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What is Cubic Zirconia?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone that very closely resembles diamonds. Because of its startling diamond-like appearance and inexpensive price tag,it is a highly popular gemstone used frequently in jewelry such as rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants. Although this stone is synthetic, it is inspired by its natural counterpart, zirconium oxide (ZrO2), which was first discovered in 1892 but is too rare to be commercially profitable. Through a series of separate experiments by German and Soviet scientists, zirconium oxide and yttrium oxide were eventually melted together at temperatures reaching 4,982ºF (2,750ºC) to grow cubic zirconia crystals in the laboratory.

This gemstone is crystalline, flawless, and clear enough to rate a "D" on the diamond scale for color. Though usually colorless, it can also be made in nearly any color, including soft yellow, characteristic of some diamonds. It sparkles brighter than crystal and is harder than most gems, making it very durable. It also weighs about 65% more than diamond. However, if there is an obvious difference between the two to the untrained eye, it is that cubic zirconia has a higher dispersion rate than diamond.

Cubic zirconia stones come in various colors, including dark blue and white.
Cubic zirconia stones come in various colors, including dark blue and white.

In the case of gemstones, dispersion refers to the ability of a mineral to split light into separate wavelengths, creating prism-like colors or "fire." Because cubic zirconia has a higher dispersion rate than diamond, when light shines on it, it brilliantly sparkles with many different colors refracted in its crystalline structure. Though very attractive, it "outshines" a diamond in this sense, potentially giving itself away. Efforts continue to be made by some manufacturers of cubic zirconia to render the gem even more diamond-like. It is already so close in appearance that, in some instances, a jeweler's loupe is necessary to tell it from a high-quality diamond.

Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone meant to look like diamond.
Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone meant to look like diamond.

While a wedding band made with this stone might not have the same "ring" as diamond, it is a great alternative for affordable, yet beautiful jewelry. Perhaps the best person to buy a cubic zirconia gift for is yourself. Splurge on the "diamond" ring you've always wanted, or that beautiful bracelet. You can wear it out on the town without worrying about its dollar value, but still looking like a million bucks.

Discussion Comments


They also look flat and glassy. They don't have the depth of diamonds.


CZ has a much higher fraction; it has a lot more prisms than a diamond when light hits it, so the way to tell a CZ from a diamond is that CZ actually sparkles way more than a diamond when the sun hits it.


I helped my husband pick out my engagement ring. We were really poor at the time and had no credit, so I wanted to find something affordable yet pretty.

We found a vintage cubic zirconia ring online at a good price, and I loved the design of it. The big stone in the middle was surrounded by two smaller stones on either side, and the wedding band that went with it had small cubic zirconia stones halfway around it.

I love the way that the cubic zirconia sparkles. It seems to hold rainbows even when there isn't a bright source of light shining on it. I am mesmerized by the colors and the brightness.


@Kristee – Yes, it will fade over time, especially if you wear it out in the sun. I had a pair of purple cubic zirconia earrings that faded to a grayish color after a few years because of this.

That is one disadvantage to cubic zirconia. True diamonds won't be affected by sunlight.

So, I now only wear cubic zirconia jewelry when I know I won't be outside, like when I go out at night. I got rid of my earrings, because the grayish purple color was just not attractive.


I have a piece of purple cubic zirconia on a chain that is just gorgeous. It is transparent, but it has a strong purple hue to it. I've read that it may fade over the years, but I think that it will still be pretty even when it does.

I bought it for under $10 several years ago. I believe I got it in the kids' jewelry section. Jewelry for kids is usually cheap, because they lose it so often.


I have a cubic zirconia charm on my bracelet, and it is just as beautiful as a diamond to me. I knew that it wasn't real when I received it from a friend, because I knew that she couldn't afford such a thing. I didn't mind one bit, though, because the stone shines beautifully after ten years and hasn't fallen out of the setting yet.


@sunnySkys - I agree with you. I'm pretty sure most of my friends would break up with a man for buying them a cubic zirconia engagement ring without clearing the lack of diamonds with them first. However, a lot of my friends use cubic zirconia wedding sets for traveling so they don't risk losing their actual wedding set. They have peace of mind, but you can still tell they're married.

Although silver cubic zirconia engagement rings might look like diamonds to the untrained eye, I would not purchase one for a woman unless you cleared it with her first. Many women dream about getting a diamond ring, nd would feel really upset about getting a fake diamond.

On the other hand, some women are frugal and would respect you for bargain shopping. And of course, some people don't want to participate in the diamond industry for various reasons. But it still pays to make sure first!


@eidetic - That's a good point. Cubic zirconia sets are really great for every day wear, especially when you're afraid you're going to lose your jewelry. The prices difference between cubic zirconia and diamonds is pretty significant, but most people can't tell diamonds and cubic zirconia apart.


@anon278338 - You may have seen cubic zirconia stones before, and just not known what you were looking at. A lot of jewelry stores that carry fashion jewelry carry pieces made from cubic zirconia. They're usually labeled as such, but often on the back or something like that.

I have a few pairs of earrings made out of cubic zirconia myself. I don't care that much about jewelry, so I just can't bring myself to buy expensive diamond earrings. Plus, I have a bad habit of losing things, so I'd rather lose a pair of cubic zirconia earrings than diamonds.


If cubic zirconia is prettier and cheaper than diamonds, how come I've never heard of it before?


@calabama71: Also, cubic zirconia is softer than moissanite. There is a way to test the hardness of a stone. It’s called the Mohs scale. Diamonds rate as a 10. Cubic zirconia rates as 8.25 and moissanite is around a 9.

Moissanite is said to have more brilliance than cubic zirconia and is more expensive.


@calabama71: Whereas, moissanite and cubic zirconia are both diamond substitutes, they do have variations.

As the article stated, CZ is made by melting zirconium oxide with another metal oxide. Moissanite, however, is a silicon carbide. They do both exist in natural states but are pretty hard to find.


Are cubic zirconia and moissanite the same thing?


@wesley91: Many years ago, before we had more modern, stronger stones, the “scratching glass” tests were somewhat effective. Diamonds are so strong that they will, indeed, cut (or at least scratch) glass. However, most of the modern diamond simulants (including cubic zirconia) are just as effective at scratching glass.

This test is no longer considered effective due to that fact.


Is it true that one way to tell the difference in a cubic zirconia and a diamond is that a diamond can cut glass?

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    • Cubic zirconia stones come in various colors, including dark blue and white.
      By: David Acosta Allely
      Cubic zirconia stones come in various colors, including dark blue and white.
    • Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone meant to look like diamond.
      By: stockelements
      Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone meant to look like diamond.
    • A cubic zirconia ring isn't typically used as an engagement ring.
      By: Halfpoint
      A cubic zirconia ring isn't typically used as an engagement ring.