The world of jewelry is full of confusion, and both cubic zirconia and zirconium represent one of them. Since they are two stones very similar to diamonds and they share a similar name, so it could be thought that they are the same. However, beyond the name these are very different stones both chemically, optically and structurally.

This is a serious confusion that has damaged the reputation of zircon. Since despite being a natural gemstone, it has come to be considered as an imitation diamond or a synthetic gem. So we will explore the main differences between these two stones in order to distinguish between them.

history and origin

Zircon is the oldest mineral found on earth. There is nothing more historic than that! The oldest discovered zircon crystals come from Australia and are estimated to be over 4.4 billion years old. Zircon is a natural gemstone and although synthetic versions exist, they are not very common.

Cubic zirconia, or zirconia ciubica, by comparison, is a baby in the mineral world. Well, in its natural form it was only discovered in the 1930s. However, because it is so rare, scientists began working to synthesize it.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the process for creating synthetic cubic zirconia, known ever since as CZ, was perfected. Beginning its commercial production began in 1976. While the initial goal was to use the stone for various industrial applications, it was clear that CZ had great potential for jewelry.

While zirconium is made from zirconium silicate, cubic zirconia is made from zirconium oxide. This is where the two stones get their shared name, however these two gemstone ingredients are quite different.

Zircon vs cubic zirconia – durability

Cubic zirconia ranks between 8 and 8.5 on the Mohs scale and is suitable for everyday exposure. It does not chip, damage or scratch easily and is a fairly durable stone.

Over time, CZ can tend to turn cloudy, so regular cleaning will maintain its shine. Eventually you may need to replace the stone, but considering the low cost and ease with which you can find new CZ, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Zircon may look a lot like a diamond, but it is a much softer stone at 6 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. 7 is the most important number on the Mohs scale because it is the hardness index of silica, a major component of dust. If your zircon gemstone has a hardness rating below 7, this means that it is easily scratched, even by dust.

Zircon is a brittle stone and is prone to cracking. It is also extremely sensitive to sunlight and other ultraviolet light sources. Exposure of zircon to this type of light can cause the color of the stone to fade or change.

Zircon vs Cubic Zirconia – Color

Zircon is found in a variety of colors with the most popular being blue, pink and yellow. its colorless variety is its purest form, but is considered the least valuable type of zircon. Green Zircon is highly valuable and coveted, but also extremely rare.

Certain zircon stones can exhibit pleochroism (ie show different colors when viewed at different angles) and the common colors of pleochroism are blue and green.

Zircon receives its color through the presence of trace elements during its formation. Interestingly, some of the elements are radioactive! However, these are treated for stability and safe use in jewelry and are not believed to be harmful. Some zircon is treated to enhance color and transparency. Sometimes a more common variety of zircon (usually brown) is treated to display a more desirable color (usually blue).

Because CZ is created in the lab, manufacturers can control the final product to a great extent. CZs are almost always created colorless to mimic a diamond’s D color grade. Manufacturers sometimes also create colored CZ. Pink CZ, also known by the trade name of pink ice, is very popular in the jewelry industry. Other common CZ colors include green, black, blue, orange, and red.

Zircon vs Cubic Zirconia – Clarity

As mentioned above, because CZ is created in the lab, the end result can be manipulated. CZ always has excellent clarity and is almost always flawless. Its lack of flaws is a telltale sign that it is a man-made gemstone.

Zircon is generally transparent or translucent. It is generally free of impurities and has very good levels of clarity. However, some zircons may show cloudiness. If this is very strong, it can be a disadvantage and devalue the stone.

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 a real diamond. A carat of zircon can sell for anywhere 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 that zircon is also has a bad reputation).

Zircon vs Cubic Zirconia – Shine

Zircon has a very high brightness and dispersion, and a relatively high refractive index of 1.93 to 1.98. In other words, it plays excellently with light, which makes it a bright and fiery stone, comparable to a diamond. It is usually in the form of a brilliant cut to emphasize this brilliance.

Because zircon has double refraction, it shows excellent fire and gives off the illusion of having more facets than it really does. This birefringence, however, can also make zircon look fuzzy and cloudy at times.

Cubic zirconia has a refractive index of 2.15 – 2.18, which is higher than zirconium. 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.