lotus ring with white sapphire center stone
lotus ring with white sapphire center stone

White Sapphires vs Diamonds


Do white sapphires make good alternatives to diamonds? Compare their qualities and learn how to choose the right engagement ring stone for you.

6 Minute Read

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Why?
Are you looking for alternatives to a diamond engagement ring? White sapphires have become popular options. Learn how they differ from diamonds and how to choose the right center stone for you.
lotus ring with white sapphire center stone
Lotus ring with a white sapphire center stone. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
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at CustomMade

What is White Sapphire?

A white sapphire is any gem-quality corundum that's colorless, or white. Red gem-quality corundum is considered ruby, while all non-red corundum is considered sapphire.

Although blue is the most popular (and expensive) sapphire color, white sapphires have become popular alternatives to diamonds for engagement ring stones.

oval-cut white sapphire 2.26 cts
Oval-cut white sapphire, 2.26 cts, Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Are White Sapphires Natural?

While some white sapphire is mined, it can be grown in a lab, too. Natural and lab-made sapphires have the same optical and physical properties, so most consumers can't distinguish a natural, faceted sapphire gem from a synthetic one. Gemologists may be able to find some telltale differences.

  • natural sapphire crystal - Sri Lanka
    Found in the gem gravels of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, this colorless sapphire crystal weighs 350 cts. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
  • synthetic sapphire crystal
    This lab-grown sapphire crystal weighs approximately 30 kg (150,000 cts). Photo by WhiteOakTree. Public domain.

    Will My Center Stone be Conflict-Free and Ethically Sourced?

    Unlike diamonds, colored gemstones don't go through the Kimberley Process. This is an international agreement to track diamonds from mine to market in order to keep them from being sold to finance wars. This is what makes it possible to purchase diamonds certified as conflict-free.

    However, white sapphires sell for lower prices than diamonds, so they're less likely to be sold to support conflicts. Tracing a mined white sapphire back to its source is also usually easier than tracing a diamond. Still, gemstone mining can raise many other ethical issues, such as the use of child labor or environmental destruction.

    Whether you choose a diamond or a white sapphire, as long as you buy from a reputable dealer, you can be confident that your stone was ethically sourced.

    White Sapphire vs Diamond

    Although these stones might look alike, they're actually quite different. Let's compare them in terms of beauty, durability, and price.

    Beauty

    No matter what, a well-cut diamond will show more brilliance, dispersion, and scintillation than a well-cut white sapphire. That means that diamonds will appear brighter (brilliance), have more colorful flashes (dispersion or "fire"), and sparkles of light (scintillation) than sapphires.

    • oval-cut diamond in a halo setting
    • Oval-cut diamond in a halo setting 2.

      Even from a distance, you can see the sparkle and fire of this oval-cut diamond in a halo setting. Photo © James Allen. Used with permission.

      On the other hand, white sapphires will look softer than diamonds.

      • Oval-cut white sapphires in a three-stone halo setting
      • Oval-cut white sapphires in a three-stone halo setting 2

        These oval-cut white sapphires in a three-stone halo setting have a white glow of color, without the fireworks of diamonds. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

        Ultimately, you'll have to decide what look appeals to you most.

        Hardness and Durability

        Sapphires have excellent hardness and durability. No doubt, you'll hear that sapphire's Mohs hardness of 9 is much lower than diamond's 10. Nevertheless, practically speaking, that difference makes little difference.

        A gemstone's hardness measures its resistance to scratching. At a hardness of 10, only another diamond could scratch a diamond. However, only a diamond or a moissanite could scratch a sapphire. So, unless you're planning on rubbing all your jewelry together, you really don't have to worry about scratching your sapphire.

        Both diamond and sapphire will resist scratches from everyday hazards, like fingernails, coins in your purse or pocket, countertops, and even household dust (which has a hardness of 7).

        Durability (or tenacity) measures a gemstone's resistance to physical blows. In other words, it gives you an indication of how hard you have to hit it before it chips or breaks. As it turns out, most gemstones are brittle, including diamonds and sapphires, and chips and breaks can happen in just about any stone. It's not any more frequent in sapphires than diamonds.

        Hardness and durability concerns shouldn't influence your choice of either a diamond or a white sapphire.

