7 Stunning but Delicate Engagement Ring Stones
Whatever your style and budget, one of these gems could make the perfect engagement ring stone for you. Our list includes very traditional gem choices as well as some lesser known but beautiful stones. Some can be extremely expensive while others are surprisingly affordable.
Taking Care of Your Engagement Ring Stone
All the gems on this list have physical properties that reduce their wearability. For example, a gem’s hardness measures its resistance to scratching. On the Mohs scale of hardness, diamonds famously have the highest score at 10. At the other extreme, you have a material like talc with a hardness of 1. You could scratch it with your fingernail. Typically, any gem with a hardness below 7 (the hardness of quartz as well as household dust) is considered susceptible to scratching from wear.
However, hardness is only one factor in a gem’s wearability. Most gems, even diamonds, have a brittle tenacity, which means they can shatter easily from physical blows. Some gems are more brittle than most, and some also have internal cleavage planes along which they tend to split. This can make them difficult to cut and set.
A few gems are sensitive to changes in temperature, chemicals found in perfumes and cleaning solutions, and even light!
Protective settings are great for shielding a gem from physical hazards like scratches and blows. Any gemstone can benefit from protective settings, but they’re vital for delicate engagement ring stones.
Don’t let the name lead you to believe that these settings all have a conservative style. You can choose protective settings that still match your tastes. Bezels and channels can be part of a traditional design, but you can also choose a more experimental look with cages, bowls, and even arches.
You can learn more about different kinds of protective settings here.
Care and Maintenance
You can’t neglect the care and maintenance of any gemstones. Of course, delicate engagement ring stones require extra attention. In general, you can either clean them at home with mild detergent, warm water, and a soft brush or take them to a professional jeweler. Never clean any of the gems on this list by steaming, boiling, or ultrasonic systems. Read the directions carefully before using any jewelry cleaning solution and follow them exactly (or just stick to mild detergent and water). Pay particular attention to what is — and isn’t — included in any list of gemstones approved for use with the product. For more recommendations, consult our gemstone jewelry care guide.
When it comes to wear and care, opals and pearls are in a class by themselves, even when compared to other gems on this list. If you’re considering either of these gems for an engagement ring, read our special guide for the care of opals and pearls.
Like other classic gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, pearls are popular choices for jewelry. And like these other classic gemstones, pearls can also be very expensive. Natural pearls are extremely rare and can sell for astronomical prices. Fortunately for aficionados, cultured pearls are common, popular, and affordable.
Unlike other classic gemstones, pearls form inside living creatures, not underground. Some varieties of mollusks, such as oysters and mussels, create pearls by secreting layers of nacre — a combination of calcium carbonate and protein — around irritants lodged inside them. Due to environmental changes and over-harvesting, only one in several million of these creatures will ever yield a gem-quality pearl in the wild. However, in “pearl farms,” people insert beads into mollusks under controlled conditions to stimulate the formation or “cultivation” of pearls.
Nacre gives the pearl its beautiful, characteristic luster. Unfortunately, nacre is also very vulnerable to heat as well as acids and ammonia, which can be found in perspiration and many cleaning solutions. With a hardness of 2.5-4.5, this substance is also very easily scratched. Furthermore, many pearls are drilled (even for mounting on rings), so the drill holes can easily accumulate grime if not cleaned properly.
Why Pick Pearl for an Engagement Ring Stone?
Nevertheless, with the right setting and some extra care, a couple can really make this popular gem their own with a unique engagement ring design. Freshwater and saltwater pearls come in so many varieties, in colors ranging from traditional white to pink, lavender, and even black with rainbow overtones, and in shapes from classic rounds to teardrops and unusual, baroque figures.
With beautiful multi-color displays, opals have enchanted people for millennia. Perhaps more than any other gem, they’ve inspired a very divergent body of folklore — including symbolic associations with misfortune as well as good luck and hope.
Often found in desert areas, most opals today come from Australia and sources like Coober Pedy. Millions of years ago, these areas contained seas and silica-rich sand. After these seas receded, heavy weathering began to dissolve the silica. Microscopic spheres of this silica eventually formed opals, which also hold a large amount of water. Most gem-quality opals contain between 3-10% water, but some opals may have as much as 21%. Thus, opals are very susceptible to drying out as well as changes in temperature.
Opals that lose too much water content can develop surface cracks, while sudden changes in temperature — like taking them from a warm room into a frigid winter night — can shatter them. It’s essential to store opals in cool areas where they can absorb moisture from the air, and you should always be mindful of the temperature when you wear them. In addition, these gems have a relatively soft hardness of 5.5-6.5.
Why Pick Opal for an Engagement Ring Stone?
Despite the risks, no other gemstone can match the appearance of opal. You can buy opals in a variety of body colors, patterns, and spectacular play-of-color effects. Even rare black opals, stones with dark body colors and strong color flashes, may be found for sale at reasonable prices. Other opal varieties can also make stunning engagement ring stones. Semi-translucent crystal opals can have strong rainbow-colored flashes. White opals have white body colors with color flashes. (Most commercial-quality opal jewelry features white opal). Some fire opals may not show a play-of color-effect, but they can have bright orange or red body colors.
With a protective setting and some extra attention to its care and storage (as well as the weather), an opal can make a truly unique, eye-catching stone for your engagement ring.
Zircons may be the oldest gems on Earth. The oldest zircon crystal discovered so far is 4.4 billion years old. Although they come in a variety of colors, these gems are most popular in medium blue with greenish tones. Despite its availability, zircon often gets confused with cubic zirconia (CZ) due to its name. However, zircon is a distinct, natural gem species.
