Diamonds have long been a girl’s best friend. Now, as fiancees-to-be hunt for unique baubles, sapphires, rubies and emeralds are winning favor, too.
“I love to stand out, so we picked something different,” said Sarah DeRemer, a medical technician from Broadway, New Jersey, who got engaged last month with a sapphire ring she and her fiance had designed.
The colored-stone trend got a lift with singer Jessica Simpson’s ruby-and-diamond combination and royal bride Kate Middleton’s sapphire-and-diamond ring. Couples increasingly want an alternative to the traditional white gems, which some still associate with the “blood diamonds” used to finance African civil wars.
Sapphires have been growing more popular, says Andrew Schloss, brand director at jeweler Reinstein Ross in New York. “Fancy color” diamonds are also catching on, and Tiffany & Co. (TIF), which has sold them throughout its more than 170-year history, last year introduced a yellow diamond collection.
“It’s very popular right now to do colored stones,” Schloss said. “They’re happy colors, they’re very warm.”
Pink is the most popular, according to Heather Levine, the senior fashion editor at TheKnot.com, a bridal planning website. Jennifer Lopez, who in 2002 got engaged to Ben Affleck with a 6.1-carat pink diamond ring, started the trend of using colored stones, Levine said.
“It’s continuing to be present in the media and therefore brides are more comfortable with the idea,” Levine said.
Americans spent $6.12 billion on engagement rings in 2010, for an average of $3,465 a ring, according to a report last month from industry tracker Wedding Report Inc.
While outlays on wedding bands gained 6.5 percent from 2006, spending on engagement rings dropped 31 percent, the data show. In the wake of the 2008 recession, couples became “much more aware of what they can afford,” said Shane McMurray, who runs the Tuscon, Arizona-based Wedding Report.
A good-quality, 1-carat diamond ranges in price from $5,500 to $11,000, said Donald Palmieri, New York-based president of the Gem Certification and Assurance Lab. Same-size rubies max out at about $4,000, blue sapphires cost from $1,600 to $2,000, while emeralds cost more than $8,000, he said.
Depending on their quality and rarity, colored gemstones can cost more than diamonds, says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at Carlsbad, California-based Gemological Institute of America. Most quality rubies are found in Myanmar, where a trade embargo makes the gems “extremely scarce,” Shor said. While diamonds are mined by large companies such as Anglo American Plc (AAL)’s De Beers, Rio Tinto Plc (RIO) and BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), colored gemstones “tend to be in very small pockets,” and it isn’t worth building an infrastructure to mine a deposit that will only last a few years, Shor said.
“Most of the colored stones are sort of here today, gone tomorrow,” he said.
Rubies and sapphires, which are both made of the same mineral, corundum, are “quite durable,” according to John Watkins, an independent goldsmith in Lake Nacimiento, California. On the Mohs scale, which measures minerals’ hardness from 1 to 10, corundum ranks at 9. Diamonds are a 10 and almost four times harder than corundum.
Ever since De Beers’s “A Diamond is Forever” 1948 advertising campaign, the precious stones have been the leading choice for engagement rings -- and 96 percent of them had diamonds last year, according to the Wedding Report.
Colored diamonds from New York-based Tiffany’s gives brides-to-be color without forcing them to stray from the traditional stone. The company is “very pleased” with the introduction of the yellow diamond collection and expects it to be “successful for many years,” Mark Aaron, Tiffany’s vice president of investor relations, said on a March 21 conference call.
People gave fiancee DeRemer, 22, “the craziest looks when I told them I wanted a sapphire ring instead of a diamond ring,” she said. “I just told them it was my ring, not theirs. I had dreamed about the ring, I made pictures on Photoshop to try to get something we could show. Seeing it come to life, it was just amazing.”
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