Although at one time cubic zirconia was looked down upon as a “fake” diamond, today the simulated stones are appreciated for their own characteristics and beauty. Still, many people do not have a thorough understanding of these synthetic gems. Here are answers to some common questions.
Loose cubic zirconia (also called CZ stones) are lab created gems. Cubic zirconia is found in nature, but it is extremely rare and the chemical properties of natural cubic zirconia are slightly different than those of synthetic gems. The simulated stones are made from a powder that is heated to a very high temperature and then cooled in a controlled environment so that flawless crystals form.
There are several differences, the most notable of which is that diamonds are found in nature whereas cubic zirconia used for jewelry is man-made. Diamonds rate 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness (the highest rating), whereas cubic zirconia is generally rated at 8.5 on the hardness scale. CZ stones are denser and thus heavier than diamonds. When it comes to quality, however, these synthetic gems leap ahead of the pack. Whereas most diamonds have what are called inclusions (flaws), the best cubic zirconia stones are flawless. Similarly, colorless diamonds are very rare, whereas the lab created gems are perfectly colorless (although color can be added during the manufacturing process).
Like diamonds, loose cubic zirconia stones are rated according to quality. Cubic zirconia AAAAA are the best quality simulated stones, while CZ AAA are next, followed by the A-grade cubic zirconia.
Cubic zirconia stones are cut so that they have the same facets and proportions as diamonds. The most classic cut of both diamonds and CZ stones is the round brilliant, with 58 facets and the ability to reflect light. Stones with a marquis cut are typically twice as long as they are wide and have a point on each end. A pear shaped cut resembles a teardrop combines the faceted brilliant cut of a round stone with the elongated look of a marquis stone. Similarly, the oval cut has the sparkle of a round brilliant, but is oval rather than round. The octagon cut, also known as the emerald cut, has stepping stone facets that reflect light more subtly. A square cut is sometimes called a princess cut, and has pointed corners.
Jewelry makers buy loose cubic zirconia at wholesale prices, and use a variety of materials to transform the synthetic gems into beautiful accessories. CZ stones are used in engagement rings, wedding rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, solitaire rings, and even ankle bracelets. Colored cubic zirconia is also used in a variety of fashion jewelry, including earrings and as side stones in rings. Settings are often made from 14-karat gold, 18-karat gold, sterling silver, or platinum.
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