It’s impossible to know whether our human ancestors, homo habilis (the “handy man”) and homo erectus (the “upright man”), or even the early cultures formed by homo sapiens (our own species) fashioned crude rings for their fingers. But it wouldn’t be surprising. All of those species had learned to use tools, and members of nearly every civilization which archaeologists have been able to document have worn rings in some form (the only exceptions: the Assyrians, the Celts and the Eskimos).
From the Hittites to the Egyptians, from the Greeks to the Romans, and in all the eras which followed, rings were worn in a variety of styles and for a variety of reasons. Some were simple wire twists worn as a symbol of nobility, signet rings used by politicians and businessmen, or ecclesiastical rings worn by church leaders. Believe it or not, there were even poison rings worn by historical figures like Demosthenes and Hannibal, each of whom committed suicide with the poison concealed in his ring.
As far back as the Roman Empire, rings were seen everywhere; the wealthy had an array of ornate pieces they wore according to the seasons, women wore rings with small keys attached in order to represent their household authority, and many people who could afford them wore a ring on every finger. Some cultures attributed special power or meaning to rings, depending on the stones they featured: healing, immunity and purity were just a few. From the middle ages through the Renaissance, rings were primarily worn as symbols of wealth or love; by the 18th century, though, they had become must-have jewelry not just for symbolic reasons, but also for their beauty.
Today, rings are the most widely-worn and widely-sold type of jewelry in the world. For many people, the shopping is as much fun as the wearing. For others (yes, we’re looking at you, boyfriends/fiancés/husbands), it’s a necessary evil. A ring purchase is often an impulse decision (“Oh my god, I have to have it!”) but just as frequently it’s the end result of in-depth research, budgeting and hand-wringing.
For those in the second category, deciding on a ring can be a complicated process. But fear not – if you’re going crazy trying to sort through the enormous mass of facts, statistics and information that’s available on rings, we’ve boiled them all down for you into easy-to-digest chunks. Here’s your definitive guide to rings in the 21st century, sorted by category for easy reading. Enjoy!
TYPES OF RINGS
“I love your ring!” “Where did you get that ring?” “Your ring is fabulous!”
The perfect ring will not only make you happy, but will capture the attention of friends, family and people you’ve just met. Some believe that only exquisite (and expensive) diamond engagement rings make that kind of impact, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ll start our trek through the types of rings you can buy with the ubiquitous engagement ring; but as you’ll see, there are many more choices which can make a stunning statement on your hand. We also won’t discuss specific, because cost is largely dependent on the stones and setting you choose for your ring.
Ah, a sparkling diamond set in precious metal – the symbol of eternal, married bliss (or so they say, anyway) since time immemorial.
That may sound romantic, but it’s far from the truth. Yes, a majority of today’s brides in the Western world sport this now-traditional symbol of marriage. But even though engagement rings have been around since ancient times, they looked very different until diamonds emerged as the most common “centerpiece” of engagement rings in the middle of the 20th century.
Historians have documented the use of iron or gold rings to signify engagement or marriage by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (it’s difficult to know for certain whether these were truly engagement or wedding rings). In more recent history, one of the first known engagement rings was presented by Austria’s Archduke Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy in 1477; it was a ring with her name spelled out in small diamonds. This led other nobles or men of wealth to present their betrothed with diamonds as well during the later years of the Renaissance.
However, at that time diamonds were in short supply. The custom of presenting engagement rings grew in popularity during the 18th and early 19th centuries, but commoners were more likely to give betrothal rings of silver or human hair, with gemstones used to spell out names or terms of endearment.
Everything changed in the mid-to-late 1800s, when large supplies of diamonds were discovered in Africa. Shortly after that, the diamond engagement ring became a real “consumer” product, with Tiffany introducing settings designed specifically to showcase diamonds for the rings, and Sears and Roebuck even selling relatively inexpensive diamond engagement rings in their catalog.
The popularity of engagement rings dropped in the early 20th century, partially because of changing tastes, and partially because of the Great Depression. An enormous marketing campaign by the diamond giant DeBeers in the 1940s, however, led to a resurgence in sales; the success of their monster ad slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” is credited with turning diamond engagement rings into the universal sign of betrothal.
