I Have A Bone To Pick With Engagement Rings

Can synthetic diamonds be a girl's best friend?

The sad but true joke at APW is that if you want to change the wedding industry, come up with an idea and wait ten years for it to take hold. Because unless you’ve got something truly game-changing up your sleeve, the industry is an old fashioned bird wearing a fancy hat, and she likes things the way they are.

Chief example: engagement rings. Because I live in a progressive wedding bubble where we challenge the industry status quo on the daily, I kind of assumed we’d all moved past the idea that engagement rings need to be big shiny rocks. Maybe they could be small shiny rocks. Or multi-colored rocks. Or no rocks at all. So I was taken by surprise last year when several of my sister’s friends started getting engaged and demonstrated that the pressure to uphold the traditional engagement ring standards is alive and well. And the most absurd standard of them all, in this modern day and age, is that we still expect diamond engagement rings to originate from the earth. Even when we talk about ethical rings, it’s often expected that we’re still talking about natural diamonds (just with higher standards of certification). And y’all, that shit is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Because lab-grown diamonds and diamond alternatives are legit. And affordable. And the only reason we aren’t buying them is because it’s a cultural taboo.

Woman's hand holds frosted wreath showing her Walmart synthetic diamond solitaire engagement ring

So when Walmart.com invited us to partner with them during engagement season this month, I wanted to take the opportunity to challenge the status quo around engagement rings. (Feel free to come back in ten years and tell us how we did.) Walmart has an extensive selection of beautiful alternative engagement rings, so naturally part of our research involved… buying several of them. Again, for research. Here’s what we discovered:

Walmart synthetic diamond engagement ring sits on a snow frosted christmas tree branch surrounded by hot pink glass ornaments

shine bright like a diamond

When I started to dig into the differences between mined diamonds and synthetic diamonds, I figured there had to be some discernible difference in quality. Cut to my surprised look when that myth was summarily busted. It turns out lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds share the exact same chemical makeup. Which is just fancy speak for #twinning. They look the same under a microscope. They look the same to the naked eye. And while the diamond industry really wants you to think there’s a difference (you should read some of the literature I found), most of the logic points to two reasons why: 1) “Real” diamonds are just more… special-er. Because reasons. 2) The resale value is higher for mined diamonds. So I guess if you’re planning on trading in your engagement ring at some point in the future, then go for the gold standard (so to speak). But outside of a microscope, there’s no difference.

Note: Moissanite often gets put in the same category as lab-grown diamonds, but they are actually different under a microscope. Moissanite are ever so slightly (like a fraction) less durable than diamonds, and they tend to be a bit more sparkly. However, unless you care about things like what color of sparkle is produced by your engagement ring, you probably won’t be able to distinguish a moissanite from a diamond. At least, we couldn’t when we were playing dress up with the ring below. Moissanite is incredibly rare, so pretty much any time you encounter it, you’ll be looking at a lab-grown gemstone.

Walmart synthetic diamond engagement ring on a woman's hand resting on a rainbow sequined skirt

Frost Yourself

Which brings me to the dollar dollar bills, y’all. Lab-grown diamonds and diamond alternatives cost a fraction what you’d pay for a natural diamond. As in, this lovely one and a half carat halo engagement ring is just $900. And this is where I’ll get petty for a second. If I were getting engaged today, I’d probably get a synthetic diamond and just… never tell anyone. Because outside of the one-of-a-kind artisan engagement rings, there’s a lot of similarity out there in engagement ring land. In fact, when I was “shopping” for this post, I found a half dozen that looked really similar to the one on my hand right now. (I’ll take this one please.) And in the ten-plus years since I got engaged, maybe four people have ever asked me where my engagement ring came from. So if the trained eye can’t tell the difference, then nosy Aunt Deborah is never gonna know the difference unless you want her to. I guess what I’m saying is, if you want to have your cake and eat it too, to buy the lab-grown ring and not have to answer to society’s bullshit, I’m not here to stop you. I just hope you take an extra nice honeymoon with the $2,000 you just saved.

