Romantic symbolism: conflict-free and on the cheap
January 5, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a quality, non-diamond engagement ring that wont plunge me deeper into debt.

My fiancee and I have been engaged for long enough that it's getting annoying and pretty ridiculous that she doesn't have a ring yet. We are both aware of the sins of the diamond industry, but she likes the look of diamonds or light-colored gemstones.

We've been to jewelers in person to find out what styles we like, but their prices range from too much to completely insane, and there's too much focus on the hard-sell of the diamond. Where can we go to find what we're looking for, either in Chicago, NE Indiana, or online?

What we're looking for: emerald-cut stone, plain or engraved white gold band, antique style, pave halo around the stone (without using diamonds, which is seemingly impossible). But nothing too fancy. Is a custom setting our best option? Is there any way to do this on a tight budget?
posted by kyleg to Shopping (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about their prices, but my mother (who had worked in a jewelry store, and knew a ton about gems) used Cottage Jewelry in Evanston for most of her pieces and really liked them.

And this bit on their website made me laugh:

Brides-to-be who may be aware that the Latin word for diamond (“adamas”) means unconquerable, can also have their engagement ring set with a colored center stone.

so maybe they won't push the "must have diamond" thing so hard!
posted by occhiblu at 7:36 PM on January 5, 2008

Have you considered buying online? Of course, there are a number of disadvantages to doing this, particularly in fitting and design, but the enormous advantage is you can get something pretty impressive at similarly impressive prices.
posted by wackybrit at 7:37 PM on January 5, 2008

I would work with an artisan and custom design a ring that has some personal meaning to the both of you. Having a metalsmith do your ring isn't going to cost more than a boiler-plate mass produced ring, and it would be a one of a kind ring that is worthy of the long wait. Plus, you'd be supporting a local artist and not some mall corporate jewelry store, so kudos to you for that, too.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:40 PM on January 5, 2008

Response by poster: Obviously, working with an artisan or buying from a trustworthy online source would be great. Unfortunately, we have no idea where to find either. Any ideas?
posted by kyleg at 7:54 PM on January 5, 2008

pave halo around the stone (without using diamonds, which is seemingly impossible)

Do you want clear/white stones for the pavé? There are clear stones that aren't diamonds -- white topaz comes to mind, as does cubic zirconia.

But the bottom line is that a ring of non-diamond pavé = custom work. And custom work = expensive. In fact, I hope I don't depress you terribly -- but often these days a non-diamond ring in an "engagement style," as opposed to a cocktail or dinner ring, will mean custom work.

When you say she likes "light-colored stones," what do you mean? What about an emerald-cut yellow topaz, or peridot?

You might look into a sapphire, which has loads of the romantic symbolism you seek, and also comes in many colors (although I am partial to the traditional blue).

The best way to do this on a tight budget would be to use a family stone, if one is available, because all you'd pay for is a cleaning or a re-setting. Second-most affordable would be to buy from an estate jeweler, i.e. the ring would be used or vintage. The con is that you don't get much selection overall, and little say in the finer details; the pro is that you get a moral pass on the diamonds, since a vintage diamond ring is recycled and not still supporting the African mines.
posted by pineapple at 7:56 PM on January 5, 2008

Don't forget white sapphires
posted by MayNicholas at 7:59 PM on January 5, 2008

Ah, I did a google search and there is an MFA program in Jewelry and Metalsmithing at the Unversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You could place a request with the department to post on their bulletin board with your contact info and hire a graduate student. You could talk to the department and find out what an appropriate ballpark cost would be to hire a metalsmith. Keep in mind the cost will vary greatly depending on the cost of the materials you end up using, but a student might be able to get the materials at cost or buy through the department at a discount.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:17 PM on January 5, 2008

Amazon has decent prices on jewelry.
posted by Pants! at 8:34 PM on January 5, 2008

:I share her tastes, and a while back found out that there are a lot of truly gorgeous vintage engagement rings available from antique-jewelry sites - many under $1000. Just search on 'vintage engagement ring.'

