What is Cubic Zirconia?

Think back to the time you were in your teens, strolling around the mall with your friends. Chances are, you passed a jewelry store offering racks of colorless, sparkly crystal earrings, rings and bracelets. You knew these weren’t actual diamonds—the price tag alone was enough to clue you in. But why did they look so much like the real thing? And how were they so affordable?

With such a scientific-sounding name, many people might not think they’re familiar with this manmade stone. But if you’ve got a sharp eye for luster, you might have already donned a few cubic zirconia pieces without even realizing it. 

If you want to know more about this affordable yet beautiful stone, you’ve come to the right place. We’re taking a deep dive into the specifics of cubic zirconia—its qualities, price and durability—to answer all your questions. For a few gemology facts—and an extra side of sparkle—read on.

Cubic Zirconia: A Diamond Lookalike at a Fraction of the Price

So, what is cubic zirconia exactly? Unlike lab-grown diamonds, which are identical to mined diamonds in structure and made almost entirely of carbon, cubic zirconia is made from zirconium dioxide. 

Russian scientists first discovered how to grow cubic zirconia in labs in the 1970s. Within a few years, manufacturers around the world were making their own cubic zirconia diamond lookalikes, marketing them as a popular alternative to the more expensive mined gemstone. 

You might find yourself wondering, just how much more expensive authentic diamonds are. The answer: a lot more expensive. Here’s closer look at how the price tags stack up:

  • A diamond can go for upwards of $5000 per carat.
  • One carat of cubic zirconia, on the other hand, typically clocks in at less than $30 per carat. 

Talk about a steep discount!

While that price difference may be tempting, buyers must be aware of cubic zirconia’s advantages and drawbacks as a whole. When it comes to investing in a piece of jewelry, it’s important to consider additional factors beyond cost such as:

  • Appearance
  • Durability
  • Resale value

Let’s go through these individual considerations one by one.

Appearance

So what exactly is the difference between a diamond vs cubic zirconia? As mentioned above, cubic zirconia looks quite similar to actual mined diamonds, and lab grown diamonds, to the point that the untrained eye probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In addition, cubic zirconia is colorless, which may appeal to buyers who are searching for a classic style and aren’t interested in the tint or tone that some trendy stones, like rubies or amethyst, offer.

That said, cubic zirconia is far less brilliant than other diamond simulants, like moissanite. Cubic zirconia has a fairly low refractive index. In other words, when light passes through this stone, not much of it is reflected back, meaning that it possesses less “brilliance.” This may be off putting for some customers who want a truly glittering gemstone.

The structure of cubic zirconia, on the other hand, means that it disperses, or separates, the colors of light quite a bit. Denigrators of this stone claim that this results in too much color glinting off the stone. Others may find this rainbow effect quite beautiful. 

Durability

While cubic zirconia won’t smash into pieces if you accidentally bang your ring against a table, it’s not the hardest option out there. Moissanite, again, reigns supreme here, coming in at a Mohs hardness rating of 9.25 (versus the 8-8.5 rating of cubic zirconia). 

Does this actually matter, though? Well, perhaps.

Cubic zirconia may scratch over time, especially if it’s worn daily on the hands. It can also grow cloudy over time—or even begin to yellow. Because it’s inexpensive and easy to find, this may not matter much to some wearers. Cubic zirconia stones can easily be swapped out again and again, and still be more cost-effective than other stones.

Resale Value

Many jewelers will advise clients to consider buying rings, bracelets or other pieces that will retain value down the line. Some factors that come into play are:

  • The age, or vintage, of the piece
  • The material (like gold versus silver)
  • The brand

If you’re looking to buy a ring that you or your partner will wear for decades and maybe even pass down through the family, this might not be of any concern to you. But if you’re buying jewelry that holds less emotional value, it’s a smart idea to look at materials and stones that have a high resale value.

We should be clear about one thing: Cubic zirconia does not have a high resale value. This is because it’s easy to find and has a shorter lifespan compared to many other options. 

You may be able to wring some value out of a ring containing this stone depending on the quality of its band. But if you’re looking for a material that will retain or even grow in worth, it could be best to look elsewhere.

A Closer Look at Diamond Alternatives

As you know, cubic zirconia falls under the category of diamond alternatives. However, the term “diamond alternatives” itself can actually carry a few different meanings, including:

  • Manmade diamonds
  • Diamond simulants, such as Nexus Diamond™ alternatives
  • Synthetic white sapphires
  • Costume jewelry simulants

But let’s set the facts straight. A real, pure carbon diamond can be considered manmade. Just as a non-carbon, diamond alternative can also be considered as manmade.While the various manmade alternatives out there can be constructed in different ways, the main difference you need to know is that diamonds are pulled from the ground and diamond simulants (like cubic zirconia) are grown in labs. 

