Tightening household budgets, ethical and financial considerations and a touch of celebrity envy have pushed a growing number of Australians from traditional diamond engagement rings to a range of natural and synthetic alternatives.
According to research group Euromonitor International, jewellery sales figures grew only 3% last year, down from about 5% in the 5 years prior as consumer sentiment declined.
Market researchers said retailers reported “healthy sales of engagement and wedding rings” throughout 2012. But some jewellers said the GFC sparked a new wave of demand for non-diamond stones.
Here are some common alternatives:
De Beers (and Kanye West and others) says 'diamonds are forever' because diamond is an incredibly hard stone. Its name comes from the ancient Greek word for 'unbreakable'.
Chemically, diamonds comprise carbon atoms that share electrons in what is known as a covalent network lattice, which makes the material incredibly hard. Diamond has a hardness of 10 on the Mohrs scale of mineral hardness, which means that it can only be scratched by another diamond.
But unless you're planning on cutting diamonds with your engagement ring, your stone doesn't need a Mohrs hardness of 10 to be essentially unbreakable.
Sapphire is a form of corondum, which comprises aluminium and oxygen atoms in a covalent network lattice, has a Mohrs hardness rating of 9.
It is mined in Eastern Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China, Madagascar, East Africa and North America, although IBISWorld researchers expect Australian sapphire production and profits to fall in the next five years.
Blue sapphires are most common in fine jewellery - Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with his mother's 18-carat sapphire ring - but white sapphires are also widely available for those wanting a colourless stone.
Sapphires may be less 'sparkly' than diamonds as they have a refractive index of about 1.77, compared to about 2.42 for diamond.
Moissanite, or carborundum, comprises silicon and carbon atoms in a covalent network lattice and has a Mohrs hardness rating of 9.5, compared to diamond's 10.
It refracts more light than diamonds, with a refractive index of 2.65-2.97, compared to diamond's 2.42.
Naturally, Moissanite is extremely rare: the stone was discovered in a meteor crater in Arizona and until the 1950s, wasn't thought to come from anywhere besides meteorites.
Moisannite is now manufactured as a jewel by Charles & Colvard, whose patent expires in 2015.
Sydney's Moi Moi Fine Jewellery distributes Moissanite in Australia; managing director Lauren Chang Sommer said the stone had become more popular during the GFC because it was cheaper than diamond.
'Diamonds are the default option (for engagement rings), but Moissanite is definitely on the rise,' she said. '75% of our sales are Moissanite engagement rings.'
'Worldwide only 1 in 10 women ever get the opportunity to ever own a 1 carat or larger diamond. However with Moissanite 8 out of 10 of our sales are for 1 carat or more.'
'We also attract customers who are against the diamond industry for reasons such as: conflict stones; realising that regular diamonds are not investments; and for wanting something different.'
Cubic zirconia occurs rarely naturally. It was originally manufactured by scientists to be used in lasers, but has been commercially produced as a diamond substitute for jewellery since 1976.
Cubic zirconia has a Mohrs hardness rating of 8, so it scratches more easily than diamond, which has a rating of 10.
The synthetic stone has a refractive index of 2.15-2.18, which makes it slightly less 'sparkly' than diamond's 2.42.
It is heavier and tends to be cost far less than diamond in retail stores.
While you may not have heard of goshenite, you probably know of the green version of the stone: emerald.
Both goshenite and emerald are forms of the mineral beryl, which has a Mohrs rating of 7.5-8 compared to diamond's 10 and a refractive index of 1.55-1.6.
That means it scratches more easily and sparkles less than diamond.
Beryl occurs naturally; white beryl was originally discovered in Massachusetts but is found, to some extent, everywhere beryl is mined, including in Europe, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and the US.
White topaz is about as hard as white beryl and cubic zirconia, with a Mohrs rating of 8.
It is quite a bit less 'sparkly' than diamond, with a refractive index of about 1.6, compared to diamond's 2.42.
While orange topaz is more common in jewellery, white topaz is the purest form of the mineral.
Topaz occurs naturally and can be found as huge crystals, including the 158-carat Topaz of Aurangzeb and the 22,893-carat American Golden Topaz.
It is mined in Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Europe, Australia, Nigeria, Brazil, Japan and the US.
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