Diamonds might once have been a girl’s best friend but it seems they’ve lost their sparkle among millennials, who are increasingly choosing coloured stones when they get engaged. Young couples are opting for stones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires – rather than traditional diamonds – for ethical reasons, to express their individuality and save money, according to experts.
"A generation of marital age people are now prioritising other things such as weddings, housing and the cost of having children, rather than splashing out on a really expensive ring,” Anusha Couttigane, a senior analyst at Kantar Retail, told The Telegraph.
“There is still a lot of demand for solitaire diamond rings, but there has been growth in non-traditional designs which use a range of cheaper, coloured stones too.”
Men also spend far less on their partner’s engagement ring now than they once did, according to research by Allianz. Whereas once it was normal to shell out two to three months’ pay for a rock, men now spend on average £537, as couples opt to save money to buy a house and go on adventurous holidays.
Not only are they cheaper, but coloured stones are arguably also more fashionable and definitely more fun than diamonds, especially in art deco-style jewellery. In a bid to keep up, jewellery designers have begun to incorporate non-diamond stones into their settings.
Charlie Boyd, executive fashion and jewellery editor at Harper’s Bazaar UK, chose her own engagement ring, an antique art deco opal ring in a platinum setting with diamonds and emeralds.
“As a jewellery editor I see all sorts of jewellery 24/7 but when I saw it, I knew it was the ring for me. When I showed it to my boyfriend at the time, he agreed it was the right one and immediately said that it was 'me in a ring',” she told Refinery29. “Jewellery is my specialism, so I wanted something unusual.” The colourful stone perfectly reflects her taste, far more than the classic, solitaire diamond ring, she says. “I've always been very colourful in my style – I wear a lot of pastel and rainbow colours, so it was probably quite natural that I gravitated towards a colourful ring. Opals have always been my favourite stone, because of the rainbow play of light within them.”
Other young women want an engagement ring that’s unique to their own love story. Fashion stylist Issie Gibbons opted for an antique Victorian opal set in pavé diamonds, which would originally have been worn as a cocktail ring. “My birthstone is opal, his is diamond, and we knew we wanted something with both, so we trawled around antique markets – literally for months! – until we found one we liked at Grays Antiques market.”
People comment on her ring choice all the time. “Although a lot of the time people don't realise it's an engagement ring, but I quite like that – it's not obvious,” Gibbons says. “I've never been that keen on traditional diamond engagement rings and knew I wanted something a bit more personal and original.”
Refinery29's Kirsty Hathaway also chose her engagement ring with her fiancé. They designed it together and had it made by a jeweller, which they both really enjoyed. The finished result, an oblong sapphire in a diamond pavé raised case, was perfect and entirely unique: “Everything from the stone itself, to the setting, the casing and the fact that it’s raised up off my finger,” she says.
“But at the same time, it’s timeless. I know I’ll love it forever and will hopefully get to pass it down to a daughter or daughter-in-law one day – fingers crossed!”
Coloured gemstones have been desired throughout history because of their uniqueness, says Anna Flower, spokeswoman for Gemfields, which supplies responsibly sourced coloured gemstones. "There are meanings and connotations behind each, for example emeralds are believed to represent hope, and rubies, passion, prosperity and protection."
Gemfields is seeing an upturn in all coloured stones, Flower says. "The rediscovered popularity of rubies, however, is perhaps the most notable, given their incredible rarity." And with the connotations around red being the colour of love, rubies are proving particularly popular as engagement rings.
Sadly, the growing popularity of coloured stones means they, too, are becoming expensive and beyond the reach of many couples. “The prices have absolutely skyrocketed in recent years,” John Benjamin, an expert in antique jewellery, told The Guardian. “In auction, we’re seeing prices that we never saw before, it is a very different sort of marketplace from the old days when coloured stones could be bought, frankly, very cheaply in auction.”
Traditional engagement ring styles haven’t completely lost their shine among young people, however. According to a 2016 report on the market by De Beers, millennials spent $26bn on new diamond jewellery in its four key markets (China, India, Japan and the United States) – more than any other generation, and this number is expected to grow as our generation ages.
While trendy coloured stones are definitely having their moment in the spotlight, it seems advertising copywriter Mary Frances Gerety was right in 1947, when she said diamonds are forever.