Walmart synthetic diamond engagement ring sits on a colorful candy path of a gingerbread house

A Diamond is Forever

While there have been lots of advancements in ethical engagement rings over the last decade, I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it’s really hard to guarantee no one was harmed in the mining of a traditional engagement ring. So if you want to avoid the conflict of mined diamonds altogether, lab-grown is the way to go. Not to mention, the environmental impact of your purchase is significantly decreased. It’s not very often that the more affordable version of a product is also the more environmentally and ethically conscious one, so take that win where you can get it.

Since we couldn’t afford to buy all the sparkles my heart desires (affordable as they may be), I’ve rounded up ten of my favorite diamond alternative engagement rings for you below:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t want diamond engagement rings. There’s already so much baggage around getting engaged, and I’m not here to add to it. (Frankly, what I want is the opposite.) But maybe we can agree that a twenty-first century diamond doesn’t have to come the ground to be “real.” Because for couples who do want a traditional diamond engagement ring, but for whom the price tag of a traditional diamond would be out of reach, a lab-grown diamond or diamond alternative is the perfect solution. And I want our culture to accept that as a viable option.

Walmart logo

This post was sponsored by Walmart.com. At Walmart’s wedding shop, you can find stylish, affordable engagement rings, including stunning and affordable lab-grown and non-diamond engagement rings.

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45 thoughts on “I Have A Bone To Pick With Engagement Rings

  1. I’m all in for the lab grown diamond/alternative stone/no stone (gasp!) engagement ring. I am 100% planning on asking for/buying lab-grown stud earrings at some point in my life.

    I’m gonna just take a minute here to say… maybe we should be ok telling people? Like, there’s so much judgement in the world about rings and maybe if we talk about it, it can be less of a thing (because like, people are out here buying larger lab grown stones and if we’re all letting people assume they’re earth-derived stones, there is at least one person who’s going to feel like they have to spend dollars they do not have to get a similarly sized “real” stone to keep up.)

    Sure, maybe Great Aunt Edna doesn’t need to know, but your friends? Your sister who is going to be like, “That’s the size I should get for my fiancee”? Let’s start talking about it!

    1. Agreed! Tell people. I love my Frankendiamond.

      It’s funny because I’ve encountered people in my friend circle who either a) would NEVER *gasp* *faint* get a lab-grown stone or b) See a diamond-looking diamond like mine, assume it’s a blood diamond, and feel like they need to “educate.”

      I try not to be a giant jerk and basically just say, “Oooohhh pretty!” to every engagement ring I see. I also avoid shoving my engagement-ring decisions and preferences in people’s faces. But, at a bar one night, someone casually brought up the topic of lab-made diamonds (it’s one of those topics that comes up in our 30s), and a few people were like, “HmmmmmMMMmm I don’t knooowwwww if I’d want a lab-grown diamond…” And I was right in there, ring blazing with, “OH really, you mean like THIS lab-grown diamond??”

    2. Yup.

      I think this about a lot of things in life. Like I’ve seen people feel a lot of shame about looking for or meeting their spouse online, thinking that using shaadi/match/whatever is for losers, so they tell a sanatized story of how they met (“we met at a coffee shop” even though they made plans to meet at the coffee shop after seeing one another’s profiles and messaging each other online). But when lots of people in a group do that, it perpetuates the idea that it’s atypical to look to meet your spouse online, feeding the cycle.

      I understand that society does a lot of shaming so I don’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t feel up for putting their choices out there, but I think it’s worth considering the benefit of speaking plainly for those of us who are up for it. Last names, rings, whatever topic. Regular personal conversation can have great ripple effects.

    3. This! I have lab-grown diamonds in my halo ring, and I loooooooove telling people that my ring was made with #SCIENCE. :)

  2. Moissanite for the win! I have a 1.25 ct equivalent with a recycled yellow gold setting and, when first engaged, got comments on how sparkly the stone was and “wow he must have spent a ton” (which is a weird thing to say, but it happened a lot). I would always respond with “it’s a moissanite” and get a blank stare, so would launch into explaining it’s basically a lab grown space rock that’s just about as hard, sparklier, and waaaaay more affordable.

