When it comes to the world of gemstones, there’s a shimmering contender that often raises eyebrows and questions: cubic zirconia. This man-made crystal has been used for decades as a substitute for natural gemstones like diamonds, but is it genuinely a gemstone? Let’s embark on a journey to explore the ins and outs of cubic zirconia and determine whether it deserves a place in the realm of precious stones.
What is Cubic Zirconia?
Cubic zirconia, often abbreviated as CZ, is a synthetic crystalline material made from zirconium dioxide. It was first synthesized in the laboratory in the 20th century, with its commercial production beginning in the 1970s. CZ is known for its remarkable brilliance and clarity, qualities that closely resemble those of diamonds. These attributes have made it a popular choice for jewelry, especially as a more affordable alternative to diamonds.
Characteristics of Cubic Zirconia
- Hardness: CZ boasts a hardness rating of approximately 8.5 on the Mohs scale, making it quite durable and suitable for everyday wear in jewelry.
- Brilliance: The brilliance of cubic zirconia is often described as “fiery” due to its ability to disperse light in a spectacular manner, similar to how diamonds sparkle.
- Color: While CZ is most commonly colorless, it can also be produced in various colors by adding specific dopants during the manufacturing process.
- Clarity: Cubic zirconia is virtually flawless, with very few internal imperfections or inclusions.
Is Cubic Zirconia a Gemstone?
The debate over whether cubic zirconia qualifies as a genuine gemstone revolves around its synthetic nature. Unlike natural gemstones, such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, CZ is created in a laboratory. This distinction raises questions about its authenticity within the world of gemology.
The Gemological Perspective
From a strict gemological standpoint, natural gemstones are formed deep within the Earth’s crust over millions of years through geological processes. They possess unique mineral compositions and are evaluated based on their rarity, beauty, and durability. Cubic zirconia, being man-made, lacks the geological origin and rarity associated with natural gemstones.
The Jewelry Industry Perspective
On the other hand, the jewelry industry acknowledges cubic zirconia as a gemstone alternative, often referred to as a “diamond simulant” or “diamond alternative.” It is used extensively in various jewelry pieces, including engagement rings and earrings. The affordability and visual appeal of CZ make it an attractive choice for those who want the look of a diamond without the high price tag.