When it comes to shopping for an engagement ring, the variety of lab-made stones available might overwhelm you. Among the most favored are lab-grown diamonds, moissanite, synthetic white sapphires, and cubic zirconia. If you're budget-conscious and wish for a conflict-free stone, cubic zirconia is an interesting option to explore.
Understanding Cubic Zirconia
Cubic zirconia belongs to the category of diamond simulants, which are stones that mimic the look of natural diamonds yet are composed of different materials. Natural and lab-grown diamonds are carbon-based, while cubic zirconia is created from zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). The 'cubic' in the name refers to the stone's cubic crystalline form, a characteristic it shares with diamonds, making it an appealing diamond substitute.
Cubic zirconia, first utilized by scientists experimenting with synthetic materials for lasers, gained popularity in the jewelry industry in the 1970s. Thanks to Russian researchers who perfected the technique of growing single cubic zirconia crystals, these clear, sparkly crystals began to be used in mass-produced jewelry. Today, cubic zirconia is a favored choice for necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings due to its resemblance to diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond: A Comparison
To better understand cubic zirconia's place in the jewelry market, it’s key to compare it with its natural counterpart, the diamond. Here are some crucial aspects to consider:
Cubic zirconia, like diamonds, is naturally colorless. Interestingly, most natural diamonds have a faint yellow or brown tint, making cubic zirconia's clearness comparable to a D color rating for diamonds. Under natural light, diamonds emit white light, while cubic zirconia shows more fire. Both effects are attractive, but the distinctive diamond sparkle is absent in cubic zirconia.
Furthermore, cubic zirconia can undergo color treatment to yield a spectrum of hues, even multi-colored stones, offering a unique and affordable alternative to fancy colored diamonds or gemstones like emerald, ruby, and sapphire.
Unlike natural and lab-grown diamonds, which may contain inclusions (small imperfections within the stone), cubic zirconia bears no natural internal flaws. However, it might display signs of its lab-grown origin, like tiny gas bubbles that contain unmelted zirconium dioxide powder used in its creation. Once created, cubic zirconia stones are cut and polished, often into popular diamond shapes like round, princess, pear, and cushion.
One might be drawn to cubic zirconia for an engagement ring due to its price. It's significantly cheaper than diamond rings and can be visually indistinguishable at first glance. However, cubic zirconia's beauty is short-lived—it usually fades within two years. In contrast, natural diamonds and other gemstones are pricier but last a lifetime.
Diamonds are renowned for their hardness, ranking 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, indicating their resistance to scratches from daily use. Cubic zirconia has an 8.5 hardness rating, a seemingly small but significant difference. The stone can easily get scratched, even by household dust, and absorbs oils from skin and everyday products, which over time can give it a cloudy and scratched appearance.
Cubic zirconia is significantly more affordable due to its synthetic, mass-produced nature. A one-carat cut and polished stone would cost around $20, while a similar two-carat stone would be about $30. In contrast, diamonds start at $1800 per carat and the price increases with size.
The price range of cubic zirconia engagement rings depends largely on the metal of the setting. Rings ranging from $20-$40 are usually made of brass, silver, or copper plated with gold or platinum. The plating on these rings tends to wear away quickly, so they are best avoided. On the other hand, cubic zirconia engagement rings costing $100 or more typically have bands made of finer metals like 14K gold or platinum. However, given that cubic zirconia stones scratch and fade quickly, it's not worth spending extra on a higher-quality band when you'll likely end up replacing the whole ring.
Sterling silver or stainless steel rings paired with cubic zirconia, ranging from $50-$90, are better options. There's no need to worry about chipping off of plating, and you won't be overpaying for the setting.
One must be cautious of the cubic zirconia grading system used by some retailers. They might assign grades like A, 1A, AAA, AAAAA, or 5A to their cubic zirconia stones. Supposedly, grade AAAAA cubic zirconia stones are the highest quality, and grade A are the lowest. However, these grades lack standardization across retailers and have no policies ensuring quality. Cubic zirconia is man-made and mass-produced, so the quality between stones is consistent. The cubic zirconia grading system is essentially a marketing ploy without any scientific backing, so avoid overpaying for a supposedly high-quality cubic zirconia stone.
Is Cubic Zirconia the Right Choice for You?
Choosing an engagement ring is a highly personal decision. If you're on a tight budget, stainless steel or sterling silver cubic zirconia engagement rings could be a good option. They're beautiful, affordable, and both the band and the stone will last a few years.
Cubic zirconia engagement rings can also be a good choice if you think your taste may change over time. Since diamonds last forever, selecting a stone and setting that you'll love for years can be daunting. With cubic zirconia rings being quite inexpensive, you can experiment with different styles until you find the one you love.
Cubic zirconia is also popular as a travel ring. If you have a diamond engagement ring and wish to keep it safe during vacation, at the beach or pool, or during outdoor activities like hiking or skiing, a cubic zirconia ring could be a practical substitute. You won't have to worry about your real ring getting damaged, lost, or stolen.
Cubic zirconia is an attractive diamond alternative due to its affordability, conflict-free nature, and visual similarity to real diamonds. However, its lack of durability means it will lose its shine and sparkle within a few years with daily use. If you choose a cubic zirconia stone for your engagement ring, opt for a quality band made of sterling silver or stainless steel. Lastly, the most important thing is to find a ring that you love and cherish.