Cubic Zirconia (CZ): A Complete Buyer's Guide
What do you need to know before making an informed decision about a cubic zirconia jewelry purchase? Cubic zirconia has long been used as a diamond alternative, especially for affordable engagement rings. The vast majority of cubic zirconia gets produced in human-made labs, although a handful of rare gems have also been recovered from nature.
Before deciding which cubic zirconia piece to purchase, you need some basic knowledge about these stones. This knowledge includes understanding how CZ and diamonds compare, what the pros and cons of CZ are, and what care and handling involves. Familiarity with the concepts mentioned above will increase your confidence when investing in a piece of jewelry.
What Is Cubic Zirconia?
An inexpensive diamond alternative, cubic zirconia (CZ), comes with many of the same qualities as the precious stone it imitates. This synthetic, crystalline material is generally created in a lab, resulting in a colorless, flawless stone.
Because of demand increases since 1976 when CZ first came on the scene, commercial production of cubic zirconia has skyrocketed. It imitates the look of a diamond, often getting referred to as fake, imitation, faux, or simulant.
The cubic zirconia manufacturing process proves complex, and it involves a skull crucible. Russian scientists first mastered the process in 1977, naming their synthetic crystals Djevalite. That said, zirconium oxide history stretches back to the end of the 19th century when first discovered in its natural form.
As a result of the synthetic processes and steps required to create it, this synthetic gemstone is genuinely 100 percent flawless in its finished form. However, it lacks the overall durability and value associated with diamonds.
Advantages of Cubic Zirconia
CZ has no microscopic chips or cracks, which prove common in natural diamonds. Apart from their flawlessness, cubic zirconia stones mimic diamonds artfully. They offer a brilliant sparkle and colorless look.
(Remember that pure diamonds never appear truly colorless. They always come with a slightly yellow or blue tinge.)
Are there colored cubic zirconia? Absolutely! Colored cubic zirconia stones are designed for use in statement jewelry and come in various attractive hues.
Stunning in their own right, cubic zirconia stones represent a fantastic investment. That said, problems can arise when CZ gets misrepresented as a diamond or other gemstone.
How similar is cubic zirconia to diamonds? Despite their uncanny appearances, these two stones ultimately couldn't be more different. Especially in terms of weight, durability, and longevity, which we'll explore more thoroughly later.
Evaluating Your Cubic Zirconia
Cubic zirconia quality grades provide information about each stone's quality, just as diamond and other gemstone grades do. These gradings are based on the Four Cs (e.g., clarity, cut, color, and carat weight).
What do you need to know about CZ grading? The quality of cubic zirconia's manufacturers varies. As a result, some CZ types prove less desirable than others and are most noticeable in terms of clarity.
CZ gets rated in a five-tiered system from A to AAAAA. What is the highest quality cubic zirconia? Those boasting the AAAAA grade.
But you might not see these designations when you head to the jeweler to make a purchase. Nevertheless, you should always ask about CZ grades before an investment. Understand the basics of this grading so that you know what you're ultimately acquiring.
What else do you need to know about CZ before making a purchase? It can prove helpful to compare this precious stone to its more expensive counterpart, natural diamonds. After all, most consumers purchase CZ to evoke the beauty of diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia vs Diamond
There are a variety of different characteristics worth consideration when comparing cubic zirconia and diamonds. They include:
- Hardness on the Mohs Scale
- Appearance and fire
- The origins of each stone
- Gemstone clarity
- Gemstone color
- Refractive index
- The value of each stone
- The density of each stone
Although CZ has long lived in the shadows of mined diamonds, there are compelling reasons to consider sustainable, conflict-free cubic zirconia.
Hardness on the Mohs Scale
Cubic zirconia ranks between 8.0 and 8.5 on the Mohs scale, whereas diamonds rate as tens, meaning they're among the world's hardest substances. While cubic zirconia is a comparatively hard stone, it lacks the resilience and durability of diamonds.
