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3 diamond alternatives that look real and can save you thousands of dollars on an engagement ring

Twenty/20

About 40% of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, according to WeddingWire.com. If your holiday shopping list includes an engagement ring, you may want to consider a diamond alternative instead of a natural diamond to make the most of your budget. Depending on the stone you pick, you could save 90%.

That's not small change. Couples spent an average of $7,829 on engagement rings in 2018, according to the 2018 Brides American Wedding Study. That's up significantly from 2017's average of $5,023.

Here are three diamond alternatives that can save you thousands on an engagement ring.

1. Lab grown diamonds

Composite image comparing a natural diamond (left) to a laboratory grown diamond (right). Photo by Kevin Schumacher © GIA.
Courtesy the Gemological Institute of America

Lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical makeup as natural diamonds. That means they're just as shiny and durable as diamonds but significantly less expensive, says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst for Gemological Institute of America (GIA). A nonprofit gemology institute, GIA issues grading reports to help shoppers understand gemstone quality.

"With a lab-grown diamond, like every other industrial product, it becomes better, faster, and cheaper in manufacturing," he says.

You can assess the value of a lab-grown diamond using the same standards as you would a natural diamond, namely, the four C's: color, clarity, cut, and carat.

The big difference: price. A lab-grown, 1.5-carat round colorless diamond with VVS1 clarity can run you between $4,500 to $6,800, says Shirley Kam, the owner of Love & Promise Jewelers in Chicago, which specializes in diamond alternatives. A natural diamond with the same details can range from $10,000 to $12,000, according to Rare Carat, a diamond price-comparison site.

2. Moissanite

Natural sapphire (on left) and a lab grown moissanite (on right).
Courtesy Love & Promise Jewelers

Moissanite is a naturally occurring crystal that forms after a meteor hits Earth, although it's common to find lab-grown versions of the stones, too. "When you look into a moissanite stone, the light will come out of more facets than a diamond, making it more sparkly," says Shor.

Moissanite grading and pricing is different than that for diamonds. It's based on a stone's measurements, or calibrated size, rather than its weight. Clarity is graded by a color spectrum.

A 7.55 mm moissanite stone is approximately 1.5 carats in size. A round 7.55 mm near-colorless, high-clarity moissanite is about $700, says Kam. You should expect to spend about $1,050 for a colorless moissanite, which means you could spend about 90% less than you would on a natural diamond with similar details.

3. White sapphires

Natural sapphire (on left) and lab grown moissanite (on right).
Courtesy Love & Promise Jewelers

Another quality alternative is white or clear sapphires, says Shor. White sapphires are durable, and resistant to scratching or breaking. However, white sapphires have a lower refractive index, which means it won't have as much sparkle as a diamond.

Like diamonds, natural sapphires are sold by carat weight. But they are more dense, so you'll need a slightly larger stone to approximate the appearance of a 1.5-carat diamond. You can find a quality, round 1.60-1.80 carat white sapphire for $1,500 to $2,000, says Kam. That's about 80% less than a 1.5-carat diamond natural diamond with the same details, which would generally go for $10,000 to $12,000.

It's important to know what you're buying before shelling out thousands of dollars for an engagement ring, says Shor. Experts recommend reviewing an independent grading report, like those from the GIA, which assess a stone's characteristics and flaws.

Smart shopping means you won't be able to tell the difference of stones in an engagement ring. When it comes to diamond alternatives like lab grown diamonds, moissanite, and white sapphires, he says, "you need really a sophisticated piece of equipment to tell the difference" between a quality alternative and a natural diamond.

This story has been updated to correct the durability of white sapphires.

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