Whether it’s from a desire to make a personal statement, or to conserve money while still getting a fine gemstone, or because you’re interested specifically in white sapphires, you may have considered a white sapphire for your engagement ring.
Whereas most sapphires are blue, a white sapphire is, like a white diamond, colorless.
Hardness: White Sapphire vs Diamonds
A diamond scores a 10 on the Mohs scale. A sapphire scores a 9. (A sapphire is a type of corundum, which is the word you’ll see on the Mohs scale. By the way, a ruby, too, is a kind of corundum.)
It would be natural to believe that a white sapphire, as a diamond substitute, is nine tenths as hard as a diamond. But it’s not. There’s more to the story.
When Friedrich Mohs created his scale of mineral hardness back in 1812, he did it in a very practical way, since many scientific instruments for measuring the hardness of minerals had yet to be invented.
He did it by attempting to scratch one mineral with another, until he had a ranked order of 10 well-known minerals.
He chose 10 minerals that were known by experience to vary in hardness, and he attempted to scratch one with another. If Mineral A could scratch Mineral B, then Mineral A moved up in the scale.
So he ended with a scale consisting of an ordered list of 10 minerals. The one at position #1 was softest. That was talc. The one at position #10 was hardest — diamond. Mohs didn’t have a way of objectively measuring hardness. He had only that primitive way of establishing relative hardness.
The Mohs scale is still useful as a tool by which a mineral of unknown hardness can be tested against a group of ten established, indexed minerals. This test determines where it fits on the scale of hardness.
Later, instruments and procedures were devised for establishing the objective, absolute hardness of a given mineral. The Vickers scale is one such result. It measures hardness in terms of kilograms per square mm.
A Diamond Is 5x Harder Than a White Sapphire
Depending on the reasons a person is interested in a white sapphire as an engagement ring, that information may be highly relevant.
For some, mistakenly believing that a sapphire is 90% as hard as a diamond steered them more toward a sapphire for an engagement ring gemstone. After all, a sapphire is substantially less expensive than a diamond. If it’s 90% as hard, virtually as beautiful in its own way, what would be the loss?
When they discover that in fact a white sapphire is 5x as soft as a diamond, many are motivated to go for a diamond. They’ve concluded rightly that there is no substitute for a diamond.
That doesn’t mean white sapphires aren’t desirable in their own right. Just as there’s no substitute for a diamond, there is also no substitute for a white sapphire, or a ruby, or any gemstone.
(As an aside, although it’s beyond the scope of this article, diamonds don’t have to be impossibly expensive. You can find a good diamond that you will love on any budget. I can help. Contact me for a personal response.)
Does the GIA or AGS Provide Grading Reports or Certificates for White Sapphires?
When considering a white sapphire as a diamond engagement ring gemstone, you may also want to note that the GIA and AGS do not provide grading reports (sometimes called certificates) for white sapphires, or for any other colored gemstones.
The GIA offers only basic reports about white sapphires detailing color, carat weight, and treatment. (“Treatment” refers to anything beyond cut done to a gemstone to change or enhance its appearance, such as coatings, dyes, heat treatment, etc.)
GIA, AGS, and Diamonds
If you’re shopping for a diamond, the objective, 3rd-party grading reports of the GIA or AGS provide you with reassurance that you know exactly what they are buying.
That’s not the case when shopping for white sapphires.
GIA, AGS, and White Sapphires
If you get any report at all, it covers only objective basics of carat, color, and treatments if any. It doesn’t contain the evaluations or descriptions of clarity, cut, inclusions, or anything else. Even the color information is very basic.
You can still safely buy white sapphires. But you just won’t have the take-it-to-the-bank kind of information which you will have with a diamond graded by the GIA or the AGS. You’ll need to rely on your own judgment.
How to Safely Buy a White Sapphire Engagement Ring
To safely buy a white sapphire engagement ring, or any other color gemstone engagement ring, stick to online or local retailers who score at least an A or higher with the BBB.
If you’re buying online, which we recommend since you have access to so many more choices than you do locally, consider James Allen and Blue Nile (each score A+ at the BBB at the time of publication) for their groundbreaking, quality 3D imaging of individual gemstones.
Make sure that the merchant you’re considering offers returns if you’re unsatisfied. Although James Allen’s and Blue Nile’s exceptional imaging shows you what a gemstone looks like online, you’ll only know truly what it looks like after it arrives.
That’s why you should confirm any merchant’s return policy before ordering, just in case.
