Diamonds have long been the obvious choice for engagement rings, but other types of gemstones are growing more popular among brides-to-be. Whether for budget reasons or simply personal preference, these unique alternative engagement rings offer a pop of color—and value—that has become increasingly more attractive.
The term “gemstone” can refer to almost every stone used in jewelry-making, even when it’s not a mineral. While some gemstones are ancient and some are more recently discovered, each has its own special color, geological origin, and story. Often, gemstones are broken down into two categories: precious and semi-precious. These terms stem from Ancient Greece, where diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were referred to as “precious,” and all others “semi-precious.” Gemstones are categorized by the 4 Cs: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. The higher they score in each category, the more value they hold.
Many ring shoppers aren’t confident that a diamond is the right choice for them. This compilation of unique stones showcases alternative, vibrant gemstones that will enhance the value and diversity of your collection.
Note: The Mohs scale, aptly named after German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs, was created in 1812 as a way to identify the hardness of mineral specimens. It compares firmness by analyzing which minerals can visibly scratch others, with 1 being the most easily scratched and 10 having the ability to cut through glass.
Alexandrite was originally discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the 1830s. It was first found in the emerald mines near the Tokovaya River on Price Alexander II’s birthday, hence the name “Alexandrite.” It is the birthstone for June and also the 55th wedding anniversary stone.
Described as “emerald by day, ruby by night” by gem enthusiasts, alexandrite is a beautiful, color-changing ring stone option. During the day, under fluorescent light, it emits a cool, bluish-green color. Inside, under incandescent light, it gleams a stunning red. The value of a stone increases as the color change becomes more obvious, but it is one of the more rare and prized stones available. Most cut alexandrite stones weigh less than one carat.
Value: While a large portion of alexandrite stones are under a carat, those nearing the one-carat mark can sell for close to $15,000, and those over can range from $50,000-$70,000.
The popular gemstone amethyst was thought to ward off intoxication by Ancient Greeks and Romans, as the word amethystos literally translates to “not drunk” in ancient Greek. It was an expensive stone until the 19th century when Brazil’s largest deposits were discovered. Today, the best varieties of amethyst can be found in Siberia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the far East.
Amethyst is the February birthstone. This semiprecious stone is one of several forms of quartz. Its beautiful purple hue adds to its popularity, complementing both yellow and white metals exquisitely. This gem is available in numerous shapes and sizes, offering a budget for every jewelry collector.
Value: Value is dependent on color. Cost per carat can range from $2 to $30.
Aquamarine is derived from the Latin word “seawater,” and is said to calm waves and keep sailors safe on their voyages. Though there are many different myths and legends surrounding the origins of the stone, the beautiful, bright blue stone continues to symbolize youth, hope, and fidelity. In the 19th century, green varieties of the stone were more popular, but today blue-hued options are vastly coveted.
Aquamarine is the birthstone of March and is found in a range of blue hues. The darker shades are rarer and hold more value. Today, the most valued are rich in blue but have a greenish tint to them. The most common cut is the emerald type, but oval or pear-shaped are popular as well. Legend has it this gemstone soothes tensions in marriages, making aquamarine a popular anniversary gift amongst collectors.
Value: There is no incremental increase in value per carat. Rather, darker-toned stones tend to yield higher prices.
This bright gem’s name is thought to stem from a variety of sources, but the likeliest one comes from the French word citron, meaning “lemon.” In ancient times, citrine was carried as a protection against snake venom and evil thoughts, though in modern times it’s widely known as “The Merchant’s Stone” or “The Success Stone” for the wealth and abundance it’s said to bring.
Citrine’s color ranges from bright yellow to an orange-brown hue. Available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, this gemstone makes for a vibrant jewelry staple. For collectors seeking abundance in financial or business ventures, this stone’s meaning is particularly alluring.
Value: The highest valued citrine sells for around $30 per carat and is of a deep red-orange hue.
Emeralds’ green hue is thought to symbolize many qualities, including love and rebirth. The name is derived from a Persian word meaning “green gem.” These gems have long been associated with royalty and status, as Egypt’s monarch Cleopatra famously wore these sparkling gems. The first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from 330 B.C. to the 18th century.
This green gem is the birthstone of May and can be seen as a reflection of growth. Those with a deeper and richer green tint are more valuable and in-demand. Because emerald is lower in density than a diamond, a one-carat will appear larger in size and thus appeals to many collectors.
Value: Price per carat is proportional to the size of the stone, with value hinging largely on color. Recently, prices have reached the $500 per carat rang.
Garnet has been a prized possession since the Bronze Age, and the oldest known example dates back to 3,000 B.C. This set of minerals was named from the Latin word garanatus which means “gain,” and is said to resemble the tiny red seeds of a pomegranate. The significance of the stone has changed throughout the years, but its beautiful, rich, red hues do not go unnoticed. Legend has it that garnet protects owners from any accidents they may encounter throughout life’s journeys.
