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Choosing an Engagement Ring: Gemstones and Symbolism

Rings have been used for weddings in many cultures for centuries, and the use of an engagement ring for proposals dates back to the ancient Romans, who used a ring to symbolize the marriage contract (meaning that ownership of the bride was being passed from her father to her husband). Today, engagement rings are still one of the most common wedding traditions, although the tradition has shifted to symbolize ‘eternity’ and ‘unity’ than ‘ownership.’

On average, it takes a man around three months to pick the perfect engagement ring. Diamond engagement rings are the most common gemstone for modern engagements, however, there are many alternatives to diamonds that can be used for engagement rings.


The first diamond engagement ring was commissioned in 1477 by an Austrian archduke, and today, diamonds are the most common stone for engagement rings. Diamonds—which are the hardest stone and made of pure carbon—symbolize clarity, empowerment, and purpose. If the symbolism of diamonds doesn’t fit with interpretation of marital bliss, there is a reason for that—the current popularity of diamond engagement rings is based off of more than tradition or symbolism.

In the early 1900s, De Beers, a mining company, took control of the worldwide diamond trade. Shortly after, they began a campaign to market diamonds as a symbol of endless love (yes, this is where the phrase ‘a diamond is forever’ comes from).

Alternative Gemstones

Although diamonds are the go-to stone for engagement rings, many people opt for colorful, non-traditional gemstones (this is especially popular among Millennials). Alternative gemstones make for unique engagement rings, and are often less expensive than diamonds.

Today, Morganite—which is usually pinkish or orangish in color—is one of the most popular diamond-alternatives. Morganite symbolizes divine love and emotional healing. Garnets (January’s birthstone) is also a popular option, and although deep red is the most common color, garnets come in almost every color you can imagine.

Sapphire engagement rings—popularized by Princess Diana—are also popular alternatives to diamond rings. Sapphires are said to symbolize wedding happiness. Although blue is the most well-known color for sapphires, they also come in pink, yellow, white, green, violet, and black. Aquamarine wedding rings are said to symbolize marital harmony—to ensure a long and happy marriage.

Gemstones to Avoid

Although many couples opt for non-traditional gemstones (or a combination of non-traditional and diamonds), there are some stones you might want to avoid if you or your partner are more superstitious.

Emeralds, although being a popular choice for engagement rings, are said to be bad luck for weddings. If a emerald ring is used to propose, the wedding is ‘unlikely to happen,’ and the engaged woman will likely die an old maid. Pearl engagement rings are also said to be bad luck for the couple, as they symbolize mourning in some cultures—this is due to the natural shape of pearls, which is reminiscent of a tear.