A Pop Of Color: Diamonds may be forever, but other stones are shining bright

Diamonds may be a girl's BFF, but sapphires, rubies, tourmalines, and other colored stones are getting quite chummy too, turning up in engagement rings in greater numbers.

The most famous non-diamond engagement ring in the world, Kate Middleton's dazzling 18-carat sapphire, sparked a rush on the blue gemstone last winter, but the shift to color was trending well before Prince William slipped the family heirloom onto Kate's lithesome ring finger.

"Prior to the royal engagement, we were seeing an increase in colored gemstone engagement rings," says Adam Graham, marketing manager for the American Gem Trade Association. "Celebrities who drive many trends were getting engaged with color. Jessica Simpson had a ruby, and Penelope Cruz a sapphire." Brides eager to eschew tradition in many areas of wedding planning began searching for different takes on engagement ring styles. The recession played a big role, too.

With good quality 1-carat diamond engagement rings averaging between $5,000 to $7,500, according to TheDiamondBuyingGuide.com, couples started looking for ways to make their dollars go further. For example, a 1.55 carat sapphire ring lists for $1,490 on BellJewels.com, a New York Diamond District jeweler. The same style with a comparable quality diamond would cost $7,000 according to Yigal Ismakov, owner of the firm. A ruby equivalent would run about $3,000, he says.

While you can find many well-priced sapphires, Evelina Ganas, also of BellJewels.com, recommends taking a broad look at colored stones. "Topaz, tanzanite, tourmalines and aquamarines can also offer great value," she says. The International Colored Gemstone Association places the average carat cost of such stones between $50 to $1,000. (The big three - emerald, ruby and sapphire - typically run between $250 and $10,000 per carat, according to the association.)

When choosing a colored stone, you still need to factor in the four C's - cut, color, clarity, and carat-weight. But unlike with diamonds, a colored stone's durability is an important consideration too. "Diamonds are the hardiest stone," says David Kruger, owner of Kruger's Diamond Jeweler's in Austin, Texas. "They won't abrade like certain colored gems." For rings with color center stones, Kruger says sapphires wear well, recommending them "if you plan to keep the engagement ring on 24/7." On the Mohs scale of gem hardness, a diamond ranks 10 out of 10; sapphire and ruby 9; emerald 7.5 to 8; certain garnets 6.5 to 7.5; turquoise 5 to 6.

Here's what you should know if you plan on buying a sapphire: "Prices are all over the board," says Kruger, who sees them run from $20 to $1,800 a carat. Cheaper sapphires can look almost black; the more expensive stones will exhibit the richest blues. Many sapphires are treated in some way, usually through a heating process that enhances the beauty of the stone. Keep in mind you're not limited to blue. The hard-working sapphire also shows up in purple, pink, yellow, green and even colorless versions.

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