Diamond Alternative on Engagement Rings Softens Economic Strain

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The skyrocketing cost of diamonds, gold and platinum has moved consumers to alternatives like white sapphire and titanium.

An example of a white sapphire, flanked by diamonds and platinum on a titanium ring.

A lot of people want a giant sparkling rock on a platinum-toned band. When you show them alternatives like white sapphire and titanium, they realize they can have the same quality for a fraction of the price.

The skyrocketing cost of diamonds, gold and platinum has led to successful efforts to market alternatives such as white sapphire and titanium.

The data comes from one of the largest online ring studios, TiRings.com. It seems to confirm the prediction of financial pundits that consumers are entering a new age of practicality and financial responsibility, following the global economic crash. The major noticeable shifts have been away from materials such as gold (~$1220 per ounce), platinum (~$1550 per ounce) and diamonds (varies).

"White sapphires on titanium rings have become very popular," says Eric Pless, chief designer at TiRings.com. "A lot of people want a giant sparkling rock on a platinum-toned band. When you show them alternatives like white sapphire and titanium, they realize they can have the same quality for a fraction of the price."

White sapphires feature an almost identical optical dispersion rate to diamonds, meaning that the spectrum of colors that can be reflected is similar to diamonds. Meanwhile, white sapphires are almost as hard as diamonds (9 out of 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness; diamonds being 10).

"No-one, except a trained gemologist looking through a microscope, can tell the difference between a well-cut white sapphire and a diamond."

There are ethical benefits also. Sapphires don't have the same issues with conflict and exploitation in third-world countries, and even so-called "conflict-free diamond" labels have been shown to be misleading by advocacy groups such as the International Jeweltree Foundation.

Pless asserts that for best results, white sapphires need to be high quality and have the right type of cut. Even then, such high quality white sapphires (i.e. virtually no inclusions/flaws) are a tenth of the price of mediocre diamonds.

Meanwhile, share prices in platinum fell dramatically recently, from its $1752 per ounce high, down to $1550. This could be an indicator that investors and consumers feel platinum is overpriced. Efforts to convey the superior attributes of titanium jewelry to the public have been largely successful, leading to a surge in interest which may have played a part in platinum's decline.

Pless: "Titanium also has a beautiful platinum tone, but it's incredibly strong, virtually weightless, virtually corrosion-proof, scratch-resistant and 100% hypoallergenic (biocompatible). Platinum can't compete with titanium in any aspect except rarity, while diamonds can't compete with the price per carat of white sapphires."

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Eric Pless

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