Zircon is often mistaken for being cubic zirconia, but it’s a natural gemstone in its own right. In fact, zircon is among the most intriguing and special gemstones out there, one that’s been used for centuries for its brilliance and beauty.
Whether you’re looking for a diamond alternative, or simply interested in learning about zircon (and how it’s not cubic zirconia), you’ve come to the right place. We highlight everything you need to know about zircon in this in-depth guide.
What is Zircon?
Zircon is found around the world, with most supplies coming from Burma, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the USA. It’s made of zirconium silicate and while blue zircon is the most popular, the stone comes in a range of colors. Various trace elements are responsible for the different zircon colors, while pure zircon is colorless.
Blue zircon gemstone. See it here.
Zircon has some distinct features that make it one of the most unique gemstones. Here are some:
- Some zircon specimens can be radioactive as they may contain uranium. These stones are still safe to wear as the radioactivity levels are very low. Often, they’re subjected to stability treatments.
- Zircon is the oldest mineral found on earth with some zircon crystals uncovered in Australia estimated to be at least 4.4 billion years old.
- It’s the first gemstone that was used as a diamond simulant because of its close similarity to diamonds. Like diamonds, quality zircon also has excellent brilliance and clarity.
- Zircon has double refraction which can make the stone appear hazy and unclear when viewed under lights. However, this birefringence enhances the stone’s fieriness.
Zircon Jewelry Designs
Zircon is a versatile gemstone that comes in a range of colors and can be used in a variety of jewelry styles. Because there’s so many zircon options to choose from, there’s something for everyone with this gemstone.
Zircon and topaz ring by Ardonn. Check price here.
Also, because zircon is the birthstone of December, zircon gifts are perfect for those born in this month or for those celebrating something special from that month. This gives any zircon jewelry an added touch of meaning.
Blue zircon pendant by MS Jewelers. Check price here.
Zircon suits all types of jewelry, including rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants. Its durability (6 to 7.5 Mohs) makes it suitable for all types of jewelry. It’s also highly affordable which makes it accessible to all.
However, when searching for zircon jewelry, take care as many retailers may simply label cubic zirconia as zircon. This is completely wrong and deceiving and should be called out.
Zircon Engagement Rings
Zircon has been a diamond substitute for centuries, but while it’s the only natural gemstone that comes closest to diamonds in appearance, it doesn’t have the durability that diamonds have. This makes it more prone to scratches and damage than diamonds. What this means is that while zircon is perfect for most types of jewelry, it’s not ideal for engagement rings.
Engagement rings get a beating through daily exposure and unless the stone is placed in a protective setting, like a halo setting or bezel setting, the stone can get damaged. However, if given reasonable care, a zircon engagement ring can last a long time. There are many vintage zircon rings that have stood the test of time and still look stunning, which is evidence that zircon rings can last ages.
Here are some of our favorite zircon engagement ring designs:
Vintage blue zircon ring by The Jeweled Crescent. Check price here.
Zircon bridal ring set by Princess Jewelers LA. Check price here.
Solitaire blue zircon ring by Gemstone King. Check price here.
Zircon and diamond three stone ring by Milano Jewelers. Check price here.
Zircon halo ring by Bijoux Addict 75. Check price here.
Bezel set vintage 1960s zircon ring by Cypress Creek Vintage. Check price here.
Zircon is often heat treated to enhance its color. This is most frequently done by heat treating brown zircon to change its color to the more valuable blue hue. However, this is generally accepted as an industry standard, and is done on many gemstone varieties including rubies and sapphires.
Your retailer should let you know if any treatments have been done because untreated gemstones are often more expensive than treated stones. You don’t want to be paying more than what your stone’s worth.
How to Choose a Zircon Gemstone
As with any other gemstone, including diamonds the 4Cs will help you to zero in on the quality of your zircon. Here’s what you need to know:
Pure zircon is colorless, rare, highly transparent and looks like diamonds. However, the most valuable variety is blue zircon. Because blue zircon is rare, most stones on the market are heat treated. Green zircon is the rarest variety of zircon and by extension, the most valuable.
Faceting zircon into common gemstone shapes, especially brilliant cuts, enhances its brilliance and fire. Zircon can be cut into a variety of shapes, just like diamonds.
Zircon is typically flawless and blemish-free when viewed, with high levels of transparency. There are some translucent zircon stones, but in general, higher clarity correlates to higher value. There may be tiny impurities in zircon stones, but these are common among all natural gemstones.
Zircon gemstones typically come in small carat sizes and are rarer in sizes over 5 carats. This is why larger zircon gemstones fetch higher prices. Another fact about zircon size is that because the gemstone is so dense (about 50% heavier than a diamond), a zircon will be smaller than a diamond of equivalent carat weight.
Zircon generally costs between $50 to $350 per carat, depending on the quality factors mentioned above. It’s much less expensive than diamonds while still giving you a natural stone.
Zircon vs. Cubic Zirconia
Apart from looking like diamonds and having similar sounding names, cubic zirconia and zircon are two completely different gemstones. But they’re often mistaken for being the same.
Because of this confusion, zircon is often mistaken for being a cheap diamond substitute, which is a shame considering it’s one of the oldest and most beautiful gemstones there is.
Some main differences between these two gemstones are as follows:
- Cubic zirconia is harder than zircon and better for wearing on a daily basis. It ranks 8 to 8.5 on the Mohs scale while zircon is only 6 to 7.5.
- Cubic zirconia is much less expensive than zircon and is the most famous diamond simulant.
- Cubic zirconia is lab-created whereas zircon is a natural earth-mined gemstone.
- Cubic zirconia is made of zirconium oxide while zircon is made of zirconium silicate.
Caring for Zircon
Zircon is relatively soft and brittle, so it needs to be handled with care to ensure its longevity.
- Clean zircon jewelry with a soft toothbrush or cloth with mild liquid soap and avoid abrasive materials.
- Avoid using ultrasonic cleaners as these can be too intense for zircon jewelry. It can also damage the settings of the jewelry the zircon is mounted into.
- Always store zircon jewelry in a separate pouch or cloth, because other harder materials can scratch the stone.
- Because zircon is sensitive to light and can fade or discolour when exposed to strong sunlight over extended periods of time, keep the gemstone away from ultraviolet light.
- Avoid your zircon jewelry coming into contact with chemicals and detergents, including cosmetics like hair spray and make up. Always put your zircon jewelry on last after applying all your make up and perfume.
Meaning of Zircon Gemstone
Because zircon is an ancient gemstone, it’s acquired a lot of symbolism along the way.
- Being viewed as a stone that enhances healing, clarity of mind and brings spiritual, physical and mental balance.
- Zircon is believed to be a grounding gemstone that assists in enhancing concentration and focus towards goals.
- Because most zircon has earthy tones like brown or orange, the stone symbolizes earth.
- Zircon is said to help overcome helplessness and losses and to assist in finding a purpose of existence.