Despite the growing popularity of colored engagement rings in recent years, diamonds are still, by far, the reigning gemstone of choice for brides and brides-to-be. However, for those who love the look of diamonds but prefer a unique gemstone alternative, white sapphire is a gorgeous option that’s actually more affordable than mined or even lab-grown stones.
“White sapphires are the colorless variety of corundum, which is the same as other sapphire colors and rubies,” says Lorraine Brantner, a gemologist and sales manager at James Allen. “They are the most durable gem aside from diamonds, however, they are still more prone to chipping and scratches. Additionally, white sapphires do not display strong fire, which is the rainbow flashes of light that you see in a diamond.”
Simply put, though white sapphires and diamonds may share a similar appearance at first glance, they do possess distinct characteristics that set them apart. And if you find yourself torn between these two stunning stones, we tapped Brantner, in addition to Payal and Kajal Vitha, co-founders of Sonu Company, to help highlight the key differences between white sapphires versus diamonds. Keep reading below to find the perfect gem that’ll symbolize the strength of your love and the commitment you’re making to your marriage.
Meet the Expert
- Lorraine Brantner is a gemologist and sales manager at James Allen. Founded in 2006, James Allen is the world’s largest privately held online diamond and bridal jewelry retailer.
- Payal and Kajal Vitha are the sister-duo founders of Sonu Company, a bespoke engagement ring and fine jewelry company. The Vitha sisters are proud third-generation jewelers located in the heart of Los Angeles.
White Sapphires Versus Diamonds
As mentioned above, despite looking similar to the naked eye, white sapphires and diamonds have varying characteristics in terms of composition, hardness, and brilliance. For starters, and as Brantner mentioned earlier, white sapphires are composed of the mineral corundum, which is the crystalline form of aluminum oxide. Diamonds, on the other hand, are made of carbon.
“White sapphires and diamonds are entirely different but can give off a similar look,” says Payal. “Diamonds will provide more brilliance and have a higher refractive index. The refractive index refers to the ratio of the speed of light in one medium to another.”
What’s more, diamonds are rated a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, whereas white sapphires come in at a 9. Plus, in addition to being the most durable stone, diamonds also outperform other gemstones when it comes to brilliance, sparkle, and fire. “Diamonds have brighter levels of brilliance (white light) and the ability to disperse white light into the flashy rainbow spectrum of colors that we call fire,” says Brantner. “While white sapphires also display brilliance, it is not as intense as a diamond, and they do not have the ability to create fire like diamonds can.”
Another difference? White sapphires are generally more affordable compared to diamonds of similar size and quality. Lastly, diamonds are generally more favored than white sapphires, although “White sapphires have become more popular lately due to the lower price point and similar appearance to a diamond,” adds Kajal.
Interested in learning more? Before you start shopping for your white sapphire or diamond engagement ring, consider these key differences between the two gemstones.
According to Brantner, most people will be able to tell the difference between a white sapphire and a diamond just by slight differences in color, since white sapphires tend to be more dull and cloudy. “White sapphires can appear ‘glassy’ or ‘watery’ depending on their cut proportions,” she shares.
Payal also adds, “While diamonds capture the light to give off that brilliant sparkle, white sapphires will appear more muted due to the way they are cut. If you look closely, you will definitely notice the difference between the two. The white sapphire will appear a little cloudy on the inside and have a darker appearance when looking into the stone!”
Diamonds tend to be more expensive than white sapphires, although this can vary depending on the cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Historically, diamonds have been heavily marketed and associated with luxury, which has influenced their perceived value and, consequently, their price.
“With the history of diamonds and the meaning conveyed behind engagement rings, diamonds have been a top choice since the 1400s,” explains Payal. “During the 1950s DeBeers gave the mined diamond a huge push in the bridal industry, and it wasn’t until the early 2000s did the lab-grown diamond industry improve significantly, giving consumers a great alternative with a lower budget.”
White sapphires, on the other hand, have only recently been seen as a desirable alternative. And since white sapphires are a newer trend in wedding jewelry, they don’t carry the same historical significance and aren’t as high in demand as diamonds, resulting in a lower price point.
Diamonds are the clear winner when it comes to durability—not just when compared to white sapphires, but overall, as they’re the hardest natural material in the world. “Diamonds also score a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, meaning the only thing that can scratch a diamond is a diamond, making them more durable than sapphires,” says Payal.
White sapphires come in at a close second, however, with a rating of 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, Meaning, it isn’t as durable as a diamond (or even moissanite, which has a 9.25 rating), but it’s still one of the hardest gemstones, making it ideal for use in jewelry that is meant to last a lifetime.
According to Payal, mined and lab-grown diamonds are still the most popular choice for engagement rings today. But, white sapphires are still an excellent alternative for brides seeking a beautiful and budget-friendly gemstone for their engagement ring. “Many clients come in with different preferences and budgets making white sapphires a great next choice,” adds Kajal.
Now that you understand the differences between white sapphire and diamonds, you’re ready to go shopping for your perfect colorless gemstone. Whether you decide to go with a classic diamond or a more unique white sapphire, keep these tips in mind before you commit to your forever stone.
View White Sapphires in Natural Light
If you’re considering a white sapphire, be sure to step outside the store to see how the stone sparkles in natural light. “Make sure you are able to view the white sapphire in all types of lighting environments before committing to this gem,” recommends Brantner. “White sapphires offer a glassy look, so it’s important to make sure they are free of visible clarity features.”
Buy a Certified Diamond
Payal and Kajal always recommend buying a certified diamond—stones that are thoroughly inspected and evaluated according to strict standards—if you do decide to go with a more traditional engagement ring. It’s similar to a report card for your diamond, which can help ensure that you aren’t overpaying for your stone.
“We certify all of our diamonds through GIA and IGI, the top grading companies in the diamond industry,” says Kajal. “Every certified diamond has the report number inscribed on the diamond, but don’t worry, you’ll only be able to see the inscription with a 20x magnification.”
Consider Conflict-Free Stones
White sapphires are seen as a more ethical alternative to diamonds, as they are often sourced more responsibly than their counterparts. However, because white sapphires are less common, this also means that they have less oversight in terms of regulation. Specifically, white sapphires are not mandated to go through a conflict-free or grading system, both of which are required for diamonds.
“The Kimberley Process for diamonds ensures that the diamond is being ethically sourced and not being sold to finance war crimes,” says Kajal. “This process allows us to purchase ‘conflict-free’ diamonds.”
Nonetheless, white sapphires sell for lower prices than diamonds, meaning they’re less likely to be illegally mined and sold in conflict regions. According to the International Gem Society, tracing a mined white sapphire back to its source is usually easier than tracing a diamond. At the end of the day, whether you choose to buy a diamond or a white sapphire, always purchase from a reputable gemstone dealer to ensure that your stone was ethically sourced.