White diamonds are no longer the standard for a beautiful engagement ring. Yes, of course, they’re ravishing in all their scintillating glory, not to mention timeless in any cut or setting. But for those seeking a more distinctive stone to say “I do” to, you don’t want to sleep on salt and pepper engagement rings. Not only is the ring style in line with one of 2022’s biggest engagement ring trends, uniqueness, but it echos the unconventional celebrity engagement ring trend, too. See the sparklers worn by Zoë Kravitz, Scarlett Johansson, Ariana Grande, and Emily Ratajkowski as prime examples.
Like colored gemstones, a salt and pepper diamond instantly stands out on the ring finger, with no two appearing the same. Describing the stone as “perfectly imperfect,” Ken and Dana Design team member Ariel Alexandrou says salt and pepper gems are partially opaque diamonds filled with various impurities — aka inclusions — causing a peppered effect. Visible internal elements like feathers, wisps, and clouds make up many of the irregular qualities of salt and pepper diamonds, as designer Anna Sheffield explains. They’re often interchangeably referred to as “fancy grey,” “included grey,” “rustic,” “raw,” “dishwater,” or “galaxy” diamonds.
Some of the more distinctive salt and pepper stones have a hazy appearance as if smoke were captured inside, as Sheffield notes, and others look to be the result of an ink brush dipped and swirled into water. “Each salt and pepper diamond has its own personality — it’s completely unique, which is different from a white diamond which draws its characteristics from color and cut,” says Eva Fehren creative director and co-founder Eva Zuckerman. “A ‘galaxy diamond’ refers to the rarest of salt and pepper diamonds where the body color is more of a dark grey to black, and it appears to be dotted with translucency.”
While all three designers have used salt and pepper stones for years, all note an increase in the stone’s popularity. “Not everyone needs or wants a bright white diamond, and I’m glad to see that people are becoming more comfortable expressing that,” says Zuckerman, highlighting their more mysterious and dark qualities. “I love the interplay between salt and pepper and white diamonds and often mix the two in my engagement pieces,” she adds.
Alexandrou notes an increase in salt and pepper requests over the past five to six years, telling TZR, “They’re a more modern, non-traditional approach to a diamond engagement ring, which appeals to those with unique style.”
This uniqueness is the most common reason for their uptick. However, similar to diamond alternatives like moissanite, they’re usually more affordable, too. “They’re priced significantly lower than white diamonds since they’re filled with inclusions,” says Alexandrou. The lower price doesn't solely account for their draw as Zuckerman notes. “I’ve found that with clients drawn to salt and pepper diamonds, it’s not about cost but about what makes their hearts sing.”
Despite being less costly than white or champagne diamonds, Sheffield cautions against stones that are exceptionally low in price. “The included material is by nature less rare, so there is more out there in the market,” she says. “If you’re getting the diamond for really cheap, that might indicate its quality overall is low.”
Due to the inclusions that make them unique, salt and pepper diamonds are not rated with all fours C’s — cut, color, clarity, and carat — in the same way as white diamonds. “Clarity is not a concern because of the presence of inclusions,” says Zuckerman. Adding, “The color of the diamond will have an overall effect on the look of a salt and pepper diamond but will not directly affect its value.” However, as with any diamond, carat size will affect the price of a salt and pepper stone, Zuckerman explains.
Cut is most important for salt and pepper diamonds. While standard practice is to cut to enhance a diamond’s brilliance, Zuckerman says, “salt and pepper diamonds are cut to enhance their inclusions.” As a result, fancy cuts are common such as step cuts, rose cuts, and geometric shapes, like hexagons, kites, and pears. Alexandrou highlights round brilliant cuts as another popular shape.
Sheffield explains that rose cuts — meaning flat on the bottom and domed on top — are common because of a salt and pepper’s lower quality and valuation on the diamond color scale, with sparkle not being a factor. Because of this, rose cuts will often be less expensive due to lower carat weight. However, because the range of salt and pepper stones is vast, and some are lower quality than others, poorly cut rose-cut stones aren’t uncommon. “For these reasons, I use more full-cut, faceted diamonds for this class of galaxy or included grey gems,” Sheffield tells TZR.
Like cut, settings run the gamut for salt and pepper engagement rings, including classic bezel or prong-set solitaires, three-stone rings, and ultra-distinctive styles like off-kilter and east-west stones, toi et moi styles, and chunky mountings. “I love putting these perfectly imperfect stones into really delicate, sleek silhouettes,” says Sheffield, like her solitaire Bea, Eleonore, and Rosette settings and the classically romantic Hazeline three-stone ring. “That contrast is so timeless and truly celebrates the uniqueness of each diamond,” she says.
Specific accent stones compliment salt and pepper diamonds well for multi-stone rings and designs featuring pavé or a halo, too. “Standard white diamonds always add a nice pop,” says Alexandrou. “We often create rings that have a salt and pepper diamond center stone, with white diamond accents in the band or halo.”
As for the metals that work well with salt and pepper diamonds, it comes down to personal taste. Sheffield works with yellow, white, and rose gold, often mixed in one ring, while Zuckerman takes an edgier approach, often setting salt and pepper stones in blackened white gold. Ken & Dana Designs favors 14-karat rose gold as Alexandrou tells TZR, “It offers a beautiful contrast against the grey.”
Before shopping for a salt and pepper diamond engagement ring, it is important to note that the stones are less durable than white diamonds. “Their inclusions make them more vulnerable to chipping and cracking,” says Alexandrou. “If there are chips on the edges, surface dimples, or indents, you might have a stone that could crack, chip, or otherwise break,” warns Sheffield. In some cases, wisps that look like fissures run through a stone, compromising the durability and indicating a lower-quality diamond. “It’s worth it to get a better quality diamond in the end,” Sheffield says.
Below, 25 interpretations of salt and pepper diamond rings that vary in color, opacity, settings, and size; a selection suitable for a range of aesthetics.
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