Garnet is the January birthstone and also celebrates the second anniversary of marriage. Today, garnet is available in a variety of colors. Red is the most common and widespread, so not all hues are as abundant. Those most sought-after by collectors and dealers include the orange spessartite garnet, the green tsavorite and demantoid garnets, the rhodolite garnet, the unique color-change garnet, and the rare colorless leuco garnet.
Value: Generally speaking, the purer the color and closer to red, the more valuable the stone will be. Prices range from $500 per carat to $2,000 per carat for larger, clean stones.
This semi-precious stone is one of the oldest and most enchanting. The name lapis literally translates to “stone,” where lazuli stems from the Persian Lazhward, meaning “blue.” This gemstone originated in the Sar-e-Sang deposits in Afghanistan, one of the oldest mines in the world that dates back 7,000 years.
Lapis lazuli is an ancient rock composed of several minerals including lazurite, calcite, and pyrite. Lazurite gives the stone its fine, intense blue that many collectors look for. This bright pigment has also been used for cosmetics, paintings, and men’s jewelry, making it a versatile stone. The finest Lapis lazuli stones are lightly dusted with a small distribution of gold flecks of pyrite.
Value: As a modestly priced gemstone, value is determined solely by color.
Moonstone gets its unique pearly glow from a phenomenon called adularescence where light scatters between microscopic layers of feldspar. This creates an illusion of billowing clouds that distribute blue-to-white light. Ancient Romans believed this mysterious gemstone was formed from frozen moonlight, lending way to its name.
Historically, the classic, colorless moonstones have essentially been mined out, so those of good color and transparency are highly valued. Today, it can be found in delicate shades of peach, blue, gray, white, as well as Rainbow Moonstone, which is a prismatic variety of colors. Usually the more colorless the body and more blue the adularescence, the higher the value. Regardless, its pearly, soft opacity makes for a beautiful, mystical piece of jewelry.
Value: Prices can range from $20 to $100 depending on size, shape, and transparency.
The feminine, pink gemstone morganite was discovered in both California and Madagascar in the early 20th century. A variety of the mineral beryl, morganite was named after the financier and notable gem collector, J.P. Morgan, as it promotes prosperity, clarity, brilliance, and love.
Though quality morganite remains rare, it is a more affordable and idolized engagement ring alternative due to its subtle pink color caused by traces of manganese. It’s a versatile gemstone, pairing well with white or yellow gold. The most valuable—and sought after—examples of morganite are medium-to-light pink stones with custom cuts.
Value: With color being the most important criteria, morganites with a custom cut can reach up to $300 per carat.
Known as the “Queen of Gems” by ancient Romans, opal’s kaleidoscope of colors is both unique and mesmerizing. Its name is said to be derived from the Sanskrit upala meaning “precious stone.” The Romans believed it to be the most precious and powerful gemstone of all, and the Bedouins thought opals contained lightning that fell from the sky during thunderstorms. In the 1890s, Australian mines began to produce them commercially and still yield around 95% of the world’s opals today.
As October’s birthstone, opal symbolizes purity and hope. The play of color and pattern are major factors in determining value. Opals are particularly popular among collectors because they are delicate, require special care, and are unique. Though one of the toughest gemstones to evaluate due to its complex classification system, the overall carat size will determine the price.
Value: Rare, quality opals can reach $1,000 per carat while less valuable ones can reach around $600 per carat.
Paraiba was only discovered a few decades ago, but it’s one of the most rare and in-demand gemstones available. Heitor Dimas Barbosa found this hidden gem after digging in the hills of the Brazilian state of Paraiba in the 1980s. Though almost every shade of tourmaline can be found in Brazil, none glows quite like that of paraiba.
There are different varieties of paraiba, but the bluish-green examples are most valuable. With this gem, color is more important than clarity. Due to its scarcity, no other tourmaline holds quite the value that paraiba does. The vibrant, neon aesthetic combined with its rare exoticism has made it a jewelry collector’s dream and a statement-worthy ring addition.
Value: Bright, highly saturated greenish-blues are the most valuable and can reach $10,000 per carat.
Perhaps the most timeless gemstone is the pearl, accurately named “the Queen of gems.” This gemstone is the only kind formed within a living creature: shelled molluscs. Since natural pearls are rare, expensive, and small, the creation of cultured pearls was invented through a process that inserts a bead or piece of tissue into the mollusc.
While white- and cream-colored pearls are the most iconic, there is a variety of colors you can choose from, which includes anything from pink to green. Pearl is the birthstone of June, and it’s still one of the most cherished gems on the market.
Value: Depending on type, size, quality, luster, color, and shape, the average price of a strand of pearls can range from $35 to thousands of dollars.
The signature lime green gemstone peridot has a long written history recorded as early as 1500 B.C. The main source in the ancient world was found in the Egyptian Red Sea, but today most peridots come from Arizona, China, Myanmar, and Pakistan. The gem is named after the French word peritot which means “gold.”
