For decades, a perfectly clear, perfectly white and perfectly cut diamond was the end all be all of wedding and engagement rings. Heavily included diamonds were considered undesirable: they went to the pile for industrial use. Think diamond drills.
Then came millennials, with our penchant to love and accept ourselves, flaws and all. And with it, a big dollop of individuality and a healthy respect for the world that we live in. Couples started looking for something different. Something that wasn't tainted with reports of blood and violence. Some moved over to coloured gemstones like sapphires. But then a cool rebel emerged from the shadows: the salt and pepper diamond.
Clarity characteristics (the geek term for "imperfections") are natural. These imperfections are generally called inclusions or blemishes. Most diamonds have flaws and imperfections, they're like fingerprints or that birthmark on your chin. They’re what makes one diamond different from another. Most of the diamonds you’ll find at Gardens of the Sun have visible inclusions, symbolizing a love for imperfections and celebration of differences.
With a similar hardness as their clear counterparts, salt and pepper diamonds are an increasingly popular choice for alternative engagement rings. Salt and pepper diamonds mean different things to many people - that’s the beauty of owning such a unique diamond. Spotted with a galaxy of black stars, or inclusions in cool shapes, salt and pepper diamonds range from opalescent whites to silky grays to stormy almost-blacks, and anything in between.
Their quirky looks help couples match their unique love story with a similarly unique diamond, turning their “flaws” into their biggest asset. More and more brides break traditional norms and choose to embrace what matters to them.
Are salt and pepper diamonds real?
A BIG YES!!! Salt and pepper diamonds are 100% natural. Made on Earth. Formed over billions of years. Genuine and untainted.
A better question to ask is: Why didn’t we know about salt and pepper diamonds earlier? Well, that is pure marketing at play. We’ve been taught to value clear diamonds as the highest of the highs, when in reality, diamonds come in shades far more rich and complex.
In love with a black-speckled diamond? Read on to fall in love with a non-traditional engagement ring.
So, what is a salt and pepper diamond?
Most diamonds us common folks can afford have flaws, imperfections or inclusions. These inclusions vary in color, shape and sizes. They can be carbon spots, crystals, feathers or clouds.
As you can see from the photo above, salt and pepper diamonds usually contain a mix of black (pepper) and white (salt) inclusions. The pepper inclusions make a diamond look darker, the salt inclusions make a diamond look cloudier and hazier.
These inclusions grow and form alongside the diamond. Over billions of years, the crystal is exposed to carbon, minerals and even other diamonds. Together, these elements create lasting marks, called inclusions. The inclusions in salt and pepper diamonds are more plentiful and noticeable than traditional diamonds.
Don't get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of diamonds. But I love them opalescent, with random inclusions, funky patterns and streaks of colors. While inclusions are usually a no-go, salt and pepper diamonds are the exception.
Why are there so many different variations?
What makes salt and pepper diamonds so attractive is that no two are alike. Salt and pepper diamonds symbolize the ‘wild child’. They’re fun and their flaws work to benefit the overall appearance of the gem - quite the opposite of the traditional diamond. If black diamonds feel too powerful to you, you might want to find your lifetime companion among the salt and pepper range.
What color is a salt and pepper diamond?
The amount of salt and pepper inclusions in a diamond affect its color.
Mostly salt? Icy white diamond.
Only a sprinkle of pepper? Light salt and pepper diamond.
A lot of pepper and some salt? Dark salt and pepper diamond.
Mostly pepper, no salt? Black diamond.
Salt and pepper diamonds don’t need to be on the grayscale. We’ve even seen some green salt and pepper diamonds and yellow salt and pepper diamonds!
Salt and pepper diamonds in various shapes
What are alternative names for salt and pepper diamonds?
It may seem odd that all salt and pepper diamonds are lumped together under one name when in reality, each one is so vastly unique. Jewelers often use the name galaxy diamonds, celestial diamonds, storm diamonds, or icy white diamonds to categorize their diamonds based on the look and inclusions (basically icy white diamonds mean more salt than pepper; storm diamonds mean more pepper than salt). But remember that this naming system isn’t formally or universally recognized!
When talking about salt and pepper diamonds, we’re going into uncharted territory; there’s no formal institution that assesses and grades salt and pepper diamonds. So all those names above are more like terms of endearments, and not all jewelers will use those terms in their practice.
Are salt and pepper diamonds rings low quality?