(There’s one other intriguing theory. Legal expert and author Margaret Brinig has found that so-called “breach of promise to marry” laws, which allowed would-be brides to sue men who jilted them, were being declared invalid by courts in many states during the 1930s and 1940s – and that expensive diamond ring sales increased dramatically in those states even before the DeBeers ad campaign. Her argument is that once women couldn’t sue the men who walked away, they demanded “collateral”, or insurance against being jilted. It’s a cold-hearted economic theory, but certainly intriguing.)
At any rate, the diamond engagement ring is now de rigueur for most brides-to-be, and is usually one of the largest initial debts a newly-married couple will carry. You can thank DeBeers for that as well, as their ad campaigns first suggested that a man should spend one month’s salary on an engagement ring, and they later increased that recommendation to two months’ salary.
It’s important to note, though, that many engagement rings do not feature sparkling, colorless diamonds. In recent years, couples preferring a non-traditional approach have opted in greater number for stunning rings set either with colored diamonds or other precious or semi-precious stones. Precious gems like emeralds and sapphires, and semi-precious ones like amethyst, topaz and opal, are often seen in these less-traditional engagement rings.
There’s a dizzying choice of settings, cuts and stone characteristics when you are shopping for an engagement ring. We’ll cover them all, as we move forward through our exploration of metals, settings and stones later in this guide.
The phrase “diamond ring” almost always brings to mind a beautiful engagement ring. However, there are many other types of ring featuring this most revered of all precious stones.
The wedding band is the second most-popular type of diamond ring, usually with smaller channel-set diamonds or pavé or micro-pavé diamonds to match or complement an engagement ring (although diamonds are common in many sets of matching bride-and-groom wedding rings). As we’ve mentioned, the use of wedding bands can be traced back to ancient civilizations, but diamonds weren’t customarily used in their design until the days of Art Deco and the DeBeers ad campaign, when the precious stone became a favorite for jewelry of every type.
Diamond rings are common choices for eternity bands and anniversary rings for both men and women; more information on those shortly. There are also many stand-alone, stunning diamond designs for both sexes, ranging from a woman’s splash ring to a man’s chess ring – and of course, if you imagine yourself as a character from “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos”, there’s always the time-honored diamond pinky ring.
We’ve mentioned wedding bands which match engagement rings, but there’s a fail-safe way for fashion- or design-challenged brides to ensure that the pair is a perfect match: bridal sets. These are engagement and wedding rings sold together, incorporating the same unified design elements or stones into both rings which are meant to be worn on the same finger and appearing to be one unified piece of jewelry.
There’s another reason to opt for a bridal set instead of selecting separate engagement rings and wedding bands: price. You’ll usually find the cost of a bridal set to be significantly lower than if you had selected two rings individually. There’s a downside, though; it’s unusual to find groom’s wedding rings to match a bridal set, so the man will be left to his own devices to find a wedding band – which could be a dangerous proposition.
Engagement rings, diamond rings and bridal sets describe pieces meant for specific purposes or set with specific stones. The term “vintage rings”, however, refers to something very different: the age and value of the pieces.
Unfortunately, there’s no agreed-upon definition for the word “vintage” when used to describe jewelry. It usually means that a ring is more than 50 years old (although some jewelry experts say that a piece can be considered vintage if it is at least 25 years old), and carries significant value. Another way to look at the concept of vintage rings is that they’re old, but not old enough to be antiques. They must also be valuable and unique or desirable from a fashion standpoint; a ring that you picked up for $25 when you were a teenager probably isn’t a vintage ring, even if you were a teenager before World War II.
A majority of the most sought-after vintage rings are from the Retro and Art Deco eras, although pieces modeled after the glamorous jewelry worn by Jackie Kennedy and 60s movie stars can also carry significant value, as can some of the unusual pieces of the 70s and 80s.
Some people use the term “vintage” to mean “vintage-style” when describing rings, but there’s a huge difference. Vintage rings are pieces which were actually designed and created many years ago, while vintage-style rings are modern pieces intended to mimic the distinctive look of an earlier time. That doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable, though. Top designers create entire lines of vintage-style rings, which can cost thousands of dollars and present a stunning image evocative of earlier eras.
Vintage and vintage-style engagement rings have become quite popular in recent years, as brides seek stylish alternatives to “standard” diamond engagement rings. Vintage-style rings are universally available; true vintage rings are more often found at antique or antique jewelry stores, at estate sales, or online.
You’ve probably guessed correctly that there’s also no accepted jewelry industry standard for the age of antique rings. Most consider the term to define valuable pieces at least 100 years old (while some define the cut-off point as 50 years rather than 100).
