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Forget diamonds: 4 affordable alternatives for engagement rings

Who says diamonds are a girl's best friend? Here are some more affordable options for couples looking to cut engagement costs.
Photo: Thinkstock 

The holidays are prime time for engagements. But diamonds aren’t always your wallet’s best friend, especially during engagement season.

The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Survey found the average engagement ring costs $6,163, which has helped push the average cost of weddings to an all-time high of $35,329.

Some couples are saving dollars with affordable gemstones and cuts for a ring still worthy of showing off.

“The most important thing to remember is that a couple chooses a ring they love for the look or design of it, and that it fits in their budget,” says Anne Chertoff, wedding trends expert at WeddingWire.com.

Here’s a look at four engagement ring alternatives and ways to save.

Give gemstones a look

“More and more brides are wanting to have their unique personality shine through with their engagement ring,” says Amanda Gizzi, spokesperson for the New York-based Jewelers of America. “And color is a great way to do that.”

One way to work color into a ring — and save on the cost — is to opt for a colorful gemstone rather than a diamond.

Chertoff says the interest in gemstone engagement rings spiked when Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, wore an engagement ring featuring a sapphire surrounded by a ring of diamonds in November 2010.

“We’ve seen an increase in gemstones for the center stone or for the side stone,” she says.

Colorful gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds and rubies can serve as the main stone or unique accents, as an alternative to using all diamonds.

Blue, pink, and yellow are among the most popular sapphires, Chertoff says, while there’s a growing interest in purple sapphires. Sapphire rings range ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on size and design.

Fake it

For those who want the appearance of a diamond without the hefty price tag, gemstones that resemble a diamond are a great option. Your friends aren’t going to ask for an appraisal on your engagement ring, so if that elegant, adorned style is most important to you, a diamond look-alike may be perfect.

“A diamond made in a lab is always going to be less expensive than a diamond that was organically made and mined,” Chertoff says.

The most well-known “fake diamond,” cubic zirconia, is much less expensive than a real diamond. This man-made gemstone comes from all over the world and is available in almost any color. The average cubic zirconia is about $100, and you can find cubic zirconia set in 14- or 18-carat gold or platinum, ranging from several hundred dollars to $1,000, depending on size and design.

Moissanite options also come in for less than $1,000 at some jewelers. White sapphires also offer the sparkly appearance of a diamond but cost much less.

Consider the carat and the cut

Gemstones are usually sold on the half carat, but Chertoff proposes “buying shy.”

If you purchase a carat slightly off the half-carat, the naked eye can’t tell the difference, but you’ll feel it when you look at the price tag. For example, a 1.2-carat is cheaper than a 1.5-carat, but no one likely will be able to tell the difference.

Cut also matters when it comes to price. According to The 2017 National Jewelry Survey from WeddingWire, 22% of couples chose a round brilliant-cut ring but just 7% chose emerald cut, which is a cheaper option. However, Chertoff says the emerald cut “is always going to appear larger than other kinds of cuts.”

Chertoff also suggests a halo setting. The tiny diamonds surrounding the gemstone make it appear larger, and you can receive more glam for buck with a halo setting, according to the Jewelry Wise website, which is sponsored by Signet Jewelers Limited, whose stores include Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry.

Check out Etsy

Looking for an affordable, one-of-a-kind ring? Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage items, has become a source for unique engagement rings.

You’ll find champagne sapphires, hand-crafted, sculpture-like bronze rings, and vintage options in art deco and other styles.

Etsy’s options also include custom and personalized rings. According to the 2017 National Jewelry Survey from WeddingWire, 66% of proposers gave a custom ring.

“It’s all about personalization,” Gizzi says.

If an online experience isn’t what you’re looking for, there are always jewelers that specialize in vintage rings that may cost less but come with a lot of history.

MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.