It’s been ingrained in our brains that a sparkling (and sizable) white diamond makes the ultimate engagement ring, but as many modern couples 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 Azra Mehdi, an industry expert and the founder of Au Xchange, to gain insight on these natural beauties and what to know before slipping that once-in-a-lifetime ring onto your finger.
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 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. It's also important to 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.
Are you ready to say, "yes," to a salt-and-pepper diamond? Read on for the best salt-and-pepper engagement rings for every style and budget.
Anueva Jewelry Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Six-Prong Split-Shank Ring
This untreated and ethically sourced, hand-cut diamond is perfect for the boho bride. The gold band is hand-carved in a signature style, making this solitaire ring unique while still maintaining a classic look.
Price at time of publish: $2,600
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.
NYFineJewelry Vintage Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring
This handmade art deco engagement ring features an oval salt-and-pepper center diamond with white diamond clusters on each side. It's prong set on a yellow, white, or rose gold band and can be personalized for a special touch.
Price at time of publish: $1,295 for 14k rose + 5*7mm
byAngeline Fancy-Cut Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Solitaire Ring
This 1.625-carat salt-and-pepper diamond is pear-cut and set in solid white gold. The textured band and asymmetrical prongs create a rustic, one-of-a-kind look.
Price at time of publish: $2,995
mossNstone Salt-and-Pepper Raw Diamond Ring
This hexagon-cut salt-and-pepper diamond engagement ring is perfectly fit for a bride who loves something different. It's handmade and features a raw diamond and a 14k gold band.
Price at time of publish: $1,596 for A 1.27 ct
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.
Price at time of publish: $2,650
Margaret Cross Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring
Three pavè-set white diamonds shine on each side of this brilliant-cut salt-and-pepper diamond with an intricate prong setting. The flat face and slightly squared edges contrast with the smooth yellow gold band for an unconventional look.
Price at time of publish: $2,500
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.
Price at time of publish: $2,500 in 14k yellow
Doozie Jewelry Salt-and-Pepper Split Shank Ring
This ring's dot-detailed split shank draws the eye toward the bezel-set salt-and-pepper center diamond. The white gold band's satin matte finish gives off subtle vintage vibes.
Price at time of publish: $2,625
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.
Price at time of publish: $3,900
MossNstone Geometric Salt and Pepper Diamond Cluster 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.
Price at time of publish: $2,740
Alexis Russell The Camellia Ring
If you're a modern bride inspired by vintage style, this ring is for you. The hexagon-shaped salt-and-pepper center diamond is enhanced by a white diamond sunburst at each point. Prong-set in 14k rose gold with a smooth finish, this piece is truly one of a kind.
Digby & Iona Nico Ring
Featuring an intricately designed yellow gold band, this ring packs a punch with a 1.25-carat salt-and-pepper center stone. Accompanied by diamond clusters on each side, it's hard not to fall in love with a charming piece like this.
Price at time of publish: $3,670
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.
Price at time of publish: $2,090
1st Dibs Rose-Cut Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Engagement Ring
The geometric style of this engagement ring makes for a truly modern look. The hexagonal salt-and-pepper center stone rests between two trillion-cut white diamonds while the yellow gold bezel setting adds a bit of old-school flair.
Price at time of publish: $4,000
Capucinne Danielle Galaxy Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Ring Set
This alternative engagement ring features a textured yellow gold shield with a salt-and-pepper center stone surrounded by white and chocolate diamonds. A ring like this is perfect for mixing into your everyday ring stacks.
Price at time of publish: $6,400
1st Dibs Salt and Pepper Diamond Engagement Ring with Halo
Set in 18k gold, this captivating salt-and-pepper diamond engagement ring is adorned with a pavé-set band. To top it off, a flurry of shimmering diamonds creates the most stunning halo surrounding the round-cut center stone.
Price at time of publish: $4,980
Michelle Oh Anya Ring
We're obsessing over the unique horizontal setting of this salt-and-pepper diamond ring. The marquise-cut stone is set in signature yellow gold "talons" and flanked by micro-pavé, brilliant-cut white diamonds on a simple rounded band.
La More Design Large Salt-and-Pepper Diamond Solitaire Ring
A salt-and-pepper diamond pairs beautifully with a rose gold band. The warm tones of the rose gold highlight the deep gray hues in the diamond.
Price at time of publish: $3,585
Doozie Jewelry Salt-and-Pepper Pear Diamond Trio Ring
This trio of rose-cut pear-shaped diamonds sits pretty on an unadorned band within delicate prong settings. An eye-catching twist to a classic three-stone design, this beauty is set in 14k white gold.
Price at time of publish: $7,995
1st Dibs Salt and Pepper Diamond Engagement Ring
It's safe to say that this round-cut salt-and-pepper diamond ring exudes pure magic. Set in 14k yellow gold, two white diamond side stones accompany this center stone on a simple band.
Price at time of publish: $3,500
Meet the Expert
Azra Mehdi is a jewelry expert and the founder of Au Xchange Fine Gold Jewelry.
Why Trust Brides
Contributing writer Laura Lajines is a writer and editor covering all things fashion. Prior to her work with Brides, she served as the senior fashion editor at the Zoe Report and PopSugar. Her work has also been featured in Elle, InStyle, Glamour, Refinery 29, Well+Good, and Barneys New York.