Just a decade ago, salt and pepper diamonds were considered low quality just because of their colors and flaws. These days, these inclusions have become fashionable and they fetch higher prices. Salt and pepper diamonds may be flawed, imperfect diamond engagement rings are on the rise.
How much is a salt and pepper diamond worth?
Salt and pepper diamonds are cheaper than their sparkling counterparts with less inclusions. The price of a salt and pepper diamond depends on the carat weight, cut and clarity (yes, some salt and pepper diamonds are much more heavily included than others!). There are also some price differences in origin, for example salt and pepper diamonds from Canada and Indonesia are more expensive than those from less ethical origins, like Russia.
According to Ashkan Asgari, founder of Misfit Diamonds, the average retail price range for salt and pepper diamonds ranges from $856/ct to $2,000/ct.
Salt and pepper diamonds aren’t certified or graded by the GIA, because GIA doesn't have a system for assessing and grading them. There’s no indication it’ll happen anytime soon.
This is because the 4Cs (color, clarity, cut, and carat weight) grading system created by GIA don’t apply to salt and pepper diamonds the same way. These diamonds tend to be rose cut with unique shapes, various colors and heavily included clarity. Of course, weight and how well a diamond is cut still matter.
Gardens of the Sun does offer gemologist lab reports for our higher value Borneo diamonds, also those with pepper inclusions or full salt and pepper diamonds.
Are salt and pepper diamonds ethical?
The ethics behind salt and pepper diamonds are similar to clear diamonds. A few clients have asked us whether salt and pepper diamond rings are more sustainable.
Let me tell you this. The diamonds come from the same mines, so the most important question to ask a jeweler remains the same: which mine or country was the diamond mined? You see, countries like Russia are origins you’d like to avoid.
Moreover, mining salt and pepper diamonds requires no less destruction than clear diamonds. Some jewelers may try to convince you there’s less waste, because salt and pepper diamonds are less rare than clear diamonds, or how they’d otherwise be discarded for industrial use. But these diamonds are still used, and mines are still dug.
But the good news is, with salt and pepper diamonds valued more now than a decade ago, artisanal miners can expect a higher income from selling salt and pepper diamonds.
Where do you source your salt and pepper diamonds from?
Our salt and pepper diamonds are primarily sourced from Australia, Botswana, Canada and Indonesia.
Since our new sourcing policy came into effect in November 2018, we source most of our non-melee diamonds from Kalimantan, which is the Indonesian part of Borneo island. The included diamonds here have a slightly different makeup from the salt and pepper diamonds on the international market. They tend to have mostly black inclusions, and hardly any “salt”. This means predominantly clear or colored diamonds with black beauty marks.
Are salt and pepper diamonds durable?
You’re not the first one to ask whether salt and pepper diamonds are as durable as a traditional diamond.
The quick answer:
salt and pepper diamonds are not as strong and durable as clear diamonds.
Like clear diamonds, salt and pepper diamonds rank 10 on Mohs scale. That means salt and pepper diamonds don’t scratch easily and are harder than your hardest gemstones.
But since salt and pepper diamonds have inclusions, they can still chip. And they chip more easily than clear diamonds.
Salt and pepper diamonds are filled with internal inclusions, but they can also have pits and other surface reaching flaws. These inclusions make them technically more weak than a clear white diamond.
How to clean salt and pepper diamonds ring?
There’s no special treatment for salt and pepper diamonds, other than cleaning them regularly to show their glow. The best way to clean a salt and pepper diamond ring is to wash it with lukewarm water and mild soap. Avoid steam cleaners and ultrasonic cleaners. White diamonds, which have high clarity, can easily go into those cleaners, but the inclusions in salt and pepper diamonds make them more fragile.
What’s the best cut for a salt and pepper diamond?
Salt and pepper diamonds are often rose cut, which means it has a flat bottom and larger surface area. You’ll find salt and pepper diamonds cut into various fancy shapes from kite, geometric, triangle, to oval. Rose cut allows the inclusions to be center of the show, but the cut also minimizes reflections and sparkle. So don’t expect salt and pepper diamonds to have brilliance like clear diamonds, especially if they’re rose cut. They’re meant for a different purpose and style.
Do salt and pepper diamonds sparkle?
Salt and pepper diamonds have less reflections and refractions than clear diamonds because of the inclusions. The higher the inclusions, the less it sparkles. BUT salt and pepper diamonds still shimmers and glows when cut properly. It has a muted glowing effect, rather than a brilliance.