  3. I’m all for lab-grown diamonds! But I wanted to point out that moissanite is actually not the same as diamond. Diamonds are all carbon; moissanite is actually carbon and silicon. It was originally discovered in a meteorite, and is now all lab synthesized (so all stones are “perfect”/flawless). It’s as reflective as diamond, and basically as hard. I have a moissanite ring and absolutely love it: I wanted white, hard, and sparkly, and it absolutely fits the bill. I also love that it cost literally a tenth of what a “real” mined diamond would have, so I don’t have to stress about wearing as much money on my hand on a daily basis (or giving that much money to the artificially-inflated diamond monopoly)!

    1. Yep! I have a lab-grown diamond. When people have asked and I’ve told them, it’s a lab-made diamond, lots of folks are like, “So… you mean moissanite?” Nope. Love moissanite. But I wish people were better educated on the differences so that more people who MUST have a Diamond could pursue the lab route if they want.

      1. Also they don’t look the same. Lab grown diamonds do but moissanite is very very pretty and not identical to diamond.

      2. I did not know this, so I looked it up. For the curious:

        “Natural diamonds are from the earth. Lab-grown diamonds are from labs. Where is moissanite from? The stars! Although moissanite has a similar look to diamonds with its white color, brilliant sparkle, and mesmerizing facets, moissanite is not a diamond and in fact, it’s not trying to be. Lab-grown moissanite is not a diamond substitute, but rather it is an alternative to diamonds. Discovered and named after Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Henri Moissan in 1893, moissanite fell to earth in a meteorite. Due to the fact that natural moissanite is very rare and found only in a few places on Earth (upper mantle rock and tops of volcanoes for example), most moissanite on the market at this time is lab-grown moissanite. Lab-grown moissanite is growing in popularity for engagement rings alternatives due to the gemstone having a high refractive index and dazzling fire (sparkle).”

        Apparently moissanite has more sparkle! But they’re different stones (both can be lab grown), so if you care, look at which is which. It seems like they’re often presented as the same, but chemically are not. (And to the naked eye are somewhat different, though I’m sure I wouldn’t have a clue.)

        https://abbysparks.com/blog/diamonds-lab-grown-diamonds-lab-grown-moissanite-whats-the-difference/

  4. Engagement ring culture is so weird.

    I knew I wanted a ring, and obviously one that matched my taste, and one that didn’t cost much. My husband is simultaneously drawn to tradition and also strongly rejects the “norm” and “expectations” (it’s a very difficult battle for him constantly, haha) so he made the risky move of purchasing a very old miner’s cut diamond from Etsy, and taking it to Ben Bridge to pick out the band. He got the diamond appraised, it is what it was advertised to be, but because of it’s age and cut it was significantly cheaper than what they have at the jewelers. The whole thing turned out gorgeous and perfect. It is a real diamond, so we aren’t pushing the engagement ring industry in that way, but the whole thing cost less than a grand while looking like any other solitaire at the jeweler’s. I would have also been totally happy with a lab-grown diamond, I hope that trend continues to catch on!

    (On another note, my husband knew I wanted us to have wedding bands, but didn’t want to buy them, so he spent months of trial-and-error learning how to cast jewelry and make rose gold… so we ended up with handmade wedding bands he created in the garage that contain gold from pieces his grandmother and my grandfather gave us to melt down.)

