Cubic Zirconia (CZ) was developed by the Russian space program for use in laser guidance equipment as a cost-effective alternative to using rubies which were needed in early lasers. CZ is virtually identical to diamond in terms of its optical properties, and this lends the use of CZ to producing jewelry – it looks, shine and sparkles in almost identical fashion to diamond.
So why should you use a cubic zirconia stone in place of a diamond?
The obvious advantage over diamond is cost; diamond is one of the most valuable substances known to man and it costs roughly one thousand times more than a crystal of zirconium of the same weight.
Cost is not the only advantage over diamond which CZ possesses, just the most obvious one.
Diamond is a naturally occurring crystal which is formed by natural processes deep within the earth’s crust. CZ on the other hand is man-made, using a precisely controlled manufacturing process which allows for excellent quality control over how the crystal is formed.
All diamonds carry imperfections created by trapped gas or foreign matter, so upon close inspection you will see bubbles or imperfections within the stone. There may also be irregularities in the uniformity of the crystal structure itself. None of these imperfections present themselves with CZ, because the process is so stringently controlled – what you get with a zirconium stone is a flawless crystal.
Diamonds usually come with a clear to yellow hue; it is very rare to find a perfectly colorless stone because of the natural environment within which they are formed. Zirconium can be completely clear or have whatever color is desired, so you the jewelry buyer have a wider choice to select a stone from.
In colorless form, CZ is indistinguishable from diamond to the naked eye.
Diamond is a very rigid and extremely strong form of carbon atoms, laid out in a rigid pattern; in fact, it is the hardest naturally-occurring material known to man. This hardness and crystalline rigidity makes it difficult to cut a diamond, however zirconium lends itself to being worked by a gemstone cutter. The result is that zirconium can be worked into a wider variety of shapes and forms than diamond, which again means greater choice for you.
How brilliantly a stone reflects and refracts light which passes through it determines the sparkle it possess – this is known as “fire”. Zirconium refracts and reflects light better than diamond (remember the Russians developed it precisely for this purpose with their space program). Zirconium may be lighter than diamond, and less hard, but its crystalline structure ensures it is able to generate more fire.
While diamonds are naturally occurring, there is nothing natural about how they are extracted from the earth. Diamonds are mined requiring the use of huge amounts of energy and significant environmental damage is caused directly by mining. There are also large amounts of toxic waste produced in separating diamonds from the tons of earth which are excavated and must be disposed of.
Zirconium requires only a fraction of the energy which diamond excavation uses and waste products are minimal in comparison, making CZ the green alternative to diamond.
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