How to Evaluate Cut in a White Sapphire
Since no professional assessments of white sapphires are done by 3rd party labs, you’ll have to be your own expert if you’re shopping for one for your engagement ring. That begins with evaluating cut. Here are some points of evaluation:
- Look for a white sapphire in which you can’t see through it to the bottom of the stone. That’s known as a “window.” Instead, prefer white sapphires from which light pours upward, through the table. (The “table” is the top of the stone.) You can recognize that light is pouring upward through it when you can’t see through the stone to the culet. (The “culet” is the bottom of the gemstone.)
- Look for brilliance. If you’re used to looking at diamonds, be aware that the brilliance of sapphires is much less impressive. That doesn’t mean it won’t be impressive. Look for as much sparkle and flash as you can find, but don’t compare the brilliance of sapphires to the brilliance of diamonds. Each should be evaluated separately.
- Table size. (“Table” is a technical term for the top of a gemstone.) It’s generally agreed among experts that the table should be between 33% and 66%, or — more usefully put — no less than ⅓ the total size and no more than ⅔ the total size. Most usefully put of all: not too large and not too small. Mathematics can’t take the place of your own aesthetic judgment. Just be skeptical of any table too large or too small. Evaluate any table size in conjunction with the other considerations.
- Look for symmetry and balance. You notice symmetry and balance most when they are missing. Does it look off center? Does it seem slightly off kilter? Or is it cut in a pleasing, balanced, symmetrical shape? Look at it carefully from all angles.
How to Evaluate Color in a White Sapphire
With white sapphire, just as with a white diamond, the absence of color is the quality most desired.
- The more complete and even is the colorless hue of a white sapphire, the better. Look for any beginnings of cloudiness or color in the outer reaches of the stone. Also look in the interior of the stone from every angle.
- Some white sapphires are heat treated in order to enhance the hue. This should be noted by the merchant. Such enhanced stones are generally less desirable than their equivalents occurring naturally.
- Because no professional grading exists of white sapphires, depend on your own observations. What appeals to you? Does the stone move you? Try to be as objective as possible, while allowing your true feelings about the stone to surface. This is the ultimate and disposing factor in any evaluation of any stone, but especially when you’re evaluating a gemstone of a class which does not receive professional grading reports.
How to Evaluate a White Sapphire for Clarity
Colored gemstones other than diamonds, including white sapphires, have more inclusions, as a class, than do diamonds. They become especially apparent when observed under a 10x jewelry loupe, which is available for only a few dollars from many merchants online.
Determine if the inclusions are mostly hidden from the eye, from the top. The more invisible they are from the top of the stone, the better.
White Sapphire vs Diamond Engagement Rings
- The biggest difference, which shouldn’t be underestimated, is that diamonds have significantly more brilliance. If you place virtually any diamond engagement ring next to virtually any white sapphire engagement ring, you’ll be able to see the difference immediately.
- That brings up the second difference, price. A white sapphire is superior to a diamond in price. It’s quite a bit less expensive.
- Another quality difference is hardness. As we discussed earlier, although a white sapphire scores 9 on the Mohs hardness scale and a diamond scores 10, a white sapphire is 5x as soft as a diamond. What this means in practical terms is that it is subject to scratching, especially when worn daily for a lifetime. A diamond is not.
If you love white sapphires, then a white sapphire is a good choice. You deserve what you want and love.
However, if you’re looking at a white sapphire as a substitute for a diamond, because being colorless it resembles a diamond in appearance, then I’d urge you to look further afield.
The reason is that if you want the effect of a diamond, you really can’t get that with a white sapphire. You can’t get the diamond effects of refraction and brilliance from any other stone, but cubic zirconia comes closer than a white sapphire.
- Diamond refractive index: 2.42
- Cubic Zirconia refractive index: 15- 2.18
- White Sapphire refractive index: 1.76 – 1.77
(A white sapphire, however, will keep its colorless hue over time, whereas a cubic zirconia may, over time, become slightly discolored.)
Deeply colored sapphires, on the other hand, make their own statements of beauty and elegance, separate and apart from anything related to a diamond aesthetic.
Princess Diana famously enjoyed a blue sapphire as the central stone in her engagement ring.
Whatever choice you make, you can make it yours. A white sapphire as an engagement ring is perfectly beautiful, elegant, and shimmering with its own class. You’ll enjoy it if you love white sapphires.
Have more questions about engagement rings? I’m here to help you find an engagement ring you love, at the budget you set from the beginning. Feel free to contact me. I’ll give you a personal response.