  5. As a long time APW reader, I was all on board to get a lab grown or nontraditional stone engagement ring…and yet, I have an earthbound diamond on my hand right now…because it was a BIG DEAL to my husband, and I decided to let him have this one. My husband was raised with the diamond myth HARD. His mom used to work in the diamond industry; she bought a loose earth diamond for each of her sons, and my hubby fondly remembers her taking him into her room as a little boy and showing him his diamond, all wrapped in velvet, and he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. She’d tell him “someday when you find someone you love, you can have this made into a ring, and kneel down and give this to that special person to show them how much you love them.” I was never the kind of little girl who fantasized about her wedding, but my husband said that as a little boy he often fantasized about proposing. I think this site is great about discussing the unconscious expectations and emotions that women often bring to weddings, because of the way we’re socialized – but we rarely talk about all the expectations and emotions that men bring to weddings, which are often more unconscious. Because of how unethical I know the earth diamond industry to be, I didn’t want to wear one on my finger, even if it was already bought. I’d pitched to the idea to my husband that we mine our own garnets and make them into rings (there is a garnet mine near our home.) My husband was crushed. We had a long discussion about it, and he told me he totally understands my reasons for wanting to protest the diamond industry…and also giving me an earth diamond is something he has deep emotional attachment to, the fulfillment of that childhood dream. In the end, I let him do this for me…because honestly I didn’t have a deep emotional attachment around a ring – and he did. I do hope the culture changes, and lab grown diamonds become “acceptable,” ditto other nontraditional stones. But I also think that our partners need to be included in these conversations, because they may be coming in with a boatload of expectations, hopes, fears and dreams of their own.

    1. This was 100% my issue with my husband when I wanted a gemstone ring–he bought two (TWO!) vintage gemstone rings for me that I picked out, didn’t like them, and ended up getting me a diamond ring that he actually proposed with. In the end, he couldn’t handle the non-canonical look of the two gemstone rings and had to go diamond for his internalized diamond or nothing self respect. It sucks but there are definitely just as many expectations put on hetero men in the proposal question as there are on women and we can only fight so hard against it, I think.

    2. I wrote about this on an earlier proposal thread about how my husband always looked forward to a proposal and I didn’t even want one, so we settled on a very quiet semi-surprise proposal. The ring was similar! I didn’t realize he had all these emotions wrapped up in the ring, so again we did a compromise: I got a moissanite (because a big centre stone was important to him and I didn’t want a diamond), flanked by two tiny ethically mined diamonds (he was really really set on a 3 stone ring and the moissanite stones didn’t come small enough for the settling).

      People seem to assume that because I have a colourless stone, it’s a diamond. If anyone asks about it I am so happy to explain moissanites to them. I love their brilliance and fire! It’s like having a disco ball on my hand!

    3. I tried hard to talk my husband into a moissy and it was a hard no from him – he had the fantasy of the “special” diamond ring that he would save up for and get down on one knee with (though I picked one way under budget, and he imagined this as a kid, so it just came out of savings). This was his dream more so than mine, I think, though it’s lucky we like the same kind of ring! I could’ve gone with something vintage or less traditional, but I do love my delicate solitaire sparkle and think it’s beautiful. I was shocked how much he cared!

    4. Same. When we had to replace my ring I was like “lab grown” and David was like “OMG NO.” We got a vintage ring both times, which is fine by me. The diamonds are probably far from ethical, but they’ve been in circulation for 100 years, so we’re not causing any damage. And I love vintage. And vintage diamonds are WAY cheaper because they’re not laser cut. Etc. But I found it really interesting that HE was attached to a mined diamond and I could care less.

      I will say though, that the second time around I learned that it lives on my hand, so his input is limited. I was fine with a mined diamond, but beyond that, when my first ring was stolen, I was like “I get what I want, I wear it.” And I’m so glad I did. Should have done that in the first place.

      1. Sigh, I wish I’d pushed for this more. The idea that the ring should be a surprise and also that I have to LOVE it is so frustrating. (Though my favourite bit about it is the lab-grown gemstone.)

  6. Add me to the moissanite band camp! I very proudly told the jeweler who inspected it and told me that it must have cost tens of thousands that it was old european cut moissanite. :) I even sourced my band from ebay and got a recommendation to get the whole thing set quite professionally. I love love love my ring exactly as it is and I don’t think I could wear it quite as casually as I do if it were diamond.

