If you are looking for great jewelry to give as a gift to someone special or yourself, you are likely to come across the name ‘cubic zirconia’ several times due to its popularity.
It is a common alternative to diamonds due to their similar appearances, as well as zirconia being an affordable choice.
Therefore, you may wonder whether cubic zirconia shines in the same way a diamond does since you likely want the same glamour level of a diamond without breaking the bank.
While they look similar, an experienced jeweler will tell you they are not the same.
This article aims to help you distinguish them and understand the unique traits of cubic zirconia, which will help you choose wisely if it is worth purchasing.
About cubic zirconia
Cubic Zirconia, also known as CZ, is a synthetic gemstone that acts as an alternative to diamonds. It is created in labs and occurs in the form of clear crystals that mainly contain Zirconium Oxide, as well as additives like calcium oxide and yttrium. The result of its creation is a hard material that you can cut into different shapes, similar to diamonds.
To make it, stabilizing agents such as calcium and magnesium are added to zirconium oxide powder, then the mixture is melted at 4,982OF (2,750OC). After heating for some hours, crystallization begins and stabilizes, then the crystals are removed, cut, and polished to create the final product.
As opposed to diamonds, cubic zirconia is considered optically perfect as it does not have imperfections, fractures, or inclusions. Instead, they are colorless and free from all blemishes you would find in natural diamonds.
Because it mimics the properties of polished diamonds, it is common to hear cubic zirconia being referred to as a stimulant, imitation, fake, or faux diamond. However, these terms do not determine its value; cubic zirconia is very beautiful and distinct from diamonds and other gemstones.
What makes cubic zirconia shine?
Cubic zirconia is difficult to pick apart from a diamond if you do not know what you are looking for, even in its shine and initial appearance.
To know how cubic zirconia shines, you need to look at it under natural light.
When examining the stone, you will notice it gives a “rainbow effect” of colors.
This is because it has a higher dispersion rate and lower refractive index compared to a diamond, and these factors are responsible for its shine.
If you have looked at a gemstone before and seen a range of colors coming from deep in the stone, this is what is referred to as “fire” or gemstone dispersion. While diamonds are famous for their dispersion abilities, other gems exceed their fire, including cubic zirconia.
To understand dispersion rates, you need to know the structure of light. Each visible color is a wavelength of light that travels at different speeds when passing through different mediums.
When white light passes through cubic zirconia, the constituent color wavelengths ‘disperse’ and exit the stone at different speeds, resulting in the rainbow of colors you see in the stone.
Higher dispersion rates also result in more color flashes you can see with the naked eye when looking at zirconia. The light dispersion is dependent on the RI, color, and stone density.
This is among the first steps you take when you want to identify a gemstone and is the measurement of the differences between the speeds of light in a gemstone and a vacuum.
As light travels through gemstones or other transparent and translucent solids, it slows down because of the higher density of the gemstone compared to air, which leads its path to change and causes refraction.
The refraction angles within the stone determine the RI, with a higher index showing that the stone is a more brilliant cut. Cubic zirconia has a refractive index between 2.15 and 2.18, which is lower than that of a diamond, which is at 2.42.
This means that it has a lower brilliance level but a more colorless appearance that is more flawless but conversely does not hold the light in the same way a diamond does – instead, its shine is lower compared to a diamond.
What makes a diamond shine?
Similar to cubic zirconia and other gemstones, the simple answer is that diamonds shine due to their natural brilliance and the cut, but the full answer involves three factors – dispersion, refraction, and reflection.
Reflection influences the shine in the least way because it is only a measure of the small amounts of light that the diamond immediately gets and bounces back to your eyes.
Since the diamond is a solid, light travels through it at a slower speed than through air. Its internal structure then fractures and scatters this light, which creates the diamond’s distinct sparkle, and this process is known as refraction.
The inner structure of the diamond consists of very small prisms, which change the angles of light as it travels through the stone. The result is dispersion, creating a rainbow-like appearance and increasing the shine, depending on how natural light hits the different diamond planes.
To increase the brilliance of the stone, the cut is essential – a cut that is excessively shallow or deep will result in high light losses and does not improve the aesthetic appearance of the diamond.
Therefore, diamond cuts must emphasize the symmetry of the stone as accurately as possible to ensure the light refracts correctly and is polished to bring out the complete brilliance of the stone.
Do cubic zirconia stones shine similar to a diamond?
Despite the similar appearance both stones tend to have, cubic zirconia stones do not shine in the same way diamonds do.
The natural brilliance in diamonds causes them to reflect light in a pure white color when you hold them against natural light, while cubic zirconia has a rainbow-colored light emission due to the higher light dispersion it naturally has.
Additionally, cubic zirconia is prone to getting scratches and becoming dull as it gets older, so it is not a great choice if you want a timeless stone that can handle daily wear.
Instead, it is better if you are seeking a stone with high clarity.
Does cubic zirconia look like a diamond?
While CZ has a similar appearance to a diamond in its external appearance, the mineral structures between the two stones are different.
This results in both stones looking different under natural light; cubic zirconia gives off colored light similar to a rainbow due to high dispersion rates, while diamonds give off more white light due to their higher brilliance.
Additionally, the light a diamond gives off is greatly influenced by its cut, which determines the extent of reflection it has – both in brilliance (the reflection of white light) and fire (the reflection of colored light).
Cubic zirconia does not have any true fire or brilliance, as it has a lower refraction index, and light passes through it differently, making it look different to the eye.
Third, cubic zirconia stones have a higher dispersion rate, with a rate between 0.058 and 0.066, in contrast to diamonds which have a dispersion of 0.044.
This means that CZ will reflect too much color light to your eyes, which makes it easy to differentiate from a real diamond that shows lower ‘rainbow-colored’ effects.
Does cubic zirconia lose shine? How long does it last?
Due to various factors, gemstones can lose their shine over time, and the same case applies to cubic zirconia – especially if you expose it to makeup, water, hairspray, lotion, soap, sweat, and body oils in general.
Additionally, since CZ is not on the same hardness level as natural diamond, it is prone to scratches and blemishes that reduce its shine as it gets older.
In terms of durability, it can go for two to three years if you are wearing it every day and caring for it carefully. If you are wearing it occasionally and keeping up its maintenance, it can last for up to five years.
The lower durability is due to its lower hardness, which is measured on the Mohs scale. Diamonds measure a perfect 10 on the scale, but CZ measures 8.5 on it – so while it is hard, it is not hard enough to sustain regular use without tarnishing, and it cannot last forever either.
How do you make cubic zirconia shine like a diamond?
Since the dulling of the stone is due to the accumulation of moisture and other chemicals, it is fortunately easy to remove.
You just need a small brush with soft bristles (like an old toothbrush), some mild liquid soap, and some lukewarm water. Dip the brush in the soapy water, then use it to scrub the jewelry.
Afterward, use warm water to rinse the jewelry, then use a cotton or microfiber cloth to pat it dry. Ensure you clean the cubic zirconia jewelry after every few months to keep its diamond-like shine.
While diamonds are unmatched in their classy appearance and prestige, CZ stones are worthy substitutes due to their shine and affordability compared to diamonds, so they are great if you want alternatives to expensive gemstones.
Read more fashion jewelry topics here or here!
Tiger is a fashion&jewelry lover. He is also a fashion jewelry manufacturer that help thousands of small business to grow and also do business with some big fashion jewelry brands. He is a truly metal expert and he will share some information you are looking for.