The most commonly set gem used in traditional engagement ring designs is most certainly diamond. This is actually a fairly recent trend, dating back to 1870 when huge diamond finds were discovered in South Africa. There was such an incredible surplus of diamonds that a major advertising campaign was initiated by the De Beers consortium. Their objective was to associate diamonds with love and marriage. The aggressive campaign ran for decades before finally reaching its pinnacle success, forever changing the culture of marriage.
However, there has been some recent unfolding of tell-tale signs, indicating that the diamond ring tradition is beginning to weaken. So much that many couples contemplating marriage are now weighing alternative stones. The reasons for swaying from tradition are numerous, including the result of suffering economics, bad publicity involving conflict diamonds and the perceived lack of self-expression falling with tradition. More and more consumers are becoming aware of the fact that diamonds are not rare as rare as they were lead to be, and that prices are kept artificially inflated by the cartel controlling supply and distribution.
Colored gemstones can present a refreshing and attractive alternative to diamond, especially for use in engagement rings. This is because of the large assortment of colors available, as well as the countless amounts of different styles, sizes and price points available. Nowadays, many celebrities have also encouraged the era of colored stone engagement rings as a fashion trend. The most famous example was the infamous blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring, given by Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer upon their engagement in 1981. The same ring was passed on to Prince William, which he gave upon engagement to Kate Middleton in 2011. Prince Andrew, the younger brother of Prince Charles, also presented his fiancée, Sarah Ferguson, with a colored gemstone engagement ring in 1986, featuring a "pigeon's blood red" ruby.
As of yet, the jewelry industry has not shown much enthusiasm when it comes to marketing colored gemstones for engagement rings. Most retail jewelers are extremely knowledgeable about diamonds, but not so much with colored gemstones. Undoubtedly, the big players of the diamond industry are in favor of maintaining the status quo. Many couples who have decided upon a colored gemstone engagement ring will typically purchase a loose colored gemstone from a specialized gemstone supplier. They then bring the loose stone in to have having it set by a retail jeweler into a mounting they've purchased separately.
Not all gem types are suitable for engagement rings, since they are typically worn every day. Ruby and sapphire are ideal for engagement ring designs based on their hardness and durability. Other suitable colored gem options could include spinel, tsavorite, spessartite, aquamarine, alexandrite and chyrsoberyl. Some of the other popular stones, such as tanzanite, would not be recommended since they are not really hard enough to be worn every day.
Fine colored gemstones can be found in a wide array of cuts and sizes, but high quality sapphires and rubies can be quite expensive in larger sizes. Rubies are only found as red or pink-red gems, but sapphires can occur in numerous brilliant colors, including blue, green, yellow and pink.