Cubic zirconia has been used to mimic the appearance of the diamond for years. But how does this diamond simulant stack up to the real deal?
In this article, you’ll learn the pros and cons of cubic zirconia when compared to a lab grown diamond. Just like how we broke down the difference between white sapphire vs diamond, we’ll take a side-by-side look at the two stones in categories such as durability, price, and overall appearance to help you make an informed choice as to which gem better suits your needs and budget.
What Is Cubic Zirconia
An inexpensive diamond alternative, cubic zirconia(CZ) is made of zirconium dioxide and touts similar optical qualities to that of a diamond. However, despite their parallels, the two are very different.
Unlike natural diamonds, all instances of cubic zirconia that we see today are man made. The crystalline material used to form cubic zirconia is created in a lab causing some consumers to refer to the stone as “faux”, “fake”, or “imitation”. However, as long as consumers are aware that they are purchasing a diamond simulant, not a real diamond, this isn’t an issue.
Pros of Cubic Zirconia
The largest appeal of CZ is its affordability. Cubic zirconia is far cheaper than diamonds per carat making it a tempting option for budget-minded shoppers.
The Diamond Pro explains it this way, “a 1 Carat Round Cubic Zirconia engagement ring sells for $13.99, while a similar 1 Carat Diamond engagement ring that’s well-cut goes for $3,630. As another example, a 1.5 Carat Princess Cut cubic zirconia ring can retail for $37, whereas a 1.4 Carat princess cut engagement ring (with excellent Clarity, Cut and Color) costs $9,815.”
So why the price discretion? While CZ is affordable, it lacks many of the qualities that make diamonds so valuable such as durability, demand, and long-lasting beauty. The inexpensive cost of CZ reflects this.
Cubic zirconia can be cut and polished into any diamond shape. From the beloved round and princess cuts to funky marquise and pear cuts, CZ can do it all.
As a diamond alternative that’s grown in a lab, cubic zirconia is conflict-free and more environmentally friendly than stones extracted from the earth.
Cons of Cubic Zirconia
Cubic zirconia rates at an 8.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, a measurement system in place to rank a gem’s overall durability. While this rating isn’t terribly low, it is lower than a diamond which ranks as a 10. If you’re interested in cubic zirconia jewelry or a cubic zirconia engagement ring you’ll need to be mindful to keep your stone safe from daily wear and tear as it can easily be victim to chips or scratches when not properly cared for.
Difference in Appearance
Sure, at first glance cubic zirconia might look like a diamond. However, to the trained eye, the two look nothing alike. Firstly, CZ offers a sparkle that is much more similar to moissanite in appearance. The stone showcases a rainbow of colors in a disco-like fashion, unlike a diamond which reflects white light in what we commonly refer to as sparkle.
Another dead giveaway that the two aren’t the same is the orange-tinted light often reflected in CZ. Something that doesn’t occur in natural or lab grown diamonds.
Discoloration Over Time
While cubic zirconia is engineered to simulate the colorless look of a D-rated diamond, the stone can discolor or become cloudy over time.
To maintain your stone be sure to remove any CZ jewelry before bathing, showering, or washing your hands as exposure to soaps and other chemicals can cause it to appear dull. The same is true for everyday tasks such as cleaning, working out, and partaking in strenuous activities to avoid exposure to sweat and scratches.
Additionally, you’ll want to keep CZ stones away from other jewelry when not in use. Store your cubic zirconia pieces in a soft pouch or inside their original cases to avoid any damage or scratching.
If you find that your cubic zirconia stones are too discolored or damaged for your liking don’t be afraid to take them to an experienced jeweler to swap them out.
No Retail Value
The truth is that CZ isn’t worth much. The stones are cheap to manufacture and hold essentially no resale value. In fact, people who attempt to resell CZ rings often receive more cash for the CZ engagement ring setting than they do for the stone itself.
What Is a Diamond?
Diamonds, whether mined or grown in a lab, are gemstones consisting of pure carbon. They can take millions, even billions of years to form naturally and are the stones that many cultures around the world most associate with love and commitment.
Pros of Diamonds
Sitting at the tippy top, diamonds rank as a 10 on the Mohs scale. Diamonds are incredibly durable, so much so that they can even cut glass. This means that a high-quality diamond should be able to stand up to daily wear and tear. That is, within reason. You should still be mindful to take care of your diamond engagement ring or fine jewelry to avoid snagging, chipping and scratching.
With proper upkeep and cleaning, a diamond will maintain its color, brilliance, and fire for years to come.
To ensure maximum clarity look for a diamond without any visible blemishes or inclusions. This usually means a stone within the VS1 or VS2 range on the diamond clarity grade chart. As for color, experts recommend that you opt for a stone within the G to I range on the diamond color scale. When all else fails, look for a diamond that appears colorless next to your chosen setting. For example, you don’t want a yellow-ish stone paired with sterling silver.
While diamonds hold more retail value than cubic zirconia they still aren’t a great investment. That being said, a high-quality diamond will last a lifetime and then some making it the perfect candidate to be passed down from generation to generation. Whether set in an engagement ring or a piece of fine jewelry, diamonds make for fabulous heirloom pieces.
Cons of Diamonds
Some Diamonds Are Harmful
An earth mined diamond is harmful to the environment and to the people who mine them. By now you’re probably familiar with blood diamonds, diamonds obtained through the inhumane treatment of workers and the surrounding communities. And while regulations such as The Kimberley Process were recently enacted to help stop the trade of these conflict diamonds the problem has not been fully eliminated.
What’s more, diamond mining is also harmful to the environment. According to the US Geological Survey, the average engagement ring stone is the product of the removal of 200 to 400 million times its volume of earth. That’s a lot of habitat destruction and disruption of local communities. Not to mention the fact that mining leaves behind tailing ponds, massive dump sites where mining byproducts become acidic water that can dissolve lead, copper, and zinc.
On the bright side, if you have your heart set on a diamond as your center stone you can avoid these ethical hang-ups by choosing man made diamonds instead. Lab grown diamonds are real diamonds that are made of pure carbon, just like their natural counterparts. Additionally, lab created diamonds are just as durable as mined diamonds and they share the same optical properties.
It’s no secret that natural diamonds are expensive, perhaps that’s the reason you’re reading this article in the first place. As mentioned above, qualities such as strength, demand, and the quality of the stone are all considered when determining a diamond’s price. According to brilliance.com, the average consumer will spend anywhere between $1,500 for a 0.5-carat diamond to $21,000 for a two-carat diamond.
Diamond alternatives such as CZ are one way to avoid sticker shock. Alternatively, you can opt for a man made diamond which can cost up to 40% less than their mined equivalents.
Which Is Better: Cubic Zirconia or a Diamond?
The bottom line is that a cubic zirconia gemstone is not recommended for use in an engagement ring. The stone simply isn’t durable enough for everyday wear and it can lose its sparkle over time. However, if money is tight, CZ can make for a good starting point for couples who want an affordable engagement ring now while being able to save up for a more costly piece in the future.
That being said, you could get away with buying a pair of cubic zirconia earrings or a CZ necklace since these pieces wouldn’t be exposed to as much stress as an engagement ring. Just keep in mind that the stones may eventuall y lose their brilliance without proper maintenance and care. And don’t try to pass them off as the real deal as diamond experts can quickly tell the difference.
At the end of the day, diamonds are better than cubic zirconia and are valued as such. There is a myriad of negative factors associated with mined diamonds, however, they can all be avoided by simply choosing lab created diamonds instead.