While the glitter of diamonds is indisputably attractive, high-quality stones are expensive and many couples turn to cubic zirconia (CZ) as an affordable alternative. With careful consideration, an engagement ring, necklace, or pair of earrings designed with this synthetic stone can be just as beautiful as any natural diamond.
What Is Cubic Zirconia?
For years, even high quality zirconia was considered nothing more than a cheap imitation diamond, but today the sparkling gems are recognized as artificial jewels. The chemical composition is ZrO2, or zirconium oxide, and it can contain various other metal oxides within the isometric crystal structure to create a variety of colors, such as:
- Chromium for a green hue.
- Cerium for yellow, red, and orange shades.
- Neodymium for purple tints.
- Erbium for pink stones.
- Titanium for brown shades.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond
Since 1976, when the manufacturing process was perfected to create inexpensive quantities of the stone, cubic zirconia as been the most popular imitation diamond available, though today's more exclusive moissanite is usurping the higher-end market. While the stimulant is virtually indistinguishable from diamond to the casual observer, there are several ways to discern which stone it natural and which is artificial.
- Flaws. Very few gems are flawless, and a true diamond often has some small measure of inclusions or imperfections, whereas artificially grown gems are inherently flawless due to the precise growing conditions they are manufactured in.
- Hardness. CZ is harder than diamond, though it is somewhat more brittle and prone to damage more easily.
- Weight. A typical zirconia gem is nearly 70 percent heavier than diamond, and weighing loose stones can help detect this difference.
- Sparkle. Artificial gems have less clear sparkle but reflect more "fire" or color within the crystal structure than diamond. When examining a diamond, the sparkles will be flashes of light or simply appear to be shadows, whereas CZ shows rainbows and colors.
Artificial gems are often used in different pieces of jewelry to offer more affordable alternatives to precious stones. Pave settings and eternity rings, in particular, often feature simulated stones to offset the greater cost of the design. CZ stones can also be used as solitaires or as accents to birthstones or colored gem rings, allowing a couple to purchase a higher quality colored gem without sacrificing the design details of multiple accents. CZ is also frequently used in necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry, especially more elaborate designs that would be far too overpriced if they were constructed solely with natural gems.
Many people choose cubic zirconia as a diamond substitute in order to fashion more elaborate pieces of jewelry with higher quality metals such as platinum or titanium. Because the stone is often the most expensive piece of an engagement ring or other gemstone jewelry, using an artificial substitute can drastically reduce the cost of the piece while still allowing for an elegant design.
Choosing Cubic Zirconia Engagement Rings
When choosing CZ rings, it is important to be familiar with different engagement ring designs, ring settings, metal choices, and other style options. Because of its versatility, cubic zirconia can be used in the same way as diamonds, meaning that any shape, size, and setting is possible to create the perfect ring. When shopping for a cubic zirconia engagement ring, be as discriminating as you would if shopping for the most flawless diamond on earth. After all, regardless of the stone, it is still an engagement ring, a symbol of the bond between two people, and should be chosen with care and discrimination.
One unique way that jewelry manufacturers use simulated gems is to replicate celebrity designs. Because many famous rings and other jewelry pieces use multiple high quality, expensive stones, the celebrities' fans look to artificial stones to provide a lower cost alternative for extravagant designs.
Care and Maintenance
To keep the stones looking their best, CZ jewelry must be cared for as carefully as any precious gem. The jewelry should not be worn while handling harsh chemicals or participating in vigorous activities, and it should always be stored in a soft container to prevent accidental scratches, nicks, or other damage. Mild cleansers are appropriate for cubic zirconia, but if the gem has been treated to achieve a special appearance (such as simulating mystic coatings), extra care should be taken and professional cleaning is best.
Cubic zirconia, once the cheap outcast of jewelry manufacturers, has begun to gain popularity as a beautiful artificial gem. It can be found in any number of different pieces and designs, often for far less expense than similar jewelry with natural stones. Its durability and flexibility make it an excellent choice for a wide range of elegant designs, and CZ is rapidly gaining popularity in contemporary upscale markets as well.