Cubic Zirconia, sometimes referred to as CZ, is zirconium dioxide in its crystalline form. The synthetically produced material is optically flawless and colourless at the time of manufacture but can be made into a variety of different colours. Due to its visual appearance being close to that of a diamond, Cubic Zirconia is an important, as well as incredibly popular, product in jewellery shops all over the world. Its low cost and exceptional clarity mean that you can purchase beautiful pieces of gemstone jewellery in shops worldwide for a fraction of the price you would be paying for something containing the natural stone. With its only synthetic competitor seemingly being to be the manufactured product known today as synthetic moissanite, in today’s day and age cubic zirconia poses as a real competitor to high-end jewellery containing diamonds.
Although the baddeleyite mineral was first discovered in 1892 as a natural form of zirconium oxide, it wasn’t until 1937, that cubic zirconia was properly discovered by German mineralogists, K. Chudoba and M. V. Stackelberg. Finding natural occurring cubic zirconia in metamict zircon in the form of microscopic grains, the scientists thought of the product to be a by-product of the metamictization process. At the time, Chudoba and Stackelberg didn’t deem the substance important enough to bless with a formal name, therefore meaning that the familiar term “cubic zirconia” wasn’t born until much later.
Eventually far exceeding the production of earlier synthetics of a similar variety, such as synthetic strontium titanate and gadolinium gallium garnet, the product was first produced by scientists looking for a new material to be used in lasers and a selection of other optical appliances, instead of the pricey alternative stone, Diamond. This interesting piece of history proves that even though cubic zirconia is widely used today for its purposes in jewellery, due to its similar appearance to Diamond, the manufactured product was first used for everyday purposes rather than for just being aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Early research into the controlled single-growth crystal first occurred in the 1960s, in France. This new crest growth technique involved the use of molten zirconia being cradled within a thin outer shell of the product it’s solid form. Formally named cold crucible, this new system looked as if it was going to produce high positive results, but to the dismay of the French scientists, the method only seemed to yield small crystals.
Years later in 1973, the former technique was perfected by Soviet scientists at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. The jewel created as a result was named Fianit, after the Institute’s name, but the term was unfortunately never formally used outside, instead, the name “cubic zirconia” was born. Commercial production of the synthetic stone begun in 1976, and from this point onwards, cubic zirconia started to be mass-produced throughout the world, reaching an annual global production of 10 tons by 1980. Although the stone can form naturally as a by-product, the process is so rare that almost all the cubic zirconia present in jewellery shops today is purposefully manufactured by humans.
Although at first, distinguishing between a cubic zirconia and a Diamond may seem tricky, there are a couple of key features that make it simple to tell the synthetic stone apart from Diamond used in high-end jewellery:
Colour – Most Diamonds have a slight tinge of yellow, or even sometimes brown, with completely colourless Diamonds being extremely rare. This means that colour is another thing that differentiates cubic zirconia from Diamond, as the former is often 100% colourless. Although naturally, the product is almost totally clear, it’s not uncommon for cubic zirconia to be available in jewellery shops in a variety of different, synthetically produced colours such as pink, purple and green.
Hardness and Durability – although cubic zirconia is a fairly hard and durable product, it is no competitor to the strength of Diamond, which measures a rating of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, whereas cubic zirconia is approximately an 8.
Cut – Often, cubic zirconia gems are cut differently to the average diamond. The edges of the manufactured stones are often rounded and smooth in appearance, whereas with Diamonds, that is rarely the case.
Today, the main use for cubic zirconia is in jewellery, providing beautiful accessories for just a fraction of the price as high-end jewellery, made with real Diamond. The reduced cost of the gemstone isn’t the only advantage of purchasing cubic zirconia jewellery though, the synthetic gemstone is almost always exceptional in clarity, and equivalent to around Grade F on the Diamond Clarity Chart. Cubic Zirconia at a gemstone is usually utterly flawless, where most diamonds hold both internal and external blemishes unless you are willing to pay top prices for the gemstone, usually somewhere in the region of £100M plus. Cubic zirconia is so close in appearance to that of Diamond, then even most jewellers cannot easily distinguish between the two with the naked eye, only being able to tell them apart with the use of a piece of professional equipment. With the exceedingly low price for the quality of appearance of the beautiful gemstone that is cubic zirconia, it’s no surprise that over the last 50 years the stone has skyrocketed in popularity.
Even though jewellery containing synthetic gemstones such as cubic zirconia may have a little less sparkle than high-end jewellery with Diamonds, it’s a perfect, gorgeous cheaper alternative that will still leave you feeling utterly glamorous all day long without breaking the bank.