I liked the idea of having someone's old ring from the last century, but I can see that some people might not, so YMMV.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2008

There are bunch of non-diamond pave rings over at I think they buy the surplus from the homeshopping networks. They are affordable and many are like what you describe, though I don't know what an emerald cut is.
posted by Eringatang at 8:42 PM on January 5, 2008

Etsy has some great jewelry designers, many of whom do customer orders, but you have to search around a bit. shade jewelry makes beautiful titanium rings. Most are set with conflict-free diamonds, but you can custom order with any gemstone.
posted by logic vs love at 8:48 PM on January 5, 2008

Eringatang, the center stone here is an emerald cut, with the pavé ring of diamonds. I didn't find any with a surrounding bezel of non-diamonds (that's how I interpreted the OP, but I could be wrong, maybe they are just looking for a conflict-free center stone?).

That look is very popular right now though, so it's not impossible that it's out there.
posted by pineapple at 8:54 PM on January 5, 2008

This one from seems to match what you want in terms of look and price and is white metal (platinum plated silver instead of white gold).

This cushion cut diamond ring
is similar to the emeral cut and has the pave and white metal as well- does it have to be emerald cut?

Here is another from ebay.
posted by rmless at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2008


They're very anti-diamond (at least non-lab created diamonds), are reasonably priced, and super-willing to do custom work.
posted by god hates math at 9:22 PM on January 5, 2008

You could try a pawn shop, I've seen some nice vintage rings in places like that. I know someone who found a gorgeous ring in a pawn shop that had a green emerald in it for not much money at all because the shop owner thought it was fake. But if you do go that route, do your homework and compare to make sure they haven't jacked up the prices.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:24 PM on January 5, 2008

Moissanite rings can be had with moissanite pavé. The ones I linked are square-cuts with a pave halo, but emerald cut moissanites are out there to be found too and I'd guess if you looked a little harder than I did you'd find some.

They're pretty, very hard, and very sparkly - more than diamonds, although even a casual inspection reveals that they're not diamonds. They're conflict-free, being grown in furnaces - there are no natural sources. They are crystalline silicon carbide.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:33 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My husband bought me a beautiful emerald-cut aquamarine, my birthstone, in a raised setting that cost just over $800 - of course, this was 20 years ago.
posted by Lynsey at 9:38 PM on January 5, 2008

Estate jewelry
posted by hortense at 9:43 PM on January 5, 2008

One of my best friends engagement ring is courtesy of Diamonelle. Simulated diamond and it looks great, even if the brand itself seems cheesy to me. She and her fiance are not big fans of the diamond industry, and like you, didn't have a ton of money for a ring.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 10:11 PM on January 5, 2008

To give you an idea, this is her ring.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 10:13 PM on January 5, 2008

Just in case you weren't aware, Canada's diamonds are conflict free and identified by a tiny engraved polar bear. The aboriginal community has really benefited from the recently opened mines.
posted by saucysault at 4:22 AM on January 6, 2008

I've never used this site before and the prices are totally freaking me out, but pugster seems to have some lovely stuff in synthetic stones and silver. I have no idea what kind of quality you'd be getting (a solitare ring for $4.00???) but it's worth having a look at!
posted by ukdanae at 4:52 AM on January 6, 2008

I bought a beautiful ring from Fay Cullen. They have lovely antique and estate jewelry. Since diamonds have not always been the stone of choice for engagement rings, you might find something on this site that you both like.

Congratulations, btw!
posted by Corky at 5:36 AM on January 6, 2008

If it were summer, or if you could wait until then, I would suggest going around to the various local arts festivals in the area. They frequently have a collection of jewelers ranging from traditional to ridiculous, and the people who make the jewelry are there. If you see someone whose work you like, you can talk with them about custom pieces, and about whether their work is conflict-free or not.
posted by that girl at 6:58 AM on January 6, 2008

Best answer: IAAJ. Part of the pricing issue with the emerald cut diamonds that you're looking at is the quality of the stone. By definition, the emerald cut contains few facets (the cut faces of the stone), with the largest one being the table (the top of the stone). Those facets serve to redirect light as it enters the stone, bouncing it around inside before exiting and hitting your eye - that's what causes the glittery effect that you see on brilliant cut (round) diamonds. Thus, imperfections are harder to see in the brilliant cut because your eye is distracted.