What are pro's and con's of salt and pepper diamonds?
Unique, wild and mysterious
More unique cuts
High resistance to scratches
May not be a lasting trend
May be more fragile because of inclusions
How do I choose a salt and pepper diamond ring?
Picking a salt and pepper diamond is like a Rorschach test. No two salt and pepper diamonds are the same. So the best way to pick the diamond is to ask yourself what you see in the diamond. Is it a twig, a cloud, a galaxy, or an amorphous something stirring inside you?
In the end, as with any piece of jewelry, it’s about how the diamond makes you feel. Then go with the diamond that makes you feel all the good feels.
Because they’re so unique, picking a salt and pepper diamond is not like picking a brilliant cut sparkling white diamond, where you’d go for a high quality cut, graded clarity and avoid inclusions, while trying to get the best possible price for that mix of criteria.
Salt and pepper diamonds don’t have such grading. They’re often rose cut in uncommon shapes, so that the finger coverage can differ visibly, even if both diamonds are the same weight. On top of that, no two salt and pepper diamonds are alike.
We often suggest clients choose a diamond that speaks to them.
For someone on a smaller budget but with a larger ring size, go for a more shallow rose cut diamond. This diamond will have a larger surface area than a brilliant cut diamond, so at first glance your ring will show more diamond.
For the setting, we recommend a bezel setting. Salt and pepper diamonds often have natural pits and cavities at their edges - a testament of their imperfections and inclusions reaching the surface. A bezel setting tends to cover such imperfections more than a prong setting would. A bezel setting also offers more protection than a prong setting.
Why Choose a Salt and Pepper Engagement Ring?
We’ll let our clients do the talking. After all, they’ve been in your shoes.
“I had Meri make a three piece custom engagement ring for my fiancee. We haven't seen anything like it and we couldn't be more pleased with it. It was a stunner when I proposed to her.”
“Gardens of the Sun speaks volumes to us in its different approach to diamond expressions (salt and pepper diamond slice) and sustainable approach to the jewelry industry.”
“I drove three hours to our nearest “big city” and began visiting the jewelry stores looking for my dream engagement ring. I found the staff less than helpful. Some were downright rude when I asked about diamond slices, salt and pepper diamonds, or non-traditional engagement rings. Some claimed to never have heard of these terms. Some were very insistent on their cookie-cutter, crystal clear, generic diamond rings. I tried them on and hated them. I hated the way they looked, like something picked from a generic superstore that a million other women would have on their finger. The kind of ring that if you dropped it in the case, you wouldn’t even be able to tell which was yours, they were all so similarly bland. And I hated the way the sales staff made me feel. Like I was crazy for wanting something different. That what I wanted was “cheap” or unheard of or ugly. One store actually suggested that I go to one of the local, independent jewelers to see more non-traditional or vintage styles and take a picture of their work, so I could bring it back and have this store copy it. The unethical suggestion left a dirty taste in my mouth, and I left the “big-city” frustrated and discouraged.
I’ve seen your photos of the ring, from before it was dipped to make it white gold, and I could not possibly have imagined a more perfect ring. I never would have thought to design this myself, could never have envisioned it, and yet somehow, you made this dream come true. I feel like this ring is meant for me in the way that I feel this man is meant to be my life partner. It feels like a little piece of my soul, spun out and magiced into a physical object. And I cannot wait for it to arrive!
I am loving the ring and receive so many compliments on it. My favorite one is when people say, “It looks so YOU!” I love that our ring and our story is unique to us!”
An engagement ring is a symbol of your love, so why should it look like everyone else’s? Salt and pepper diamonds bring a more personal touch to the traditional engagement ring. One reason to choose these diamonds is that they're rife with symbolism. Like your partner, no diamond is perfect. Your salt and pepper diamond ring reminds you to look past the flaws and focus on your love.
Another big selling point is that salt and pepper diamonds are less costly than a traditional white diamond. So your budget may go a lot further with a salt and pepper diamond. You can choose to stay within a budget and use that hard earned cash as down payment for your first home together, or the adventure trip of a lifetime (Bali is a good place to start).
But what probably counts the most... Like that stray dog that nobody wants at the shelter, or that weird curved zucchini at the farmer's market. Just as good, but for some strange reason, unloved. Until you came along and found that the zucchini was perfect for your dinner plans. Different, but in a spectacular way that found its way straight to your heart.