Most designer or unique antique rings carry significant value. You can still find extremely desirable, hand-made pieces from the Georgian era, although Victorian (early, mid- and late) and Edwardian era rings are more commonly found when you search for antique rings in specialty jewelry and antique stores or online sites. The most valuable of all antique pieces are usually only sold at auction.
As with vintage rings, brides are opting for antique engagement or wedding rings in greater numbers these days. Some feel that the old-fashioned feel and one-of-a-kind look of an antique ring lends a particularly romantic feel to their special day; others are more practical, realizing that even though an antique ring can be pricey, it can also be less expensive than a modern diamond engagement ring.
“Being engaged to be engaged” is probably a concept which has been around for millennia, since it’s a state of mind more than anything else. But the actual term “promise ring”, most commonly used to formalize a relationship which is progressing toward an actual engagement, has only been around for fifty years or so.
A promise carries a unique bond between the people making it, so these types of rings can symbolize promises other than “we’ll eventually be getting engaged”. They’re also used today to signify monogamous relationships, to promise chastity, or even to mark a deep friendship – the reasons for giving and accepting a promise ring are strictly in the minds of the two people involved. Most often, a promise ring is not worn on the customary wedding ring finger, which is reserved for the “real thing”.
Because these rings can carry many different levels of significance, they can be almost any style or design. Many jewelry stores and sites sell specially-designed promise rings with hearts, engravings or small diamonds or precious stones, meant to resemble an engagement ring at much lower prices. You can also spend a ton of money on a promise ring, if you choose to do so. But a promise ring’s real meaning in its significance, not its appearance.
Obviously, the diamond engagement ring is the most well-known form of gemstone ring. However, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (once again!) were the first to widely use precious and semi-precious natural gems to decorate jewelry; the wealthy used everything from rubies and emeralds to garnets and amber to make large, ostentatious rings. The gemstone rings we know today are far different and more sophisticated, of course, thanks to the development of the craft of gem cutting.
Gemstone rings are available everywhere you turn in the jewelry world. They feature every type of gem, are meant for every imaginable purpose or occasion, and are available in every possible price range. Chances are that you (or your significant other) has a drawer full of them, and that the collection will only grow as time goes on. Diamonds may be forever, but gemstone rings are timeless, beautiful and often extremely affordable.
Anniversary Rings and Eternity Bands
A growing trend is for husbands is to give their wives rings or bands on special anniversaries, particularly their tenth, 25th, 50th or 60th (diamond) anniversary. The first known eternity rings were made of white topaz or paste gems in the 18th century. But the popular concept of diamond anniversary rings and eternity bands featuring small identical stones around a ring can be credited to our old friend DeBeers. The company began marketing them in the 1960s, in order to utilize an enormous supply of small Russian diamonds. Slogans like “she married you for richer or poorer, let her know how it’s going” sent sales soaring and cemented the rings into popular culture.
A band set with diamonds (a never-ending circle symbolizing never-ending love) is the most commonly-sold anniversary or eternity ring, and it is usually chosen to match the woman’s engagement and wedding rings since it’s traditionally worn on the same finger. Of course, there are no set rules for these pieces, and anniversary rings with fancy-cut diamonds, exquisite designs or other gemstones are readily available.
The price of an expensive ring, particularly an engagement ring, is largely dependent on the value of the gemstone(s). The setting (the part of the ring that the stone is mounted in) may only account for a small portion of the overall cost but it’s still crucial, because it’s what allows the star of the show – the stone – to shine. Here’s a look at the most-popular types of settings for gemstone and engagement rings.
The classic way to present a ring’s gemstone is in a solitaire setting, which raises the stone above a simple metal band. The solitaire showcases the stone without other gems or fancy design work drawing attention away from it. Many rings had featured a single stone before 1886, naturally, but that’s the year Tiffany introduced its classic six-prong solitaire setting designed to maximize the light reflected by a diamond. The “Tiffany setting” quickly became the standard for solitaire diamond rings, and almost synonymous with the word solitaire.
Tiffany settings remain the most popular for solitaire engagement rings as well as pieces set with other gemstones, but they’re not the only type of solitaire rings to choose from. The most popular:
Prong settings: Tiffany settings, which use six tiny metal prongs to hold the stone in place, are the best-known of the prong settings (although the company has trademarked its design, and other six-prong settings aren’t quite the same). Solitaires can also come with four prongs to hold the stone; six prongs secure the stone a bit better, while four prongs show a little more of the stone and allow additional light to shine through it.
