Not everyone is completely enamoured by diamonds for engagement rings, no matter how culturally ingrained it is to wear one. But the reality is, not all stones actually work for a ring you'll wear day in and day out for the rest of your life. Here's how you can pick a ring that will last through the good and bad without turning to the hardest rock of all.
Introducing The Mohs Scale
Diamonds are in part popular for rings because they're a 10 on the Mohs scale. The scale was created bye German geologist and mineralogist Friedrich Mohs in 1912, according to Link International, and it charts how "mineral hardness is a qualitative scale that characterises the scratch resistance of various minerals through the ability of a harder material to scratch a softer material".
If you're picturing things being rubbed on each other until the least scratchable thing comes out triumphant, that's fairly accurate. Here's some mineral examples with their hardness rating:
2.5-3 Gold or silver jewellery
3-3.5 Copper coin
5-6 B2b ceramic tile
5.5 Steel knife blade
6.5 Steel nail
7 B1a porcelain tile
7+ Hardened steel file
8.5 Masonry drill bit
9 Quartz crystal
If you want to pick out a stone, check where it's at on the Mohs scale. Amber, for example, is a beautiful material that often has cool bugs trapped inside. Perfect. But it's only between a 2 and 2.5 on the scale, so it's prone to scratches and can be worn down. Not so good for a symbol of everlasting love.
How Different Do You Want To Go?
Some people want an alternative to diamonds that look a whole lot like diamonds. Moissanite, which is a 9.5, is a popular choice. According to Doamore, moissanite is grown almost entirely in labs nowadays, because it was originally a rare material discovered in a meteor crater in 1893.
Moissanite is the hardest stone used in jewellery after diamonds, and they are easier to clean and hold their "sparkle" longer. They do, however, have a somewhat yellowish or green hue in certain lights. The smaller the stone, the less likely the hue will appear, so they might be a good choice for a ring with an array rather than one large stone.
If you have no interest in a diamond imposter, try out a corundum. Corundums are the crystalline form of aluminium oxide, but you might know them better as rubies and sapphires. They're about a 9 on the Mohs scale. A ring with blue or red stones sounds gorgeous to me.
Check Your Sources
Just because your ring doesn't incorporate a literal blood diamond doesn't mean you're wearing a stone that is ethically sourced. Your best bet is to find a jeweller that cares about sourcing their stones from areas with high labour and environmental standards. Kate Sheppard went shopping for a stone in 2011, and gave sound advice for how to figure this out in Mother Jones:
The first step is asking the jeweller where the stone originated. If they can't tell you, you should probably reconsider buying it. If you're having a hard time tracking the origin of a gem, you can also get lab-grown stones of many varieties these days.
That's another good argument for moissanite, actually. Thesis Gems gives a more involved run down for how to consider the ethics of your stone, pointing out that mining can never be truly sustainable, because these sorts of minerals are a limited resource. But the impact that mining has on the environment can be tracked, if you know a bit more about best practices:
Alluvial mining: Deposits of minerals are sifted from a creek bed or stream.
Open pit mining: Layers of the earth are removed to reveal the rock below, and explosives are often used to dig deeper. When the mining is done, the pit typically becomes a landfill.
Strip mining: After bulldozing the mining area, multiple small holes are drilled through the rock and stuffed with explosives. This is repeated in long strips, eroding precious topsoil and decimating forests and animal habitats.
Mountaintop removal mining: Entire mountaintops are blasted away to reach gemstones buried inside. The displaced mountaintop material pollutes and alters landscapes and ecosystems.
There are some small-scale, local mining operations that fill in holes for farming and commit to restorative practices. As with many moral quandaries, there's always more to know, but it might be worth it for the piece of jewellery you'll always be wearing.
Who says you have to get a stone? Gold and silver can also be unethically sourced (see above), but if you do your background check and want to wear a simple band, that can be an attractive and reasonably priced option.