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Before cubic zirconia (also known as CZ), diamonds were diamonds and no other stone could match its look. But then CZ came along and suddenly, diamonds had an imitator. Due to the affordability, durability and appearance of CZ, this synthetic stone remains the most popular diamond simulant.
You may be asking yourself:
But does cubic zirconia have any value? Is it a fake stone? How will it perform as an engagement ring?
While it may not have a romantic sounding name, CZ is a practical, no-nonsense stone that can do the job. But should you buy one?
To help you make this decision, let’s dive right into the world of CZs. Here are the top 10 facts about cubic zirconia that will answer everything you need to know about this interesting stone.
How Did Cubic Zirconia Become a Thing?
Let me just add here that cubic zirconia is not to be mistaken with zircon. Zircon, which is also a diamond look-alike, is much softer (6.5 – 7.7 on the Mohs scale) and one of the oldest natural gemstones (some zircon crystals are estimated to be over 4 billion years old!).
So going back to cubic zirconia.
Although natural CZ had been discovered in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the process of creating synthetic CZ was perfected, with commercial production starting in 1976. While the initial aim was to use the stone for various industrial applications, it quickly became clear that CZ had great jewelry potential. It was durable (Mohs ranking of 8.0 to 8.5) and was a perfect imitation of diamonds.
It is estimated that by the early 80s, over 50 million carats of CZ were produced globally per annum for use in jewelry.
When famous jewelry brands such as Swarovski began to use CZ in their designs, it was clear that CZ had officially arrived. It became a staple in the jewelry world and the most popular diamond simulant to date.
How Is Cubic Zirconia Made?
Cubic zirconia is created in a tightly controlled environment, following a ‘recipe’. The main ingredients are zirconium oxide along with other minerals such as calcium oxide.
Manufacturers can create colored CZ by adding various elements during the process. For example, chromium creates green CZ, titanium golden brown and cerium in varying amounts turns the final product to yellow, orange or red.
Because natural CZ is so rare, all the CZ stones used on the market are lab-created.
Is Cubic Zirconia Fake?
When people ask this question, it is because they are comparing cubic zirconia to a diamond. CZ is not a diamond, but because it is a diamond simulant, cut and marketed to imitate a diamond, you could call it a ‘fake’ diamond.
Cubic zirconia or diamond? See this ring here.
However, it is a real stone in its own right. Just because it looks like a diamond but isn’t one, doesn’t mean it is a fake stone.
Don’t confuse a CZ with a synthetic diamond. That is a totally different thing.
A synthetic, or lab-created diamond, is a man-made stone that has the same chemical, structural and optical properties as a mined diamond. It is a real diamond, only lab-created. A CZ, on the other hand, only looks like a diamond and that’s where the resemblance ends. In every other way that matters, a CZ is different to diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia vs Moissanite
Moissanite has greater brilliance and value than CZ. See this ring here.
Moissanite is another diamond simulant that is cubic zirconia’s number 1 competitor. Made of silicon carbonate, it too is grown in labs, as natural moissanite is very scarce.
While moissanite has been increasing in popularity, it is a much more expensive stone than a cubic zirconia. It also has a higher hardness rating (Mohs 9.5) than CZ and higher brilliance than a diamond (RI 2.65).
It is an excellent alternative to a diamond and if you don’t mind spending a bit more, then we recommend moissanite over CZ.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond
Right, so the all-important question that we’ve been waiting for. How does a CZ compare to a diamond?
Diamonds are the most popular engagement ring stone. See this here.
A diamond, it goes without saying, is extremely durable, with a Mohs hardness ranking of 10 and does not easily scratch, tarnish or chip. A cubic zirconia is not as durable (8.0 – 8.5 on the Mohs scale) and can get cloudy, scratched and damaged over time. It needs to be cleaned much more often than a diamond.
A CZ is colorless and is almost always flawless. A diamond, on the other hand, can be found with varying tints of yellow and almost always contains flaws. A flawless colorless diamond is rare and therefore very expensive.
The main visual difference between these two stones is the fire of a CZ. A diamond’s fire is much more subdued while a CZ sparkles in a variety of colors! This is off-putting for some customers as they find this flash of colors too much.
To the untrained eye, CZ can look exactly like a diamond. See these studs here.
Another difference is that while CZ is a brilliant stone, it does not have the same depth of brilliance that a diamond has.
So what’s the bottom line?
The best thing about a CZ is that it is affordable and environmentally friendly.
Diamond and Cubic Zirconia Side by Side video
While a cubic zirconia cannot beat the brilliance and durability of a diamond, it is a good simulant and if well taken care of, can be a good substitute.
Which brings us to our next question.
Should I choose a Cubic Zirconia for My Engagement Ring?
An engagement ring is a highly important, emotional piece of jewelry. Most girls don’t talk about, say their promise rings or wedding rings, but they do show-off their engagement ring.
An affordable alternative to diamonds. See this ring here.
Because diamonds have been the go-to stone for engagement rings for many decades now thanks to clever marketing tactics and false scarcity, most people will not consider any other stone apart from a diamond.
It is, for them, the epitome of class, wealth and the symbol of their love. It is valued because it is expensive.
So buying something other than a diamond comes with the fear of being judged for it – you could be seen as being too cheap or not valuing your loved one enough to lavish your money on a stone for them.
So really, the answer to whether or not you should buy a CZ for your engagement ring will depend on how you and your partner perceive this purchase.