Bezel settings: The bezel solitaire pre-dates the Tiffany setting, but is once again quite popular. The setting’s bezel fully encircles and holds the stone in place for greater security; from a design standpoint, it also functions as a “frame” highlighting the gemstone. A bezel setting has the added advantage that it has no prongs to accidentally catch on clothing or fabric. A half-bezel solitaire setting encircling just half the stone is also an option.
Tension settings: These solitaire settings have a striking and modern look because the stone appears to be held in mid-air, while actually being secured in place by the pressure exerted by the two sides of the band.
One final note on solitaires: they’re the easiest type of engagement ring to match to a wedding band.
Halo settings, particularly for halo engagement rings, have become one of the best-selling styles on the market. In a nutshell, the center stone is elevated to a position of prominence with a ring of smaller stones (the “halo”) set around it. Typically, both the center and halo stones are diamonds, but you’ll see many variations with other stones either as the featured stone or in the halo. A halo setting makes the center stone appear larger, and is a way to either showcase a large stone or make a smaller one seem bigger, as well as a way to add more flash to the ring. Other variations on this settings are the “floating halo” in which there is a space between the center stone and halo (making it appear that the primary gemstone is floating), and the “double halo” featuring two circles of smaller stones around the center stone. Most gemstone cuts are suitable for use in halo settings.
3-Stone Rings and 5-Stone Rings
Another engagement ring setting which has become enormously popular in recent years is the three-stone ring. Some brides-to-be choose it for symbolic reasons to represent the past, present and future of a relationship, which is why this piece is also called the “trilogy” ring Many other women choose it simply because it’s gorgeous.
The sizes and colors of the three stones can be chosen based on personal preference; the most common combination is a larger diamond in the center with two smaller ones on either side. However, the stones can all be the same size, the side stones can be the bride’s birthstones (or those of the bride and groom) flanking a diamond – the possibilities are limitless.
Similar, five-stone rings have also begun to sell well; there’s less symbolism attached to them (although some have said the stones represent the continuum of a relationship) but they’re certainly eye-catching. These are often given as anniversary rings or for other special occasions, and the most frequent design is with two types or colors of stones arranged in an “ABABA” pattern.
TYPES OF METAL
At its most basic level, a gemstone ring is a stone held in a setting, attached to what’s commonly called a band but is technically known as a shank. A traditional ring’s band (or shank) is made from metal, usually a precious metal and most commonly gold or platinum. The use of metals in jewelry is nearly as old as civilization itself, since gold has been around since 6000 BC and silver was discovered a few thousand years after that.
The reason precious metals are usually chosen for rings is that they’re non-ferrous (they don’t contain iron which can rust), they’re “noble” (meaning they don’t corrode or oxidize easily), and they’re more chemically stable, more attractive and more valuable than non-precious metals.
While gold and platinum are traditionally used for shanks, there are many other choices as well. Here’s a rundown of the most popular.
Yellow gold: Considered “old-fashioned” by some and “classic” by others, this most popular of precious metals remains a favorite for rings because it evokes the romantic feelings conveyed by retro, vintage or antique jewelry. Gold rings are also more scratch-resistant than other common metals like platinum. Yellow gold is said to be symbolic of fidelity.
White Gold: This combination of pure gold and other white metals (but with the same purity and gold content as yellow gold) is often coated with rhodium to enhance its white look. It has a more modern appearance and has gained popularity over the last 25 years as the second most-popular shank metal next to yellow gold. It is also scratch-resistant, but the rhodium should be replated every few years. White gold is said to symbolize friendship.
Rose gold: With an even more antique look than yellow gold, rose gold is a combination of pure gold and copper, with the metal’s color dependent on how much copper is used. It was exceedingly popular from the 1920s through the 1950s but faded from the scene until recently, when an increased interest in all things retro brought it back into prominence. Rose gold is said to be symbolic of love.
(A note about 18k gold versus 14k gold rings: while 18 carat gold is more valuable, it’s also softer so it will scratch more easily than 14 carat gold. It usually makes sense to use 14k gold for rings, particularly since it’s less expensive as well as more durable.)