Zircons can have the highest hardness of any gem on this list, 6.5-7.5. Some stones can exceed the hardness of quartz. So, why are they on this list? Despite their resistance to scratching, zircons are more brittle than most gems. They can chip and wear out easily, especially along facet edges. As zircons form underground, they may experience stop/start crystal growth. As a result, some specimens may grow in layers in different directions. This is known as twinning. This may make stones difficult to cut and more liable to split.
Some zircons may have a very high birefringence, depending on how they form in the Earth. As a result, some stones will show two-color pleochroism, two different colors depending on the viewing angle, as well as fuzziness. When viewed through the top of a gemstone, the bottom facets may appear fuzzy or doubled. Expert gem cutters must consider these factors when choosing a design for a zircon.
Why Pick Zircon for an Engagement Ring Stone?
Zircons can display such great dispersion (sparkles of color) and brilliance (return of light to the viewer) that, in the past, jewelers used colorless zircons as diamond lookalikes. Jewelry buyers greatly admire these optical properties along with zircon’s moderate prices. Zircons will look good on a ring. With the right cut, setting, and care, this is a delicate engagement ring stone that can last a lifetime.
You can learn more about buying zircons in general here.
Of the gems on our list, sphenes are probably the least known to most jewelry buyers. Nevertheless, this beautiful stone — also known as titanite — is popular with collectors. Sphenes have great brilliance and a dispersion that exceeds that of diamonds. Available in many rich colors, light greens and yellows really show off its intense red flashes.
Sphenes have a hardness of 5-5.5, so they’re susceptible to scratching. They’re also somewhat sensitive to heat and acids, even those found in perspiration. Sphenes have distinct cleavage planes, which make them liable to split, and though that can have a diamond-like adamantine surface luster, they prove very difficult to polish to this level. They commonly contain inclusions, tiny crystals and fractures inside the stones, which means these gems should only be cleaned manually, never mechanically.
Additionally, sphenes possess a combination of optical properties that make them challenging to cut. Although their dispersion is greatly prized, sphenes can also show moderate to strong three-color pleochroism or trichroism. Unfortunately, strong pleochroism can hide strong dispersion. An expert gem cutter can evaluate a sphene and find the best possible design to showcase the stone’s properties.
Why Pick Sphene for an Engagement Ring Stone?
You’ll rarely see sphenes in jewelry, let alone engagement rings. For couples looking for something different and not too expensive, sphenes make a great choice. With the right cut, setting, and care, you can have a delicate but dazzling stone on your finger that will really sparkle as you turn your hand.
Strictly speaking, spectrolite is a high-quality labradorite from Finland that shows spectacular flashes of metallic colors on its surface. This effect is known as labradorescence. However, the name “spectrolite” is often applied to any type of labradorite that shows a variety of color flashes. While most labradorites can have blue, gray, or green flashes, spectrolites can show rarer colors like vivid orange and magenta.
Spectrolites have a hardness of 6-6.5, so they’re susceptible to scratching. They also have two planes of perfect cleavage, so they must be cut and worn carefully to avoid splitting.
Why Pick Spectrolite for an Engagement Ring Stone?
A spectrolite ring stone will give you a spectacular display of colors at a very low price. Gem cutters can cut these gems into cabochons as well as faceted designs. Spectrolites can also take a very high polish. With the right setting and care, you can have a very eye-catching stone for your engagement ring.
Although a certain book and movie about dinosaurs have given amber some contemporary cachet, people have used amber for jewelry for over 10,000 years. This fossilized tree resin can famously contain all manner of tiny plant and animal remains, especially insects, as inclusions trapped inside it.
Amber’s natural colors may range from yellow to orange, brown, reddish brown, and, rarely, even blue and greenish hues. Aside from pieces with large or unusual inclusions, reddish amber or pieces with high transparency are the most popular, especially for jewelry.
Most amber is at least 30 million years old. Preserved tree resin younger than this is called “copal” and has different properties.
With a hardness of only 2-2.5, amber is the softest gem on this list. Furthermore, amber can generate static electricity when rubbed, which will attract dust (which has a much greater hardness). Thus, amber faces a great risk of scratching. Amber is also very sensitive to heat and solvents, including alcohol, so amber pieces must be cleaned with care.
Why Pick Amber for an Engagement Ring Stone?
Most amber pieces are very inexpensive. Although gem cutters usually cab amber, it can also be faceted and even carved into beautiful shapes. Of course, amber makes a very delicate engagement ring stone that requires the right setting and care. Nevertheless, for couples who want something unusual for a ring — like something with a prehistoric animal in it — amber is a good choice.
You can learn more about buying amber in general here.
This green variety of the gem species spodumene was discovered near what would eventually become the town of Hiddenite, North Carolina. (This famous mining town was named after the gemstone). Hiddenites can resemble emeralds in color, though they usually occur in green-yellow or bluish green shades. Some gem lovers also appreciate this stone in mint or pale, watery teal hues.
With a hardness of 6.6-7, some hiddenites may be able to resist scratching. However, these gems have two very pronounced cleavage planes, which makes them difficult to cut and set as well as liable to fracture even with slight impacts. Hiddenite also has an unusual property: it can lose its color with prolonged exposure to sunlight and bright light. Like its fellow spodumene, the pink-and-purple kunzite, this is a “twilight” or “midnight gem.”
Why Pick Hiddenite for an Engagement Ring Stone?
This rare gemstone is more commonly found in gem collections than jewelry collections, but, if set and cut properly — and worn at night — hiddenite can make a beautiful and unusual engagement ring stone. Frankly, of all the gems on this list, hiddenite has perhaps the most severe limitation on wear. However, this gem would make an ideal choice for those couples who prefer the nightlife (and who never drink … wine). Just remember to store the ring in darkness, too, to preserve its colors.