Well, wouldn’t you know, the moment I started doing research, I learned something! I love it when that happens. It means I am becoming more and more knowledgeable about what I do and what I’m working with; which really, is the ultimate goal in all of this Since I started beading a few years back, I have been using cubic zirconia and zircon interchangeably. Turns out, however, that they are completely different!
Let’s start with cubic zirconia, see as that is what I set out to write about. Cubic zirconia is actually man-made. Although it can be colored, its most basic form is colorless. It is relatively inexpensive, very durable (less hard than diamonds, but more so than other gemstones), and flawless. Because of this, it is a big competitor to diamonds.
How is cubic zirconia synthesized, you ask. Let me tell you…or at least attempt to! Cubic zirconia is made in a skull crucible, which is kept cool with water on the outside, and heated with radio frequency coils on the inside. The coils heat up as zirconium oxide powder is poured into the skull crucible. The coils begin to cool once the powder is heated. The outside of the skull crucible is kept cool to allow the outside of the crystals to harden quicker than the inside. As the coils cool, everything inside the crucible cools and the crystals form. Once the skull crucible is completely cooled, the large piece of zirconium oxide is removed. The outer shell is chipped away to reveal the cubic zirconia crystals. These crystals are then cut and manufactured.
Okay, so now that I have told you a little about cubic zirconia, it’s time to fill you in on that other mineral I mentioned: zircon. Unlike cubic zirconia, zircon forms naturally in the Earth’s crust. Zircon can also occur in a variety of colors, in addition to colorless (which is the only way cubic zirconia “naturally” occurs): red, hazel, pink, brown, yellow, and black.
Cubic zirconia and zircon are not completely different, however. Because zircon has a high refractive index, in its colorless form, it too is a relatively inexpensive competitor to diamonds. Like cubic zirconia, it is also a very hard mineral.
So, how do you tell the difference between the two? Because cubic zirconia is man-made and zircon is naturally occurring, cubic zirconia is generally going to be less expensive than zircon. But to really be sure, you would want to bring your pieces to a qualified jeweler for an appraisal.
I hope I have shed a little light on both cubic zirconia and zircon for you.