Platinum: At first glance, platinum and white gold have the same appearance. Platinum is many people’s first choice, though, because it’s more durable than gold and will never lose its color as white gold might. Platinum does scratch more easily, though, and is more expensive than gold.
Titanium: As the strongest natural metal on earth, tremendously durable yet extremely light, titanium would seem to be the ideal metal for use in crafting rings. It is becoming more popular, particularly for men’s wedding rings, but its use is limited by the fact that it’s so strong that it can’t be resized or soldered. Once you have a titanium ring, it’s the same size forever. The metal can be found in many colors, with gray and black the most commonly seen. They’re also hypoallergenic.
Tungsten: The metal used for rings is actually a tungsten-carbon compound known as tungsten carbide, which is similar to titanium in that it’s strong and extremely durable – and that it also can’t be resized or soldered. It’s heavier than titanium but in many ways more attractive, with a bright luster that doesn’t fade, and it’s scratch-proof. Just be sure never to gain or lose weight after you buy a tungsten ring.
Cobalt: If you like the advantages of titanium and tungsten, cobalt has most of them without some of the drawbacks. They look like white gold and won’t fade, they’re almost as durable as tungsten, and just about as strong and light as titanium. What’s noteworthy, though, is that they can be resized, but only by about one full size at most and only by a very experienced jeweler.
Silver: This metal is more suitable for occasionally-worn rings than engagement or other valuable rings, because it’s softer (easily damaged and dented) and more likely to oxidize (turning black), yet is less expensive than precious metals like gold and platinum.
Stainless steel: Another metal which is better suited to rings worn just once in a while, steel is very easy to dent, often uncomfortable because of its stiffness, and difficult to set stones into for the same reason (its rigidity). It’s cheap, though.
STONE SHAPES AND CUTS
When little girls – and grown women – dream of engagement rings, they usually picture a specific shape or cut of diamond; the look of the stone, after all, really determines the overall appearance of the ring.
Over the years, improvements and refinements in the craft of gem cutting have led to a proliferation of new cuts, while many of the old standby shapes are as popular as ever. This summary of today’s most commonly-desired cuts focuses on diamonds, but most of these shapes are also used to fashion other precious stones like rubies and emeralds, as well as many semi-precious stones. We’ll try not to get too technical – here we go.
Round: Nearly three-quarters of all diamonds sold today are round brilliant cut diamonds. That’s because their 58 facets have been mathematically designed to reflect light and maximize brightness, and are noticeably more fiery than the so-called fancy cuts which will follow later on this list. Round brilliant cuts are more expensive than most other types, because the cutting process wastes a large portion of the rough stone. The modern round brilliant cut was developed around 1900, but was based on earlier cutting techniques.
Oval: Oval stones are “modified brilliant” cuts, making them similar to the round brilliant cut in terms of brilliance and fire, but with a more distinctive shape. They also tend to look larger on the hand than round stones, while making fingers appear slimmer. This cut was created in the 1960s.
Princess Cut: The most popular of the fancy cuts, the princess cut was created in 1980. The stone is crafted into the shape of a square or rectangle with beveled sides (the closer to square, the more ideal the stone), and mounted so that it looks like a pyramid when viewed from the side. The princess cut (sometimes called a square modified brilliant) comes the closest of any fancy cut stone to the brilliance of the round cut, and is normally a little less expensive than a round stone.
Marquise: Another modified brilliant, the marquise is based on a cut first introduced in the 1400s when King Louis XV commissioned a ring shaped like the mouth of his mistress (the Marquise of Pompadour), but modified many times since then. The best way to describe this shape is that it looks like a football, but the more elegant way to describe it is as an elongated oval. As with the oval cut, the stone’s shape seems to elongate the stone to make it look larger, particularly because of its large table.
Pear Shaped: Round at one end and marquise-shaped at the other (yep, that’s why they call it pear-shaped), this traditional cut originated way back in 1400 but received its greatest attention in the 20th century, when Richard Burton gave Liz Taylor a pear-shaped diamond weighing nearly 70 carats. This is a brilliant cut stone so it will have good fire and sparkle, but it’s extremely challenging for even experts to cut perfectly so it’s often difficult to find high-quality pear shaped stones. And if you’re wondering, you wear it with the tip pointing outward, toward your fingernails.