  7. My amazing fiance bought my first engagement ring from Etsy- it was a delicate gemstone ring that unfortunately broke a few months after he proposed (the setting fell out). He didn’t have a great experience with the seller while purchasing so he did not want to go back through them to fix it, and honestly, it probably would have broken again- it was so beautiful but I use my hands in my work and needed something a little sturdier. We just bought my new ring from Everything But The House (EBTH.com), which is an estate sale website. It’s a vintage diamond ring that we got for under $400.00 and which would have probably cost a few thousand had we bought it new. I’m not really into diamonds because of the ethical issues, but because this ring is vintage, it doesn’t bother me as much. I also like the idea of reusing jewelry. My family doesn’t have much jewelry that is passed down from person to person, but hopefully I can pass this ring down one day.

    1. I am so interested to know if your etsy ring was from the same seller as mine! I picked out several rings from one shop on etsy and put them on a pinterest board for my now-husband to pick from. He picked an absolutely beautiful ruby ring with a diamond halo. It came in the mail on the same day that he proposed and that same night a diamond fell out! The sellers were so unhelpful and made us send pictures to prove that we hadn’t purposely smashed the ring up or something. They did not want us to use the 5-day return window. We went to a local jeweler and showed it to them to replicate then sent it back to the seller. About a month later it was ready with the jeweler with basically a lifetime guarantee. It’s just as beautiful and even more special. While it was sad to see so many friends right after our engagement and not have a ring to show off during that month, I’m so glad the first ring broke so quickly so we were able to get a full refund and use it on my real ring.

      1. I don’t think it sounds like the same seller- my ring was a raw gemstone ring and they didn’t do anything fancy like your setting. However, I was talking to a jeweler friend of mine and they were saying that Etsy can be great but can also be a crapshoot, because nobody is verifying that the sellers are using the correct techniques to keep the jewelry intact. I’ve seen some amazing things on Etsy but the things Ive liked most were the jewelers who also had independent websites linked on their page- it just seems a little more professional.

    2. ..for what it’s worth, I looooooove EBTH and have acquired a number of antique/unusual pieces(VERY satisfied thus far!),though none of them having to do witha diamond solitaire,as yet..:)☮⚜

  8. While I agree with every word of this post, I also want to put in a little plug for normalizing other kinds of engagement rings and engagement tokens that aren’t the “white stone solitaire” variety. I chose an amethyst ring, which I love, and I know lots of other folks who have gone in less-traditional directions (non-solitaire rings, colorful rings, or no ring at all).

    We’re sold a fairly cookie-cutter image of what engagements and weddings look like, and even when we’re talking about ethical/economical choices, the actual imagery still fits a pretty small mold (see also: white wedding dresses). And that perpetuates the pressure to have a diamond-reminiscent solitaire ring with an accompanying (surprise) proposal story, regardless of whether that fits your taste or lifestyle or values. I’d love to see more acknowledgement/sharing of stories that don’t fit that mold.

    1. +1 on non-traditional stones! My ring is a 10mm halo-set morganite that cost about $1200 (I found it on Zales and emailed it to my then-boyfriend of 7+ years with a $500 coupon, LOL) and looks like it cost way more than that. I get compliments on it all the time and love it way more than anything that would have cost 5-10x more. I personally would not even be comfortable wearing a piece of jewelry that cost more than my car, so this was the best of everything for me, and I love that it’s a touch non-traditional.

    2. Yes, I did not have an engagement ring. I opted to put the money toward a beautiful, handmade wedding band with recycled metal and stones.

      It’s funny though — after you’re married, you get waaaay fewer comments about your ring, rings, or lack thereof. People getting married who want to push back on those cookie cutter images will likely find that any resulting drama fades into the background with time.

    3. I have a standard white stone surrounded by an asymmetrical cluster of blue stones in my ring, and the most common response I get is “how… um. Unique.” I also get “Blue? Don’t you think you’ll get tired of it?” I get people have different tastes, but also they are just wrong because it’s gorgeous.

      1. Mine is a sapphire on a white gold band with the little diamonds around it. I only get compliments, but I think that’s partly because it’s basically a replica of Kate Middleton’s/Princess Diana’s ring (totally unintentional and I hope no one will ever tell my husband).