Because the emerald cut is lacking in all of those facets to distract you, it becomes much more important for the stone to be free of imperfections. This is why most emerald cut diamonds are more expensive on a per carat basis than round diamonds - they have to be higher quality in order for most people to like them.

That being said, I'd look at colorless sapphires instead of diamonds. They're far less expensive, and harder than quartz. That hardness will be an issue because this is an engagement ring - it will be worn daily and through most activities, so it needs to stand up to lots of wear. I know that others are suggesting synthetic (man made) stones, but personally, I have some distaste for using synthetic in an engagment ring. That's just my prejudice, and not anything else.

Alternatively, the suggestions above to look for an estate piece are really good. In fact, you can try to find a piece that has a stone that you like, and reset it into a style that you prefer. Estate stones are really affordable (diamonds lose more than half of their original value in the estate market unless they're very unusual or their provenance is famous), and they have the added benefit, if mined and cut at the beginning of the 20th century, of being conflict-free. You can also try Canadian diamonds as suggested above, but be sure to ask for a certificate and look for the designation on the stone's girdle.
posted by Flakypastry at 8:42 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

My engagement ring is an amethyst, because my husband (well, fiance at the time) knew I loooved purple, and he couldn't afford a diamond at the time. And 14 years later, I still get compliments on what a pretty ring it is. This may sound dorky, but the Home Shopping Channel often has some very good bargains on gemstones, and they come with a return policy and guarantee. Their website has a selection of affordable jewelry that would be suitable as engagement rings.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2008

Step 1: pick up your favorite lab-created gems from ebay sellers. Corundum (the mineral that forms both sapphire and ruby) is very hard, inexpensive to make in the lab, and available in a variety of colors. Cubic Zirconium is great for very sparkly whites. If you're so inclined, you can get enormous ones of either of these.
Step 2: Have them set at a local jeweler. The pave might be a little more difficult to get done, but regardless I'm sure you can get your setting for under $1000. Our 3-stone setting (one large emerald-cut saph, two round cz) cost us about $300 to have set in white gold.
Step 3: Share in a long and happy life. Enjoy the crazy sparkly thing because it's beautiful and symbolic, and hopefully didn't need anyone to have been tortured or killed for its creation.
posted by agentofselection at 3:05 PM on January 6, 2008

I strongly recommend the Colored Gemstones forum on The folks over there gemstone megafans and are very helpful.
posted by lalalana at 8:17 PM on January 6, 2008

let me also clarify that is a consumer forum, not a place to buy stuff from...
posted by lalalana at 8:18 PM on January 6, 2008

I would suggest looking into sapphire or ruby stones- as mentioned above, they can be easily created in the lab and come in a wide variety of colors. Lab created sapphires are not "fake" but are chemically and physically the same as natural ones, but much less expensive and without the concerns over the treatment of mine workers, etc.- and since they are man-made you can afford really high quality ones.

I share your feelings about the diamond industry and the diamond hard-sell ("surely YOUR LOVE deserves a BIG DIAMOND" - blech), and what I really wanted was a sapphire ring anyway. The ring we chose, in the end, is a lab-created sapphire in a checkerboard cut. The color is a rich, vibrant, gorgeous blue and it is very sparkly. I get compliments on it all the time. It cost less than $200 at a local jewelry store with a large selection of colored gemstone rings, and I don't feel like I lost out on anything- I have exactly what I wanted and I love it.

The practical advantage of the sapphire is that the stone is very hard and durable- the next hardest after diamond, I believe- and so they are well suited to everyday wear.
posted by oblique red at 3:11 PM on January 7, 2008

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