In practical terms, a CZ has the look of a diamond without the exorbitant cost. But it may lose its luster and sparkle eventually and will not last as long as a diamond engagement ring.
It is recommended that you approach your partner about this and both discuss and both agree if you do decide to go with a CZ. This isn’t a decision that should be taken alone. As I said before, it depends on what you both value. If your partner has been dreaming of a particular stone and receives a CZ that would be awkward. For the both of you!
Cubic Zirconia Engagement Rings
Just because a CZ is very affordable does not mean that you have to compromise on quality. When purchasing a CZ engagement ring here are a couple of things to check for:
Choosing the Setting
Ensure that the setting of the ring is of high quality. Many people feel that because the stone isn’t worth much, the setting shouldn’t cost much either.
It’s a good idea to invest in the setting when buying CZ bridal rings. See this ring here.
But think of it this way:
If you purchase a high-quality metal such as gold or platinum, it will not damage, discolor or lose shape easily. Also, it will add value to the stone and lengthen the life of the ring, making it suitable for regular use.
Both sterling silver and stainless steel are affordable and durable choices. Sterling silver is not as durable as stainless steel and can easily become worn and thin. If you choose a stainless steel ring, bear in mind that although it is a strong metal, it shouldn’t come into contact with chlorinated water.
Also consider whether the CZ stone has been set securely in its metal setting. Ensure that the stone isn’t moving or that the prongs aren’t loose. This is important if you are going to wear this piece of jewelry daily.
The Size of the Stone
Another factor to remember when purchasing a CZ engagement ring is that larger CZ stones can look fake and have a stronger ‘rainbow effect’. As I mentioned before, while some shoppers don’t mind the rainbow effect, others find it makes the stone look cheap.
If you want a large flashy stone, you might be better off with a moissanite or a synthetic diamond.
Evaluating Your Cubic Zirconia (CZ)
Before you purchase your CZ, you might wish to evaluate the quality of the stone. Here is what you need to know:
CZ Quality Grades
Cubic zirconia is sometimes graded into the following categories: A, AAA and AAAAA. Accordingly, grade A are of the lowest quality and are easily damaged, chipped and tarnished, 3A are mid-range stones and 5A are of the highest quality with little difference in appearance to diamonds. 5A are also marketed as being hand cut and polished and therefore, the very best of CZ.
Here’s the thing:
There is no industry standard to grade CZ stones. Neither is there a certifying body that will appraise the grade of the CZ. Oftentimes, there is no distinguishable difference between an A and a 5A CZ stone.
Rather than worry about the grade of your CZ, it’s better to focus on the appearance of the stone and the quality of the setting.
The 4Cs and CZ
Cubic Zirconia Clarity
Most CZ are flawless with very high clarity and have no inclusions in its crystals, although in some cases there can be cloudiness. Just look for a clear stone when buying.
Cubic Zirconia Color
In terms of color, cubic zirconia is usually colorless and has the D grading of a diamond. If you know diamonds, then you will know that a D color grade means totally colorless (and therefore more valuable).
You can find colored CZ in a range of colors. Pink CZ, also called Pink Ice, has been very popular in the market. There are also green, blue, yellow and lavender among others.
Cubic Zirconia Cut
CZ can be cut into a variety of different shapes and share the same popular cut shapes as diamonds, including brilliant round, princess, heart, cushion, pear and marquise.
When cutting the CZ, the aim is to maximize the beauty of the stone, bringing out its brilliance and fire to best effect.
Cubic Zirconia Carat
CZ is measured in carats just like diamonds. Unlike diamonds, the price of a CZ does not increase exponentially with the increase in carat weight. Also, because a CZ is denser than a diamond, it is much heavier. So a diamond and a CZ of the same carat weight will not be of the same size, with the CZ being smaller.
When shopping for CZ, ensure that you shop at a vendor that have a good returns policy just in case you aren’t quite satisfied with your purchase.
Choosing Cubic Zirconia Jewelry
Because of its sparkle and diamond-like appearance, CZ is a classic stone that goes well with any outfit.
Get classic pieces of jewelry at affordable prices with CZ. See this iconic tennis bracelet here.
Pieces such as stud earrings, tennis bracelets or a minimalist rings go well for everyday use. If you want to make a statement or really dress it up, you can choose larger pieces such as cocktail rings, statement necklaces, elaborate cuffs and chokers. These are perfect for formal functions and dressy occasions.
CZ comes in colorless and colored varieties so you may want to try something different and choose a colored option.
How to Clean Cubic Zirconia
Unlike diamonds or moissanites, CZ is more prone to getting dirty and cloudy. As a result, it needs to be cleaned more frequently and taken care of.
Where to Buy Cubic Zirconia?
There are lots of places to buy CZ jewelry, online and at physical shops. Because it’s a very popular diamond simulant, you’ll find cubic zirconia jewelry at costume jewelry stores and even finer engagement ring stores.
When buying cubic zirconia, take care because you may be told by sales representatives that what they’re selling isn’t cubic zirconia but instead is ‘zirconium oxide’. Don’t be fooled by this because cubic zirconia is the crystalline form of zirconium oxide. In other words, they’re the same thing. So you shouldn’t be made to pay more for a different name.
Because cubic zirconia isn’t expensive, you don’t have to overthink your purchase. However, you can also find cubic zirconia jewelry to last a lifetime, like a stunning engagement rings.