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Kate Middleton follows celebrity trend with coloured engagement rock

Photo credit : Arthur Edwards
Kate Middleton follows celebrity trend with coloured engagement rock

Diamonds are forever. But since nearly four in 10 marriages aren't, it's only appropriate that engagement rings are starting to trend away from the colourless rocks as a focal point.

Of course, the gemstone sparklers adorning the digits of Kate Middleton, Jessica Simpson, Penelope Cruz and others aren't meant to signal cynicism. The brightly coloured rings are instead a nod to everything from family heritage to individuality, their centre stones as personal a message to the world as any status update.

"Our whole society is about expressing ourselves now, whether through Facebook and Twitter or through what we wear," says Lisa Tant, editor-in-chief of Canada's Flare magazine. "What we're seeing in engagement rings is really an outgrowth of that."

Actor Javier Bardem sealed his betrothal to Cruz with a giant blue sapphire. Among Tori Spelling's numerous "engagement" rings — she gets a new one every anniversary — is an Edwardian oval-shaped sapphire.

This week, singer Simpson revealed that beau Eric Johnson proposed to her with a blood-red Neil Lane ruby, chosen to signify the bride's birth month, and because the gem "represents love." Jenna Bush's diamond engagement ring is flanked by two blue sapphires.

And when Prince William popped the question to longtime girlfriend Middleton, it was with the 18-carat sapphire once worn by his mother, the late Princess Diana. Just 10 minutes after photos of the stately sparkler were released, the computer server at New York's Natural Sapphire Co. crashed due to demand for replicas.

"Some women will still want the clear diamond," says Tant. "But there are so many more now who aren't afraid to express their personality with something a little different, a little bigger, a little more colourful."

Even stars still sporting centre diamonds in their engagement bling are doing so in a modern way, opting for fancy-coloured stones in black (Carmen Electra), yellow (Carrie Underwood, Heidi Klum, Rebecca Romijn), pink (Mariah Carey), and cognac (Kristen Bell).

That these looks can be painlessly replicated on a budget, using less expensive gemstones, is part of what experts say has helped the trend take flight among us plebs — not least since engagement rings are now so big as to warrant their own GPS co-ordinates.

"Years ago, anyone who got married with half a carat or three quarters of a carat was envied. Now, we've come to the age where a carat is almost the expectation," says Toronto native Michael O'Connor, noted jewellery expert and celebrity stylist.

"So, coming out of the recession, people who wanted to become engaged really felt, economically, that a diamond was almost unreachable."

In 2007, worldwide sales of coloured stones were worth about $12 billion at retail, representing seven per cent of total jewellery sales. Though that figure is expected to grow, analysts say diamonds won't be muscled out so much as forced to share the limelight as the desire for personalization swells.

"A benefit to this trend is that it gives people more choices," says Robert Weldon, a gemstone expert with the Gemological Institute of America. "Coloured stones have always had a strong individual appeal because of their great and rich history."