.5mm in diameter or roughly .33ct to 1ct. The carat value of the gemstone refers to it’s weight, and varies depending on the type of stone you are weighing. Depending on the size and quality of the stones you pick, you can fit almost any budget. It is important to determine the size and shape of the stone as early as possible. The aspects will dictate much of the core elements of your design.
To Grow or Not to Grow – Lab vs Natural
Let’s address one of the biggest elephants in our metaphorical room, “doesn’t lab mean fake?” The really short answer is a resounding “no”. Chemically, lab grown stones are exactly the same as their natural counterparts. The biggest difference is the environment in which they are grown. The best analogy we have come up with is icicles versus ice cubes. One grows outside and is subject the the whims of nature, whereas the other is grown in specific and controlled conditions. Often times, with lab grown stones, you will get a much higher quality stone, with better and/or more colors, for less money than natural stones.
The difference is most noticeable in gems like emerald. Natural emeralds tend to be full of minor imperfections called inclusions. These inclusions are what contribute to its extreme delicateness, despite the relative hardness of the stone. That, coupled with the cost of nice specimens, makes the natural option a difficult one to suggest.
Lab grown emeralds tend to be much less included (if at all) and have a much better and deeper green color. The difference is quite stark, and can be off-putting, but you technically get a much better stone. There are big color differences in the lab created sapphire and rubies, which tend to be perfect and vivid in color. They are also able to grow many other “fancy” colors that are either impossible to find or are extremely expensive.
Calm and Centered
The world of jewelry and gems can be daunting, and the information available would fill many volumes. Some of this information is good, and other information can be misleading. Hopefully this article will help you wade through some of muck. If all has gone well so far, you are on the fast track to building the perfect engagement ring. Choosing you center gemstone first really helps the design process down the line.
In the next blog, we will explore the most common metal options, and which will be best for your ring.