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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just what is 'Cubic Zirconia' Anyway?

Cubic Zirconia....Are They For 'Real'? - an Article by C.M. Bains

Cubic zirconia, rhinestone, crystal, imitation diamond...people often use these terms interchangeably, but do they really know what each item is? Used to refer to the clear, sparkly, faceted gems often used in the crafting of sterling silver rings, earrings, necklaces, and pendants, each of these terms actually refers to a distinct and unique product. Although each of these gems look somewhat alike to the untrained eye, cubic zirconia and the others are all made of different substances, and have very specific qualities.

Cubic Zirconia, which are widely used today by makers of sterling silver jewelry, are in fact an imitation, or synthetic version, of themselves. Unknown to many is the fact that cubic zirconia are actually genuine gemstones in their own right. A 'gem', as defined by Websters Dictionary, is a 'cut, polished, faceted stone...notable for its beauty, perfection, or rarity'. A natural cubic zirconia, formed under extreme heat and pressure, over a long time, from the mineral zirconium dioxide, is all that! However, as with crystalline carbon (aka diamonds), this natural process yields up very few genuine cubic zirconia of any size.

Originally noticed in 1892 in Russia, the very simple cubic zirconia was deemed irrelevant and unstable for use in either the scientific realm or for the jewelry trade, and was thus ignored. This same basic stone was then created, in a stabilized form, by German scientists in 1930. Interestingly, in 1937 naturally occuring stable cubic zirconia were 'discovered' again, although these stones were tiny and virtually disregarded. Then, in France in 1960 research into manufacturing cubic zirconia began in earnest. The process of synthesizing zirconium dioxide to create the cubic zirconia we see in sterling silver rings and earrings today was finally perfected by Russian scientists in the early 1970's. This Russian stone was briefly named a 'fianit', but regardless of its name or lack therof, by 1980 the commercial production of manufactured cubic zirconia had reached 50 million carats! Of course, all these scientists were not working to find an affordable gem for the jewelry trade, they were seeking a reliable source of diamond-like stones for use in the laser and optical applications currently being filled by genuine diamonds.

Happily for sterling silver jewelry lovers everywhere, this perfected method of creating Cubic Zirconia does mean that jewelry designers have an almost unlimited supply of gemstones, ranging in sizes of .5mm or less to 12mm or more. The manufactured gems most often seen in sterling silver rings, earrings, and necklaces today differ only very slightly from their natural state. The main difference with stones available to the jewelry trade today is that a metal oxide stabilizer has often been added to the zirconuim dioxide during the sythesizing process. The amount of metal oxide included differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, dependant on proprietary 'recipes'. The addition of metal oxide allows producers to customize the stone by controlling the quality and 'cut-ability'. A good quality stone, well cut, in a sterling silver setting, will create an item of jewelry that will rival almost any fine gemstone for beauty and desirability.

In the jewelry world, cubic zirconia are one of the most significant imitation stones available. This status may be due to the versatility of the stone, which can be created in various colors by the addition of mineral powders during synthesis. It could also be due to the fact that cubic zirconia offer a gem that is very like a diamond by all measurable means (except price!), and therefore offers limitless possibilities for jewelry makers and those whe like to wear jewelry, as cubic zirconia are the gem most often used by designers of sterling silver jewelry. When compared to crystalline carbon--( not as catchy a name as 'diamond', but let's be scientific here)-- cubic zirconia stand up fairly well. Check it out....

Crystalline carbon: 10 Moh's rating; .044 dispersion rating; 2.417 refraction index

Cubic Zirconia: 8.5-9 Moh's rating*; .056-.060 dispersion rating*; 2.176 refraction index*

* these figures vary slightly due to the 'recipe' used by the manufacturer.

As you can see, not much variation between commonly measured values for each stone. But what do the numbers mean, you ask? Moh's rating is a hardness scale, with 10 being the highest value, all other metals and gems are measured in Moh's figures. The dispersion rating indicates the ability of a gem to throw back light from itself, in this case showing that cubic zirconia have more sparkle that diamonds. The refraction index measures how well a gem can 'break' light that passes through it into the various colors that make up light, and diamonds are slightly better at this. Also measured in the world of gems is the 'specific gravity', or weight, in carats. Cubic zirconia are 1.75 times heavier than diamonds, and are also virtually colorless, unless colored on purpose, whereas only very few natural diamonds are colorless.

Among the many available diamond look-alikes, cubic zirconia stand above the rest for quality and durability. The process of manufacturing synthetic versions of this gemstone has been perfected over time to create a stone that is sought after in the jewelry trade, most particularly by those who make sterling silver rings, earrings, necklaces or pendants. Cubic zirconia are a perfect medium in that they measure up very closely to the 'queen' of gems, the diamond, and can also be colored to make high quality simulations of colored gems such as sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. The affordable price of manufactured cubic zirconia makes this beautiful stone accessible to everyone as well, suggesting that it will probably continue to enjoy popularity as a gem of choice for jewelry designers and consumers for years to come!

Take a look at Cubic Zirconia Jewelry


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July 14, 2010 at 10:25 PM  

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