Why Buy A Manmade Stone Instead of a Mined Stone?

While we’ve been discussing the unique features of cubic zirconia, you might have been asking yourself whether it’s worth it to buy a manmade stone over something that was created over thousands of years and extracted from the ground. After all, if you’re looking for an engagement ring specifically, you may feel like the occasion warrants the cost of a naturally mined diamond.

So what’s the difference between a cubic zirconia vs diamond? There are a handful of reasons why so many buyers are turning to manmade alternatives. These include:

  • Affordability – Alternatives, like lab-grown white sapphire or moissanite, are a more budget-friendly option than diamonds, sapphires and rubies. Many of them are as durable, or almost as durable, as mined options and often their differences can’t be easily discerned by the naked eye. For this reason, many will choose a diamond alternative as opposed to mined diamond engagement rings. You can also learn about the difference between white sapphire vs cubic zirconia and other stones to see how it compares. 
  • Environmental impact – It’s no secret that the process of diamond mining can have adverse effects for our planet. Extracting diamonds can result in soil erosion and also lead to the destruction of forests and their ecosystems. As consumers increasingly choose brands and products that are sustainable and “green,” diamonds are becoming an increasingly difficult option for many buyers to justify.
  • Ethical considerations – Finally, diamond mining can often raise questions about the labor practices for those involved. Options like the Diamond Nexus™Alternative, on the other hand, are eco-friendly and ethical while certified guaranteed to stay perfect forever. 

Should You Buy A Cubic Zirconia Engagement Ring?

For at least a century, diamonds have been the runaway favorite when it comes to engagement ring gemstones. Traditionalists may even shirk the idea of getting down on one knee with a “fake” diamond in hand. Recently, however, more couples have been choosing more affordable, and in many cases, nearly identical alternatives. In fact, CNN recently reported that there’s been a rise in couples swapping out the diamonds on their rings for bigger and less expensive alternatives.

That said, we think it’s a matter of personal opinion. When it comes to making a case for cubic zirconia, we think:

  • It’s a beautiful, low-cost stone, making it a wonderful choice for those who want to pop the question but would prefer not to break the bank while doing so. 
  • A lifetime of marriage offers endless opportunities to show your love and commitment with jewelry. It’s perfectly acceptable to go with an affordable option now and save up for a more expensive rock later on. 

On the other hand, if you can manage to go for a higher price point, we think it’s worth your while to consider doing so. As discussed above, cubic zirconia doesn’t typically last very long. It can chip or cloud fairly quickly and, as a result, is often set in lower quality bands.

There’s no need to shell out for a diamond unless it’s really important to you. There’s a wide array of stunning alternatives out there—from diamond alternatives to other stones like aquamarine or morganite—that can provide a subtle yet classy nod towards the unique qualities of your marriage. In the end, the exact stone you choose is a highly personal decision and a stone that is right for someone else may not be right for you.

Find the Perfect Gemstone With Diamond Nexus™

Finding the right diamond alternative should be just as exciting as finding the person with whom you’ll share it. Whether you choose a lab grown diamond or a cubic zirconia stone, each ring and stone is as special as the commitment. And here at Diamond Nexus, we want you to fall in love with a piece of jewelry that’s built with care and made to last.  

Whether you’re on the hunt for a dazzling moissanite ring or you’d prefer to customize your design from start to finish with one of our diamond alternatives, we’ll meet you where you’re at. No matter what option you choose, you can make your purchase with peace of mind knowing that each of our pieces comes with a lifetime stone guarantee. 

Partner with one of our expert jewelers today and bask in brilliance for years to come. 

Sources: 

StyleCaster. How To Gift Your Valentine Diamonds Without Breaking The Bank. https://stylecaster.com/feature/moissanite-lab-diamond-jewelry-1188516 

CNN. Couples are swapping out natural diamonds in rings for larger, cheaper lab-made ones. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/08/19/business/lab-diamond-engagement-ring/index.html 

International Gem Society. Cubic Zirconia Vs. Diamonds. https://www.gemsociety.org/article/cubic-zirconia-vs-diamonds/ 

LoveToKnow. Cubic Zirconia History: The Journey to Jewelry. https://jewelry.lovetoknow.com/Cubic_Zirconia_History 

Brides. Cubic Zirconia vs Diamonds: What’s the Difference? https://www.brides.com/cubic-zirconia-vs-diamonds-5225482 

Ohio State University. Diamond Commodity Chain: Impacts.  https://u.osu.edu/diamondscarlsoncaggiano/impacts/ 

The Guardian. Are laboratory-grown diamonds the more ethical choice to say ‘I do’? https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/10/diamonds-lab-grown-climate-change 

International Gem Society. The Mohs Hardness Scale and Chart for Select Gems.

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