Peridot is unique in that it only exists in one color. The beautiful golden-yellow, green hues have contributed to the popularity of this stone. As the birthstone of August, it’s said to bring magical and healing capabilities to whoever wears the gem.
Value: Average prices range from $50 to $80 per carat.
One of the most valuable and desirable gemstones, ruby continues to be the object of affection for many brides-to-be. Rubies, which get their name from the Latin word rube, meaning “red,” are historically significant and mentioned in religious texts such as the Bible. Because of the ruby’s rich history, the stone has acquired many accompanying legends over the centuries. Those who don rubies are believed to have great fortune and wealth.
For rubies, color is the most important feature. It is highly desired and prized due to the combination of durability, luster, and uniqueness. In fact, transparent rubies can be rarer than diamonds. Out of all colored stones, they command the highest per-carat price. The brightest and most valuable shade of ruby is “Burmese Ruby,” a rich red with a slight blue hue.
Value: Value is dependent on origin, color, size, and clarity but can range from $100 to $15,000 per carat.
Sapphires, along with rubies, belong to the mineral species corundum. The name was adopted from the ancient Greek word sapherios meaning “blue.” While the most recognized sapphire is a blue stone, there are also fancy sapphires, which means they bear the colors pink, yellow, orange, peach, or violet. These gems have been in-demand since 800 B.C. They’ve been discovered all over the world, but the most valuable are found in Burma, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka.
Sapphires are a popular engagement ring stone because they represent the promise of honesty, loyalty, and trust. One of the most famous examples is Kate Middleton’s 12-carat sapphire engagement ring, which originally belonged to Prince William’s mother, Diana. Handsome in hue, those with a violet-blue color and subtle transparency are of the most rare and valued by collectors.
Value: Prices can start at $20 per carat and reach $150 per carat for more valuable varieties.
Spinel was one of the more under-appreciated gems until its recent resurgence as a more affordable alternative to ruby. Sanskrit writings even referred to it as the “daughter of ruby.” The gem has been mined for centuries, and southeast Asia’s mines have yielded a significant amount of spinel crystals in particular. The name is rumored to have been derived from the Latin word spina meaning “spine” or “thorn,” relating its sharp crystal edges.
Though spinel is best known for its bright red hue, it can also be found in shades of orange, pink, and in rare cases, blue. It has become even more desired for its rich, vibrant color and affordability.
Value: Prices increase significantly with size, starting at anywhere from $200 per carat with larger stones reaching $1,200 per carat.
Tanzanite was first discovered in Tanzania in 1967. Though only recently unearthed, its rise to popularity happened relatively fast after jewelry company Tiffany & Co. named the gem by its place of discovery and created a marketing campaign around it. It’s unique in that it can only be found at one place on earth, the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanzanite is the second-most popular blue gem, after sapphire.
Tanzanite boasts an exotic blue hue with rich purple overtones. It’s popular among jewelry and fashion enthusiasts because the crystals are pleochroic, meaning they display a variety of colors as their direction changes. You can find this gem in various shapes, sizes, and blue tones.
Value: Varying by weight, richer colors average around $425 per carat.
Topaz comes in a slew of color tones and saturations including purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green and, most commonly, blue. There is also an abundant amount of colorless topaz used to make the popular cobalt shades. There are a couple theories surrounding the origin of its name. One is that is comes from the Greek word topazion which means “fire.” Another theory is that it comes from the name of the Egyptian island Topazos, accurately given for the yellowish green stones found there.
As a symbol of love and affection, topaz has become relatively abundant and adored. Similar to tanzanite, topaz is also a pleochroic gem and its wide variety of colors and hues make it readily available for wearers. The most decorated natural color is called Imperial Topaz, which is orange with a red dichroism.
Value: Prices range from $2 to $40 per carat.
One of the oldest and most regarded stones of all, turquoise is the only gemstone to have an exclusive color named after it. This mineral is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum, which generates its robin’s egg blue color. The origin of the word dates back to the 17th century when traders, coming from Persia, passed through Turkey, or Turquie in French. It was also popular among Peruvian and Native American civilizations as an ornamental adornment.
Turquoise comes in different shades of blue and green. Often times, it is veined with black or brown lines, but many prefer the solid color base. This opaque gem makes for a stunning engagement ring alternative.
Value: Prices range from $1 to $10 per carat.
Zircon is a historically idolized mineral that has been used for thousands of years. When colorless, it is often considered a more affordable diamond alternative as its luster and fire give it a comparable sparkle. The name is derived from the Persian word zargun which means “gold-colored.”
Though blue has since become a popular hue, zircon is treasured by many gem enthusiasts due to its array of colors. It boasts beautiful hues of red, yellow, green, brown and blue caused by traces of radioactive impurities. Zircon’s sparkle makes for a great alternative ring option. It is highly valued by collectors for its high refractive index and excellent fire.
Value: For blue zircons, the average price is around $75 per carat, but that price jumps for those higher in carats and fancier in shape.
Looking for more? Explore our guide to gemstone cuts and settings.