Prone to chipping, scratches, and other forms of external damage, you must wear it with care. Damage over time often appears as cloudiness. Fortunately, you can reduce cloudiness, chips, and scratches with regular cleanings.
How do other gemstones compare with CZ and diamonds according to the Mohs scale? For reference, rubies and sapphires come in at nines.
Why does the Mohs scale matter? Invented by the geologist and mineralogist Friedrich Mohs, the scale measures a mineral's overall hardness and durability. It also provides a qualitative grading system when it comes to scratch resistance.
Appearance and Fire
When you shop for cubic zirconia pieces, you'll see carat weights listed as "diamond equivalents." Why do jewelers do this? To make it easier for consumers to understand how these stones compare to diamonds of the same visual size (as opposed to physical weight since CZ proves heavier).
This labeling proves helpful because CZ can be transformed via the same popular shapes and cuts used on a diamond or other precious gems. You should also understand that CZ contains no inclusions.
Instead, this stone is truly colorless and can look too perfect when compared to diamonds. What's more, cubic zirconia results in more flashes of fire or color than diamonds.
Today, many jewelers coat CZ with a product, resulting in greater durability and less fire. While this renders the stones more similar to diamonds, an experienced jeweler can still tell the difference.
The Origins of Each Stone
Diamonds exist in both natural and synthetic forms. Because of the rarity of mined diamonds, synthetic ones prove slightly cheaper. That said, synthetic diamonds remain chemically, optimally, and visually identical to mined ones, making them both genuine.
What about CZ gemstones? They're similar to synthetic diamonds because of their lab-based origins.
But, ultimately, CZs are diamond simulants, sharing little in common with diamonds chemically. Diamonds are made solely from carbon atoms that have withstood a significant amount of pressure. But CZ is comprised of zirconium oxide.
Cubic zirconium represents the more sustainable option. For this reason alone, a growing number of consumers have moved away from mined natural diamonds to synthetic CZ stones. CZ also proves conflict-free and ethically sourced.
Suppose you have diamonds and CZ stones, but you can't tell why they're valued differently. Take a look at the clarity of the stones. When it comes to clarity, the grading goes from Flawless to Included.
Flawless diamonds are considered the most expensive and sought-after. These flawless stones have the fewest possible natural incisions and prove very scarce.
As for CZ stones? They always prove flawless. For this reason, when testing CZ and diamonds, a stone with 100 percent clarity posing as a diamond raises serious red flags.
In other words, CZs appear too perfect (or fake) to be diamonds. Yet, their alternative, Flawless diamonds, remain both rare and highly expensive.
The rarest diamonds in the world appear both beautiful and colorless. That said, most diamonds come with a slight yellow tinge.
For this reason, diamonds get graded by color. This grading system is based on a scale from D to Z, or colorless to yellow. Diamonds graded D remain the most valuable. Colored diamonds are also valued at a price that’s significantly higher than that of CZ gemstones.
As for cubic zirconia? It's manufactured to be perfectly colorless.
That said, colored CZ has now come into vogue, too. You can find 100 percent clear CZ stones in the following hues:
Why are these CZ stones so clear? It has to do with the highly controlled conditions in which these gems get created.
What is the refractive index (RI)? It's the angle that light enters a gemstone. As the rays enter the stone, light bends creating brilliance in the stone.
How do the refractive indexes compare when it comes to diamonds and CZs? Diamond has a high RI of 2.42. But CZ’s RI is lower, ranging from 2.15-2.18. While both gemstones sparkle, the diamond’s brilliance remains unparalleled.
The Value of Each Gemstone
Diamonds remain valued well above CZ prices. In fact, CZ comes in at about 1/10th of the price of a diamond. In other words, one carat of CZ costs tens of dollars. But one carat of diamond costs several hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
The Density of Each Gemstone
Cubic zirconia's density proves higher than that of diamonds. CZ is 1.7 times denser than diamonds. The differences in density imply that CZ and diamonds will never share their carat weight value. What's more, one CZ carat looks smaller than a carat of diamond due to weight differences.
