The introduction of cubic zirconia into the jewelry industry forever altered our perception of and interaction with diamonds. Cubic zirconia, also known as a diamond imitation (or'simulant,' introduced a low-cost alternative for those seeking the sparkle of a diamond without the higher price tag.
But it's not quite that simple. Yes, cubic zirconia is less expensive, but understanding the differences—and there are several—between these two is a topic that spans history and science. A complete guide to the differences between cubic zirconia and diamonds, as well as why knowing these factors will help you choose a piece of jewelry, follows (namely, an engagement ring).
What Exactly Is a Diamond?
The first thing you should know about diamonds is that they are very, very old. Ring Concierge founder and CEO Nicole Wegman tells Brides that "most natural diamonds are estimated to be between one billion and 3.5 billion years old." "They were formed hundreds of miles beneath the earth's surface." A diamond is a gemstone made up of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal lattice. Diamonds can form naturally or be grown in a lab.
What Exactly Is Cubic Zirconia?
Cubic zirconia, on the other hand, was discovered as a natural mineral in 1937 and first introduced to the market as a synthetic in the 1970s. "Cubic zirconia is created in a lab by melting zirconium dioxide with stabilizers, then hardening into a rock form and being cut and polished," Wegman explains.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond
Unsurprisingly, because cubic zirconia is man-made and considered a diamond simulant, it will be significantly less expensive than a diamond. "Depending on quality and exact specifications, natural diamonds typically range from $7,000 to $10,000 per carat," Wegman says. "Typically, a cubic zirconia costs less than $30 per 'carat.'"
Because of the large price difference, it stands to reason that cubic zirconia is the most common diamond imitation, with an annual production of approximately 60 million carats, according to the Gemological Institute of America.
The hardness of minerals is measured using the Mohs Hardness Scale, which ranges from 1 to 10. "Diamonds are a 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which means they are the hardest gemstone," says Wegman. "A cubic zirconia is approximately an 8 to 8.5, which means it will chip and scratch much more easily than a diamond."
If you work with your hands frequently or are simply less delicate with jewelry, a more durable gemstone is something to consider so that it can be preserved for a longer period of time.
"Because a cubic zirconia is an imitation of a perfect diamond, it will appear colorless and flawless," Wegman says. In addition to colorless designs, cubic zirconia can be manufactured in nearly any color, with GIA stating that convincing pink and yellow imitations are available on the market.
Natural diamonds are graded from D to Z, with D denoting colorless diamonds. True colorless natural diamonds are extremely rare and expensive, which is why a near-colorless diamond graded G through J is more likely to be found.
As Wegman mentioned earlier, cubic zirconia imitates a perfect diamond, which means it is free of flaws. However, almost all natural diamonds will have inclusions, which are minor flaws or blemishes that are usually only visible with professional equipment.
Considerations for Shopping
Despite their similar appearance, cubic zirconia can still be identified with the naked eye. "Cubic zirconia will have a more glassy appearance overall, whereas diamonds will have more depth," Wegman explains. "A trick to tell the difference in person: If you place the stone over printed text on paper and can read the words through the stone, it's not a diamond and is most likely cubic zirconia or another simulant."
Furthermore, because cubic zirconia lacks the brilliance and fire of diamonds, light passes through it differently than it would through a diamond. Cubic zirconia also has a higher dispersion rate, which is why it frequently emits a rainbow effect, making it appear less expensive.
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