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It’s been ingrained in our brains that a sparkling (and sizable) white diamond makes the ultimate engagement ring. But, as many modern brides will attest, a white diamond isn’t the be-all and end-all. If you lean toward an alternative aesthetic or you’re simply interested in an engagement ring that’s less expected, a salt-and-pepper diamond is a fantastic choice. While they have existed for centuries alongside their more popular white diamond counterpart, these perfectly imperfect stones have more recently begun to gain traction with brides-to-be.
What Is a Salt-and-Pepper Diamond?
A salt-and-pepper diamond has inclusions that appear black and white. Many will have more inclusions than others, and no two diamonds are alike. Some will be dark and moody; others come light and bright with just a few tiny blemishes.
We spoke with an industry expert and founder of Au Xchange, Azra Mehdi, to gain insight on these natural beauties and what to know before slipping that once-in-a-lifetime ring onto your finger.
Meet the Expert
- Azra Mehdi is a jewelry expert and the founder of Au Xchange Fine Gold Jewelry.
Pros and Cons of a Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring
Salt-and-pepper diamonds are still diamonds, which means they’re incredibly rare and valuable. The difference is that they come with a smidge more character than highly sought, flawless white diamonds and make for distinctive engagement rings that veer slightly left of center without teetering too far into avant-garde territory.
The good news is these distinctions make them less expensive. "Salt-and-pepper diamonds are more affordable because they are not considered to be perfect gemstones. They were often discarded during the diamond-sorting process," says Mehdi.
Plus, since salt-and-pepper diamonds take fewer resources to mine than regular diamonds, they're perfect for eco-conscious couples. And because they're rarer than pure white diamonds due to their carbon inclusions, they're usually less expensive, making them a great choice for to-be-weds on a budget.
But there are a few cons to note when looking at salt-and-pepper diamonds. The most important: The traditional 4Cs of diamond evaluations do not apply. "It is generally harder to grade a salt-and-pepper diamond because the high number of black-and-white inclusions makes it look ‘peppered” and difficult to grade. Hence, the 4Cs of cut, color, clarity, and carat do not apply entirely to salt-and-pepper diamonds, although they are still used as guides," Mehdi explains.
What to Look for in a Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring
- What cuts pair best with salt-and-pepper diamonds? Salt-and-pepper diamonds bring out unique inclusions and patterns in the gemstone. "The high number of inclusions reduces the brilliance of the stone. Thus, cutters often choose to highlight these inclusions by choosing fancy cuts like the step-cut or rose-cut for these stones," says Mehdi.
- What settings look best with salt-and-pepper diamonds? "Geometric shapes like triangles, hexagons, and kites are more prevalent when choosing salt-and-pepper diamonds, although round, oval, and pear shapes are available as well," Mehdi explains.
- How can I tell if the ring is high quality? “By definition, salt-and-pepper diamonds are deemed 'low quality' diamonds, and they are not nearly as rare as other colored diamonds,” Mehdi says. The value of these diamonds is judged based on their diversity and the illusions they give off. "Remember, these are still diamonds, so they will always carry the level of value that comes with being a diamond," Mehdi notes.
- How much do these rings cost? "The cost of salt-and-pepper diamond engagement rings varies based on the gemstone size, the amount of gold and any additional diamond accents, and, of course, the designer," explains Mehdi.
How to Care for a Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Engagement Ring
Salt-and-pepper diamonds will show less wear and tear than traditional diamonds, but it is still essential to maintain cleanings. Although the stone won't lose its dullness as fast as other stones, still clean the ring monthly. This will help to remove buildup from the ring and the band.
Also, remember to take the ring off when you shower or wash your hands. The water won't harm the ring, but over time, it does contribute to the ring tarnishing and the luminosity diminishing.
If you think a salt-and-pepper diamond is right for your engagement ring, scroll through our edit of 23 options for every style and budget.
Après Jewelry Salt-and-Pepper Kite Ring
For the alternative bride-to-be who still wants a bit of traditional sparkle, this kite-shaped salt-and-pepper diamond is surrounded by three pavè-set white diamonds on each side. The simple band is available in yellow, white, or rose gold for a customizable look.
Sofia Zakia Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Wandering Star Ring
Described by the designer as a "wearable piece of poetry," this engagement ring was made for the bespoke bride. The round, rose-cut salt-and-pepper center diamond is accompanied by 10 sparkling white diamonds and two gold crescent moons on a rose, white, or yellow gold band.
Jennie Kwon Salt-and-Pepper Balance Ring
Symmetry is the concept behind this modern engagement ring boasting a total of 13 diamonds. Three sparkling white diamonds rest between two rose-cut salt-and-pepper diamonds while one baguette-cut diamond and three 1mm white diamonds adorn each side of the white, yellow, or rose gold band.
Capucinne Sunrise Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring
A beautiful blend of salt-and-pepper and white diamonds adorn this sunrise-inspired sparkling engagement ring. It features a 1.2-carat half-moon-shaped center stone with an ombre-style diamond crown. For the band, choose from 14k or 18k white, yellow, or rose gold, or upgrade to platinum.
MossnStone Salt-and-Pepper Elongated Hexagon Diamond Ring
This rustic engagement ring features a customizable rose-cut cushion salt-and-pepper diamond on a simple double band. You can choose the weight of your diamond, the color and finish of the band, and the type of setting for a super-individualized look.
Sofia Kaman Natural Beauty Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Solitaire Ring
The salt-and-pepper diamond and textured band add touches of modernity to this understated engagement ring's timeless style. The brilliant-cut diamond is bezel-set in your choice of rose, white, or yellow gold with a matte or shiny finish.