        Art Deco ring
        This 1920s Art Deco platinum ring has a sparkling white sapphire center stone and two diamond baguette side stones. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Myers Fine Art.

        Price and Size

        Of course, white sapphire is the clear winner in terms of price and size. White sapphires are much less expensive than diamonds at any given carat size. Therefore, for the same bite out of your engagement ring budget, you can get a much bigger white sapphire than a diamond.

        That said, if you're trying to find a white sapphire that will simulate or imitate a diamond, their differences become much more obvious in larger sizes. So, stick to a smaller stone if you want your white sapphire to look like a diamond.

        On the other hand, if you simply like the look of a white sapphire and don't care that it's not a diamond, you can get a sizable rock for your ring.

        Choosing a White Sapphire Center Stone

        If you decide to go with a white sapphire, how can you find the right one? Colored gemstones, like white sapphires, are evaluated differently than diamonds. It's more difficult to compare them based solely on color, clarity, and cut grades.

        Don't let this discourage you. With the money you've saved by not choosing a diamond, you should be able to find a beautiful white sapphire center stone. By working closely with your jeweler, you'll find the best gem your budget will allow.

        Avoid Cloudiness

        Many white sapphires have a milky or cloudy appearance. This goes beyond their characteristic soft, white glow. For an engagement ring, try to choose the most transparent stone you can.

        engagement ring
        An engagement ring with an exceptionally clear white sapphire. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
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        at CustomMade

        Eye-Clean Clarity

        All sapphires typically contain inclusions — tiny mineral crystals or fractures that formed within these gemstones. Try to find a white sapphire that appears eye-clean. That means you can't see any inclusions when you hold the stone about 6 inches from your eyes. (The stone may actually contain inclusions visible under magnification, but you can't see them with the naked eye).

        white sapphire - Sri Lanka
        Eye-clean, oval-cut white sapphire, 2.37 cts, Sri Lanka. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

        Cut Shape and Quality

        White sapphire comes in a variety of cuts and shapes. If you're going for a diamond lookalike appearance, you might opt for a traditional round cut.

        yellow gold engagement ring
        Round-cut white sapphire in a yellow gold ring with a swirling design. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
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        at CustomMade

        If not, consider something more unique, like a Portuguese or a heart cut.

        Claddagh engagement ring
        Claddagh engagement ring with a heart-cut white sapphire. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
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        at CustomMade

        Cut quality will greatly affect the appearance of your sapphire. If you have the budget for it, try working with a custom gem cutter. A precision custom cut will ensure you get the most sparkle from your center stone.

        Types of Treatments

        Make sure you know if your gemstone received any treatments or enhancements. Some are safe, permanent improvements. Others are not.

        For example, heat treatments are routine for sapphires, and the results are permanent. Almost all sapphires receive this treatment. Heating will improve color and clarity and is an accepted practice in the gem trade.

        On the other hand, some white sapphires might receive coatings to make them appear whiter. Scratches from normal wear and tear can removing the coating. Other sapphires undergo a diffusion treatment which alters the outer layer of the stone itself. Nevertheless, this treatment can come off if you have your stone repaired or re-polished.

        Avoid purchasing fracture-filled sapphires. These contain leaded glass that makes the gems appear to have better clarity. Although less expensive than non-filled gems, some have so much glass they're more "hybrid gems" than sapphires.

        You can learn more about sapphire treatments here.

        Finding the Best White Sapphire

        Your best bet is to work with a jeweler you can trust. Evaluating white sapphires and understanding their treatments can be quite confusing. A knowledgeable jeweler can help you choose a good stone.

        Of course, you can learn more about sapphire jewelry, too. Consult, our general buying guide for sapphire engagement rings. You can also take the IGS Sapphire Mini-Course.

        We recommend working with the experts at CustomMade. They can source a beautiful white sapphire and explain everything you need to know about its quality and care. Plus, they'll set that gem in a completely unique ring made to suit you perfectly.

        Art Deco-inspired engagement ring
        Asscher-cut white sapphire in an Art Deco-inspired ring with garnet accents. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
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        at CustomMade

        Addison Rice

        A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison’s interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth’s geological processes began in her elementary school’s environmental club. When she isn’t writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.

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