Comparing Cubic Zirconia to Other Stones
What should you know about cubic zirconia vs moissanite? One of the significant pros of moissanite remains its durability. Moissanite scores a 9.25 on the Mohs scale, placing it in striking range of diamond's hardness.
Moissanite also proves more resistant to dirt, requiring less frequent cleaning. It also better maintains its luster and sparkle compared to CZ. That said, you'll pay more for moissanite.
High-quality stones may run on average $400 per carat instead of $20 to $40 for a carat of CZ. But moissanite retains its value, whereas CZ often has no resale value.
As for cubic zirconia vs crystal? Crystals can prove a beautiful addition to jewelry.
But they only rank six on the Mohs scale, which means you'll need to treat them with the utmost care. It's nearly impossible to tell the difference between crystal and CZ with the naked eye, though.
Cubic Zirconia Pros and Cons
Now you've got a better understanding of what cubic zirconia is and how it's made. But is it the right choice for your next jewelry purchase? The best way to decide is by comparing the pros and cons.
What do consumers love most about cubic zirconia? The advantages of this gemstone include:
- Manageable losses and affordable replacements
- Upfront savings as CZ is priced at roughly 1/10th of natural diamond’s cost
- Similar appearance to diamonds
- 100 percent flawless clarity
- Available in a wide assortment of different colors
As you can see, there are many compelling reasons to consider an investment in jewelry showcasing cubic zirconia. But what are some of the problems associated with CZ? Let's take a look.
Some of the problems you may encounter with CZ jewelry include:
- Cloudiness over time
- Softer than diamonds and prone to damage
- Less valuable
- Need to replace the stone every two to five years
Are these dealbreakers? Not necessarily. But you'll need to bear them in mind before making a purchase.
Choosing Cubic Zirconia Jewelry
Cubic zirconia has grown into the most popular synthetic gemstone since first making its jewelry industry appearance 40 years ago.
It represents the perfect alternative to expensive diamonds and makes for an elegant piece of jewelry, whether it's a breathtaking engagement ring or a sparkling pair of earrings. Cubic Zirconia remains so optically close to diamonds that even an experienced jeweler can't tell the difference with their naked eye.
When shopping for jewelry, cost remains a primary consideration for many consumers. In many cases, diamonds prove cost-prohibitive. But CZ jewelry is a great alternative, offering the same elegant look.
Due to its affordability, CZ is also much easier to replace. Remember it's not unusual to lose a ring or earring. If it's a diamond, the replacement cost and process of customizing it proves a herculean task.
For these reasons, more people are opting for CZ engagement rings and other forms of CZ jewelry. There's less cost upfront and less fear associated with purchasing a replacement.
Popular Cubic Zirconia Cuts
What are some of the most popular settings for cubic zirconia? They include:
- Brilliant round
- Marquise cut
Each of the cuts listed above results in glamorous jewelry. Here's more about different types of gemstone cuts and why they matter.
CZ proves easy to customize, which means you can find pieces that best highlight your appearance and sense of fashion. It also comes in a variety of colors.
That means you can stay on the front edge of the latest trends without going into debt. Statement rings have never proven more affordable or elegant.
As you can see, it makes sense to consider cubic zirconia for your next purchase. Your CZ pieces will prove versatile in design, affordable, brilliant, and easy to replace.
Finding the Right CZ Dealer
How do you find the best CZ jewelry on the market today? Start by getting referrals and word-of-mouth testimonials from other buyers.
Hop online to explore reviews and see what customers have to say about each dealer. As you explore these reviews, remember that even the most exemplary jewelers can't please every customer. Don't be surprised if you see a mediocre review or two. But if you find consistent patterns in these reviews, look for another company to work with.
