Sapphires and diamonds go a long way back, all the way back to ancient times when they were considered two of the 5 precious stones. Although diamond and sapphires differ in color, both have qualities that makes them excellent as a center stone for an engagement ring, or simply stunning earrings or pendants.
Today we’ll discuss the main differences between sapphires and diamonds, and hopefully this will help you choose the gemstone for your beloved. That being said, there is no reason you couldn’t combine the two in a beautiful ring, if you want to.
Sapphire vs diamond
Sapphires are softer than diamonds, though both are very hard gemstones. Where a diamond is usually clear, a sapphire is usually deep blue so they offer very different light shows. A diamond will sparkle and have much more fire than a sapphire, while a sapphire will bring catch the eye and keep attention longer, due to its color.
Diamonds are much more common as engagement ring stones, while sapphires are a mix between vintage jewelry and a statement piece. Not many brides wear sapphire, but the ones that do stand out from the crowd.
In short both sapphires and diamonds have their beauty, and choosing between the two needs to be done carefully, and with your partner in mind. Here’s a list of the main differences, and how they affect beauty, style, and cost.
1. Diamonds are the go-to engagement ring stone
Diamonds are forever, says an old ad that got people buying diamonds decades ago. The truth is, diamonds are forever but their worth is inflated due to demand, not because they’re in short supply. Still, after decades of diamond engagement rings, most of the Western world now expects an engagement ring to feature a diamond, usually at least 1 carat and set in 18k yellow gold. And that’s a very beautiful, elegant ring.
But it’s not the only way to do things. Back when engagement rings became a thing and people started exchanging rings as an outward sign of their promise to marry, colored gems were just as good and fashionable as diamonds.
Sapphires are not the go-to engagement stone, though they are often linked to love, serenity, and loyalty. That being said there are a few engagement rings that feature a sapphire as a center stone, the most famous being the late Princess Diana’s engagement ring, now worn by Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.
Read also: Sapphire VS Topaz
2. Sapphires are softer than diamond
Diamonds are the hardest material known to man, so hard they can cut through anything without being scratched. You’ll find diamonds on the heads of industrial boring machines that bore underground tunnels and even coating some really sharp saw blades.
There is a scale to measure a material’s hardness, and it’s the Mohs scale. The diamond is always taken as reference, scoring a perfect 10 out of 10. A sapphire is a little softer, scoring a 9. This means it will withstand scratches from nearly anything, except a diamond.
While the difference in hardness isn’t as dramatic as the one between a diamond and quartz (a 7 on the Mohs scale), some people may want a harder stone.
3. Diamonds are more expensive than sapphires
Whether the price of a diamond is inflated or not, it doesn’t matter. When it comes time to source your diamond you will pay a very, very pretty penny for even half a carat. Diamonds come in different grades, and those grades taken into account:
- color – from perfectly clear to noticeably yellow
- cut – from perfectly cut to uneven sides and poor craftsmanship
- clarity – from perfectly clear to heavily included and cloudy
- carat – from the smallest 0.1 carat to much more than most people can afford
All of these factors cam make a diamond set you back anywhere between $1000 and $20,000 for a single carat, depending on the quality. Obviously you won’t be getting a poor quality diamond on something as important as a engagement ring, so the final quote will sting.
Sapphires on the other hand are more affordable by comparison. Not terribly cheap, not by a long shot, but definitely more affordable. Sapphires take into account:
- color – from nearly white and milky to deep, intense blue
- clarity – from cloudy and included to eye clean
- treatment – natural and untreated, all the way to heat-treated and glass-filled
- carat – from the smallest to the largest
- origin – sapphires from Myanmar and Sri Lanka are the most expensive
For example if buying a sapphire you’re likely going for one a bit larger than 1 carat, so it can easily be seen. A 3-3.5 carat sapphire, heat treated, from Sri Lanka can rake in $8,389 as a loose, faceted stone.
4. Sapphires are often heat treated, diamonds are less so
Because sapphires are prone to inclusions and flaws, they are often heat treated and their fractures are usually filled with lead glass. These treatments enhance color and clarity, and they’re commonly accepted within the gemstone trade. A sapphire that has not been treated at all, and has its color naturally made and has very few flaws is, of course, the most expensive one.
However nearly all the sapphires on the marker are heat treated to get that deep blue color, to simulate the extra pressure and heat they wouldn’t went through if they stayed longer in the ground (a few thousands of years more).
Diamonds are also prone to inclusions, and very few are perfectly white and clear. Most are actually a little yellow and have some dark specks here and there, and those are always graded lower. The inclusions may be removed via laser drilling and then filled, and sometimes the color of a diamond may be altered through irradiation or heat treatment to either enhance or remove color.
These practices are less common than with sapphire, and usually affect the price of the diamond.
5. Diamonds have more fire than sapphires
Because a diamond has a very high refractive index (2.41), it means it can refract and disperse light better than most clear materials. This is part of its charm, as it’s what makes all the facets of a diamond bounce the light and make it appear to sparkle. A good diamond is going to stand out from other white stones cut the same way, simply because it will sparkle more, even in dim light.
Interestingly enough, the round brilliant cut was especially developed for a diamond’s reflective index, to work with it and maximize the amount of sparkle one can achieve.
Sapphires have much less fire, and because they are a colored gem they’re going to offer flashes of white to blue, rather than a rainbow. Even white sapphires sparkle less than a diamond, simply because they have a lower refractive index, and this is in part due to how common inclusions are in sapphires.
So if you’re looking for a gemstone that will sparkle from a mile, sapphire is not the answer.
6. Sapphires have a show-stopping cornflower blue
What sapphires do have going for them is their amazing, intense cornflower blue. Very few gemstones achieve a similar color, even the other blue ones. Most blue gemstones range from light icy blue to sky blue to sea blue (a hint of green). The only ones that come close to a sapphire blue are tanzanite and iolite, and they are lacking in hardness.
You may also find blue diamonds, and those are very rare indeed. However these are a steely-gray, grey-blue sort of shade rather than a deep indigo blue like sapphire. They have more sparkle than a sapphire, but not the same color.
You can find both sapphires and diamonds in various colors
Both diamonds and sapphires come in various colors, but the most common and well known are white diamonds and blue sapphires. This means you can also find white sapphires and blue diamonds, pink sapphires and pink diamonds, yellow sapphires and yellow diamonds, though these are harder to source and in less demand than the classic colors. Some of these may even be more expensive than the classic colors.
Can you use sapphire instead of diamond ?
You can use a sapphire instead of a diamond if you want to make a different kind of statement jewelry. Keep in mind that if you’re using blue sapphire the overall look will be different, and if using white sapphire it will sparkle noticeably less than a white diamond.
A sapphire has a pretty good hardness – a 9 – so it will be good as everyday jewelry, and it won’t fade in color over time.
Can you use diamond and sapphire together ?
An even better idea is to combine sapphires and diamonds in a ring or piece of jewelry if you like. The most common way of doing this is with a blue sapphire center stone, and smaller, lower grade diamonds in a halo or as side stones. This provides several advantages.
If you were to use a diamond as a center stone, all the other diamond on the ring or earring would have to be the same grade as the center stone. A lower grade would stick out like a sore thumb next to the perfect diamond in the middle.
But by using a sapphire as a center stone, you can get a set of lower grade diamonds and use those around the sapphire.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.