Cushion Cut: This cut has been around for about 200 years, and was once known as the “old mine” cut. It was the most popular of all diamonds for its first 100 years of existence, and is still favored by many today for its throwback look. Relatively-recent improvements in cutting techniques create more brilliance in cushion stones than in the past, but this is a cut which is known more for its luster. The shape is basically a square-cut diamond with rounded corners, that’s why it’s sometimes called a pillow cut.
Emerald Cut: Based on the table cut first seen in the 1400s, this cut is more elegant than brilliant thanks to its number of steps and a large table. It takes the shape of either a square or a narrow rectangle with stair steps cut into the sides, and has a classic look with flashes of fire. The name comes from the fact that the modern version of the cut was first used to cut – wait for it – emeralds, in the 1940s.
Asscher Cut: The Cliff Notes on square or slightly rectangular Asscher cuts: they look much like emerald cuts, but are usually better at reflecting light because of a smaller table, larger facets and a higher crown. Created by the world-famous Asscher brothers in 1902, the cut fell out of favor for decades but was redesigned and resurrected by the company as the Royal Asscher cut in the 2000s, more brilliant and once again growing in popularity.
Radiant Cut: A breakthrough of sorts that was created only about 25 years ago, the radiant cut is a combination of princess and cushion cuts with cropped corners, and is one of the only square cuts with brilliant-style faceting. In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference between princess and radiant cuts once they’re set, except that the radiant will have more sparkle.
Baguette: This rectangular step cut shape was quite popular during the Art Deco period. Its shapes were ideal for the era’s focus on geometric form, making the fact that it emphasized luster over brilliance less important. Today, these rectangular, long stones have found a home primarily as smaller accent stones on diamond rings.
Heart Shaped: Most people either hate or love heart shaped stones for rings; they are certainly distinctive and carry a heartfelt message, but many see them as tacky and suitable more for pendants or necklaces. In any event, they’re a beautiful stone since they’re a modified brilliant cut, similar to a round cut in terms of light reflection. When purchasing a heart shaped stone, it’s important to consider its size and symmetry, since it’s hard to tell that the stone is a heart if it’s too small or misshapen.
We’ve discussed diamonds more than other types of precious and semi-precious stones in this guide, partly because we love diamonds – but more importantly, because most people searching for in-depth guides on rings are getting ready to buy an engagement or other diamond ring. However, there are so many other types of stones which can be used as the focus of stunning rings, that it would be impossible to list them all without renting another internet server in order to have the online space.
We’ll give it a try, though; here are nearly two dozen of the most popular stones used in modern rings, with a key detail or two about each gem.
Diamond: OK, we lied. For diamonds, we have quite a few details. You already know that diamonds are the most popular precious stone used in rings, and you probably have at least heard of the “4 C’s” used to judge the quality of diamonds: carats, cut, color and clarity. What you may not know is that the shape of a diamond has a major impact on the importance of each “C”. For example, if you’re purchasing a stone which hides inclusions well like a princess cut, you can save money by looking for one which is ranks lower in clarity, and spend the “extra money” on color or carats; on the other hand, a round brilliant stone needs to rank well on clarity. Another hint: be sure to match the setting to the type of stone you purchase. As an example, putting a brilliant cut diamond in a bezel setting will be a waste because the low setting won’t let enough light reach the stone to take advantage of its brilliance. Finally, a growing trend these days is to opt for colored diamonds, particularly black diamonds; they’re usually less expensive than their colorless sisters, and are definitely a conversation piece.
Ruby: The beautiful red stone has been the world’s second most valuable precious stone throughout history. Ancient Hindus referred to it as the King of Gems, and it has long been a symbol of everlasting love. The secret to buying a ruby is finding a clear stone with strong color and few visible inclusions.
Emerald: This intense green precious stone often costs more than a diamond on a per carat basis, and has been revered in civilizations from the Egyptians to the ancient Romans as a symbol of wisdom and rebirth. When purchasing emeralds, color is key; the deeper, purer and more vivid the green is, the higher the stone’s value.
Sapphire: This stone is actually a ruby that isn’t red. The two precious stones are identical except for the impurities in their corundum mineral base; chromium makes them red and therefore rubies, while iron and titanium makes them other colors and therefore sapphires. Sapphires can be yellow, green, orange, pink or other colors as well as blue, but the blue ones are the most valuable and are the only ones simply called “sapphire” without a color appended to the name.
Opal: We now enter the realm of semi-precious stones. Opal can be found in almost any color, with the internal play of color crucial in determining value; black is the most prized color for opals.