        1. That’s exactly what I wanted for YEARS before I found out it was what Kate Middleton’s ring looked like and before my family offered me my center stone. I love the way sapphire rings look, even if Kate/Diana made it mainstream. ;)

      2. I have a 1-karat diamond solitaire on white gold (family heirloom) and the response I get is “Wow, how…simple” so this might be a classic catch-22 of being a woman in society.

      3. I got lucky with the reactions to my engagement ring, because I live in a pretty progressive area and am also not shy about my tastes/aesthetic and disdain for tradition. So when I started showing off my ring (vintage, Art Deco, with a giant amethyst), the only responses I got were, “That ring is gorgeous!” and “That ring is SO YOU.”

        1. Wow! That is such a beautiful design, and that’s a bummer you’ve gotten anything other than compliments about it…I for one would never get tired of wearing something that awesome!

        2. Your ring is breathtaking!

          My taste tends toward really thin bands for myself, but your ring is so gorgeous that it overrides all size preferences I usually have. Seriously beautiful. I’m making a mental note to show it to my sparkles and shiny things loving husband later so he can ooh and ah over it.

        3. Y’all, thank you for providing the validation I’m not getting in person and indulging me in my praise-seeking vanity.

        4. I love your ring. The shades of blue and teal and that stunning lilac stone on the right side. Unique and absolutely gorgeous.

  9. Yes! I have a moissanite and silver engagement ring. Moissanite apparently is even sparklier than diamond. Pretty sure my ring cost under $200 (I didn’t miss a zero there). Now I am a band-only girl so the ring is in a jewelery box and I don’t feel bad about letting an expensive ring sit in a box. The silver tarnishes if I don’t wear it for a while but easily polishes up in seconds. And you better believe I bragged to everyone about my lab stone!! Most people were really impressed but I think I only inspired one person to get one themselves. Many women I knew wanted one but their male partners felt like they would be inadequate in the eyes of their friends if they didn’t spend ungodly sums on the ring.

  10. Would it be crazy to sell my traditional earth-made diamond and replace it with a lab grown diamond? Would I actually net any money doing that? I know the resale value of diamonds is always less than what you paid for it, so I always figured there is no point in selling my diamond. But now you have me thinking…! I’ve also kind of thought my stone is too big/pointy so I’ve been considering downsizing or doing a different setting anyways.

  11. When my husband and I married ten years ago, I didn’t want a diamond and so my ring had a single sapphire. I had always liked the idea of a three-stone ring for a big anniversary, so when our ten-year anniversary approached, I started thinking about that and decided instead of a new ring, I’d like to create a three-stone ring out of my original sapphire, plus a sapphire I had in a necklace, and a third, new stone. When looking at options for the third stone, it was immediately clear that a diamond was way out of our budget. However, I liked the look of a clear stone in between the two sapphires, so I went with a moissanite, which was a fraction of the cost that a diamond would have been, and I absolutely love it. The center stone looks exactly like a diamond – I think only a true gem expert could maybe tell the difference. I get many so compliments on the ring. I like that it’s not a diamond, but I don’t tell people it’s not unless they ask – which no one ever does! I would highly recommend moissanite to anyone considering a diamond alternative – you can get an amazing ring without paying an arm and a leg.

  12. I used to work in the jewelry business and I 100% agree. The jewelry industry totally feeds this idea that natural diamonds are better than lab-grown. The diamond industry even created a campaign a year or two ago called “Real is Rare” meant to appeal to Millennials. De Beers finally began selling lab-grown diamonds this year, but even then they’re marketing those products for fashion and avoiding the wedding industry all together. All in an attempt to maintain the illusion that natural diamonds are the pinnacle of engagement gemstones. Ridiculous. I’m glad more lab-grown gemstones are entering the market. Thank you, Maddie, for sharing this collaboration. The more informed we are are buyers, the more we can push these corporate behemoths into getting over themselves.

  13. To this day, I so wish my husband had taken me up on my sincere request to have a moissanite engagement ring. But alas, taboo.

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