Don't forget to research via social media, too. Remember that 10,000 likes via Twitter or Facebook hold as much weight as an endorsement from a family member or friend.
You should also head to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to vet each jeweler's online reputation, number of customer complaints, and the company's willingness to effectively address said complaints. The BBB will provide you with a professional, unbiased critique.
How to Maintain and Care for Cubic Zirconia
Before investing in cubic zirconia rings and accessories, there are a few things you need to understand about this stone's care. While CZ represents a true alternative to diamonds, it requires special maintenance. Otherwise, you could end up with pieces that appear scratched, chipped, or lackluster.
Can cubic zirconia be worn every day? Yes, but it won't last nearly as long. What's more, you should always avoid wearing it when involved in certain activities.
For example, never wear CZ stones while involved in bathing, cleaning, laundry, or gardening. Always take extra precautions to ensure your CZ stones don't get chipped or scratched since they prove less resilient than diamonds.
Besides concerns about damaging the stone's surfaces, you should take care when using chemicals and soaps. They can leave a filmy residue on your stones, making them appear dull and unattractive.
The same goes for lotions, hairspray, cleaning agents, and powders. What's more, chemicals such as chlorine can significantly damage your CZ pieces. So, always remember to remove rings and other accessories before taking a dip in the pool or spa.
Sweat can also dull your stones. For this reason, we suggest removing jewelry before exercising.
How to Clean CZ Stones
What precautions should you take when cleaning CZ stones? Dip a soft, clean brush in hot soapy water to gently remove dirt particles. Next, rinse the jewelry with warm water. Then, use a clean, soft cloth to pat your pieces dry.
Avoid using tissues or paper towels to rub dry jewelry pieces. But do remember to clean your accessories regularly. That way, your stones will maintain their gorgeous shine and fire.
What about commercial cleaning solutions? Before using any products on your stones, read the ingredient lists and instructions carefully.
After all, these cleaners prove better for certain gems than others. Some gemstone cleaners could even destroy the finish of your CZ.
Can you clean cubic zirconia with alcohol? Yes, you can use alcohol as long as you go with a brand specifically recommended for cleaning jewelry. Contaminated or poor quality alcohol may contain contaminants harmful to the surface of the crystal.
How to Store CZ Jewelry
What are some other ways to protect your assets? When not wearing your CZ, store each piece carefully in a jewelry box. This will help keep each piece clean, and it'll ensure they don't scratch each other.
Make sure the lining of the box is soft to avoid scuffing. What's more, never stack pieces atop one another.
What's another option for storage? Place pieces in individual flannel bags. Or consider wrapping each item in a piece of soft fabric or flannel. This will help your CZ stones retain their sparkle over the years.
Professional Cleaning and Longevity of CZ Stones
What happens if you damage a CZ accessory? If you find there's a persistent spot that just won't come off or you see a scratch, head to the professionals.
Your stones may require a high-pressure steam cleaning. There are some dangers associated with this process, particularly due to the heat generated. So, work with a verified expert to ensure the safety and longevity of your jewelry.
How long does cubic zirconia last? With proper care and regular cleanings, expect to get about five years out of your CZ stones. That said, if you wear them every day, you'll likely only get between two to three.
Cubic Zirconia: An Affordable Diamond Alternative
There are many compelling reasons to consider cubic zirconia as an alternative to diamonds. If you long for a flawless, colorless stone at an affordable price, there's no better option. But you'll need to take extra precautions when it comes to caring for your CZ stones.
Unlike diamonds, cubic zirconia isn't forever. But it proves more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Because CZ is manufactured in the laboratory, you'll never have to worry about whether it's conflict-free, which may make cubic zirconia engagement rings your preferred choice.
What's more, these stones come in a variety of tantalizing colors, which means you can take advantage of the latest accessory trends without breaking the bank. Ready to learn more about gemstones? Check out our article on the ten rarest gemstones you've never heard of.