Tanzanite: Only found in the African nation of Tanzania, this beautiful blue/purple stone has striking color play when viewed from different angles. It is expected to increase dramatically in value in the near future, because there’s a limited known supply of the gemstone.
Aquamarine: Related to the sapphire, aquamarine has long been considered the sailor’s lucky stone. Dark blue stones are the most valuable, and since the gem is usually eye-clean, emerald cuts are best to show off the stone’s beautiful appearance.
Pearl: The only semi-precious stone which is created by a living organism, natural pearls are rare and pricey because there are very few oyster-grown pearls found in the wild. Cultivated pearls, on the other hand, are quite common and much less expensive, but still are genuine.
Amethyst: The most precious form of quartz, amethyst, is most valuable when it is a uniform, deep purple, but uniformity of color is quite rare in this stone. Amethysts were once considered more valuable than diamonds, until large Brazilian deposits of the stone were discovered.
Alexandrite: Very expensive and very rare, high-quality alexandrite is known for showing dramatically different colors depending on light conditions: blue or green in sunlight, violet or red in incandescent light.
Topaz: Topaz is the strongest form of silicate mineral, and usually comes in a variety of colors due to impurities. The most sought-after forms are Imperial topaz in deep golden yellow, orange or red colors. The most common form sold today is blue topaz, usually irradiated to produce deep color.
Agate: This form of silica is known for its beautiful bands and patterns of varying colors. It is normally quite affordable for all forms of jewelry, but stones with sharp bands and vivid coloring can bring a premium price.
Jade: There are two forms of jade: jadeite and nephrite. Nephrite is easily found, while jadeite is increasingly rare because of a trade embargo against its primary source, Myanmar. The emerald green translucent stone usually associated with jade, Imperial Jade, is rare and quite valuable.
Morganite: This stone is related to both emerald and aquamarine, but is pink-to-purple instead of green or blue. It’s also relatively hard-to-find compared to other relatives in the beryl family, with stones which are deep pink or have an orange shade to them the most desirable.
Peridot: Very few gemstones are only found in one color; peridot is one of them, only appearing in shades of green, with dark green stones the most expensive. Ancient Egyptians called it the gem of the sun.
Turquoise: Even though the name is often associated with a greenish-blue color, the most valuable turquoise is robin’s egg blue. Unlike most stones where you don’t want to see inclusions, a “matrix” of veins in the stone, which is what remains of the “mother stone”, increases the value of turquoise in most cases.
Garnet: This actually is the name of a group of similar minerals, such as rhodolite and topazolite. Garnet comes in all colors except blue, is brilliant and durable, and has been worn for millennia by numerous civilizations for protection.
Citrine: It’s extremely unusual to find natural citrine; the stone is usually created by heating amethyst to extremely high temperatures. The deep yellow, transparent appearance of the best stone is usually free of visible inclusions.
Moonstone: Yes, this is a real semi-precious stone. It’s named for its color play which can resemble the glow of moonlight and its display of cat’s eye. It is affordable and easy to find; transparent blue stones are more valuable than most others. Moonstone also cracks quite easily.
Onyx: Aside from being a great Scrabble word, onyx is a beautiful gemstone. When it’s solid black, it’s stunning; when it’s banded black-and-white, it’s interesting. Either way, it’s not worth as much as it was when ancient civilizations were using it for carvings and jewelry.
Crystal: “Crystal” is not literally a semi-precious stone, although many gems are made from crystalline structures. What are commonly referred to as crystal rings are made from natural quartz, often enhanced with different types of synthetic material.
Swarovski Elements: This is a collection of crystals from the best-known company specializing in crystal jewelry and decorative pieces, Swarovski. Virtually any color, design or shape of crystal is available to be used in creating rings or other jewelry.
Cubic Zirconia: If you’ve spent any time watching late-night TV (or a jewelry channel) you’re familiar with CZ, and you know that it’s not a semi-precious stone. It is a synthetic diamond substitute which is considerably less expensive than diamond, but can actually show better brightness and flare than the real thing.
Wow, that’s a lot of information, and as it turns out, there’s even more that we left out. Hopefully this guide was enough to get you started, though – and for additional information on any of the topics we’ve discussed, just click on any of the related site links and you’ll get bombarded with even more specifics to help you on your ring buying journey.
Thanks for reading!