Chapter 1 : What is zircon ?
Zircon is one of the oldest naturally occurring gemstones in the world, older even than diamond. One crystal found in Jack Hills, Australia was determined to be 4.375 billion years old! This ancient gemstone was also used by ancient people. There are several places in the Old Testament where zircon is mentioned, the most notable being in Exodus, described as one of the gems in the breastplate of Aaron.
Zircon is a natural gemstone popular for an astounding optical splendor that resembles a diamond. This trait of zircon makes it popular among jewelry and gem enthusiasts. The unique characteristic of displaying fire and luster makes this gemstone optically similar to diamond. The luster and reflective quality of natural zircon are not far from that of a diamond. Apart from the colorless variety, zircon is found in various popular colors such as blue, green, pink, purple and yellow. Zircon can be heated to make it colorless or to enhance its colors.
Zircon has a Mohs hardness of 6.5 – 7.5, a hardness similar to an unglazed porcelain bath tile or an amethyst. Zircon’s diamond-like luster and tremendous fire have made colorless zircon a popular diamond simulant, as well as a December birthstone. Some zircons are even known to have a cat’s-eye effect, and they come in a variety of colors. Zircon’s many attributes make it a gem to cherish based on its own merits.
Chapter 2 : What is cubic zirconia ?
Cubic Zirconia (CZ) is one of the best-known, man-made diamond simulants. It is also a synthetic gemstone, possessing the same physical, optical and chemical properties as naturally occurring cubic zirconia, which was discovered in the 1930s as inclusions in a natural zircon crystal. Though the German mineralogists were excited about their find, the microscopic crystals were too small to ever be used in jewelry. As of today, no natural CZ exists in the marketplace.
A process to synthesize CZ became available in the 1970s and soon it became an extremely popular and affordable diamond simulant. CZ is typically free of inclusions but occasionally contains small gas bubbles or zirconium oxide, remnants of its growth in the laboratory. It has a Mohs hardness of 8.5; a hardness comparable to a masonry drill bit or slightly harder than a topaz. It’s luster is like that of a diamond and comes in a variety of colors by adding different color-causing elements, producing gemstones such as synthetic sapphire cubic zirconia and synthetic ruby cubic zirconia, as well as many other colored gemstones.
Chapter 3 : Zircon vs Cubic Zirconia
1. Zircon vs cubic zirconia – clarity
As mentioned above, because CZ is lab-created the end result can be manipulated. CZ always has excellent clarity and is nearly always flawless. It’s very lack of flaws is a tell-tale sign that it is a man-made gemstone.
Zircon is generally transparent or translucent. It is generally free of impurities and have very good clarity levels.
Conclusion : zircon wins this round for being a natural stone with a naturally high level of clarity.
2. Zircon vs cubic zirconia – value
A natural gemstone is always considered more valuable than a synthetic gemstone. Zircon is considerably more expensive than CZ, although it is much cheaper than an actual diamond. A carat of zircon can sell from $75 to around $200 depending on quality factors.
A CZ, on the other hand, is practically worthless in terms of monetary value, with a carat costing around $20. In fact, CZ is almost synonymous with the words ‘fake’ (hence the reason zircon has got a bad rep too).
Conclusion : In the long term, a zircon will hold more value as a natural gemstone.
3. Zircon vs cubic zirconia – color
Zircon is found in a range of colors, with the most popular being blue, pink and yellow. Colorless zircon is its purest form, but is considered the least valuable type of zircon. Green zircon is very valuable and highly coveted, but also extremely rare.
Certain zircon stones can exhibit pleochroism (i.e. shows different colors when viewed in different angles) with common pleochroism colors being blue and green.
Zircon receives its color through the presence of trace elements during formation. Interestingly, some of the elements are radioactive! However, these are treated for stability and to be safe to use in jewelry and are not believed to be harmful. Some zircon is treated to enhance color and transparency. Sometimes a more common zircon variety (usually brown) is treated to display a more desirable color (usually blue).
Because CZ is lab-created, the manufacturers are able to control the final product to a large extent. CZ are almost always created colorless to mimic the D color grade of a diamond. Sometimes, manufacturers create colored CZ as well. Pink CZ, also known by the trade name pink ice, is very popular in the jewelry industry. Other common CZ colors include green, black, blue, orange and red.
Conclusion : Both stones have excellent color ranges and look very similar to diamonds in their colorless states.
4. Zircon vs cubic zirconia – light performance
Zircon has very high sparkle, luster, dispersion and a relatively high refractive index (RI) of 1.93 – 1.98. In other words, it plays excellently with light, making it a brilliant and fiery stone, comparable to a diamond. It is generally shaped into a brilliant cut to emphasize this sparkle.
Because zircon has double refraction, it displays excellent fire and gives off the illusion of having more facets than it really does. This birefringence, however, can also cause zircon to appear fuzzy and cloudy at times.
Cubic zirconia has an RI 2.15 – 2.18, which is higher than zircon. However, although both stones sparkle, a CZ cannot match the higher level of brilliance that a zircon has. Like zircon, CZ is also cut into a variety of shapes like diamonds.
Conclusion : Zircon has better light performance than cubic zirconia and is more brilliant.
Chapter 4 :The final Conclusion
While zircon and synthetic cubic zirconia may appear to be the same stone and have similar, oft-confused names, they are vastly different stones. The most important difference to remember is that zircon is a naturally occurring mineral while CZ, even though it has been found in nature before, is a lab-created gemstone and is, therefore, not natural and not considered a mineral. Both of these gemstones are beautiful, convincing, and affordable simulants for diamond.
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