Modern technology brings us choice, sustainability and improved functionality. For our jewelry, we want high quality gemstones that look completely authentic. Before we can take advantage of any new technology, we need to know how a diamond alternative compares to mined diamonds, in particular whether the difference is visible to the naked eye.
Let’s take a look at the best type of diamond alternative, widely used across the jewelry industry - cubic zirconia. High-grade cubic zirconia is an extremely popular diamond alternative increasingly favoured over diamonds by lots of buyers for many types of jewelry.
Let’s explore how cubic zirconia and diamonds compare in terms of quality and appearance – is there a visible difference between the two?
Cubic zirconia vs diamonds: Can you tell the difference between cubic zirconia and diamonds?
What is cubic zirconia?
Cubic zirconia is the transparent, crystallised form of a naturally occurring mineral called zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). Due to its popularity with buyers, cubic zirconia is in high demand so much of the cubic zirconia used in the jewelry we buy is engineered in a laboratory.
Cubic zirconia is favoured for its remarkable closeness to a diamond. In fact, it’s extremely hard to tell the difference between high-grade cubic zirconia and diamonds with the naked eye. Even jewellers have been known to struggle to identify high-quality cubic zirconia from diamonds.
As a result, since it was first produced in 1976, cubic zirconia has become increasingly popular as a diamond alternative due to its almost identical appearance to diamonds and more affordable price.
How does cubic zirconia compare to diamonds?
- Is there a visible difference between cubic zirconia and diamonds? No it’s not easy to tell the difference between top quality cubic zirconia and diamonds. Unless you’re a jeweller who can perform various tests, have seen the price of the jewellery or know what to look for when the jewel is turned upside down, it’s difficult to tell whether a high-grade gemstone is cubic zirconia or a diamond.
Cubic zirconia has a magnificent sparkle, a flawless finish and a more affordable price tag than diamonds which has caused it to soar in popularity, particularly for engagement rings. Unlike diamonds, cubic zirconia can also be produced in other colours.
To the average naked eye, top quality cubic zirconia looks just like diamonds so it’s widely used for all sorts of high-quality jewelry, especially rings where you really want that extra sparkle.
- Appearance: The high degree of sparkle emitted by cubic zirconia is a result of its high dispersion rate which is greater than diamonds.
The beautiful glittering quality we seek from a diamond is known as fire. Fire is the level of sparkling colours achieved when light hits a jewel and is reflected in a rainbow of colours into the space – further amplified if you move the jewel at the same time.
The dispersion rate is a measure of the fire of a jewel and cubic zirconia outperforms diamonds significantly.
Cubic zirconia’s higher degree of sparkle is the reason why so many buyers prefer the overall aesthetic of a cubic zirconia rather than a diamond, particularly for engagement rings and statement rings.
- How to tell the difference between cubic zirconia and diamonds: The dispersion rate is one of the ways jewellers can identify whether a gemstone is a cubic zirconia or a diamond because each jewel has its own measurement on the refractive index.
Another way to identify whether a gemstone is a diamond or cubic zirconia is to turn the jewel upside down. You’ll see a wider range of colours and tones reflected from a diamond when compared to the reflections emitted by a cubic zirconia.
Inspecting the jewels in your jewellery for natural flaws, range of colours reflected or the refraction rate is not something your admirers will do so it’s no surprise cubic zirconia rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and engagement rings are so popular with buyers.
This appealing glittering quality without the flaws which are present in diamonds, has seen cubic zirconia grow exponentially as buyers seek statement jewellery with an impressive finish.
- Endurance: Whilst diamonds are prized for their hardness, cubic zirconia also perform well with a hardness greater than most semi-precious metals. Scoring 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, Cubic zirconia’s ranking is just 1.5 markers less than diamonds meaning its got plenty of endurance and is ideal for everyday use.
Cubic zirconia jewellery should be cleaned with cubic zirconia jewellery cleaner and kept free from any harsh chemicals, beauty goods such as makeup or cleaning products to preserve its sparkle.
- Sustainability: As we all become increasingly aware of the ethics behind the products we purchase, cubic zirconia make it possible to obtain a beautiful gemstone without any of ethical issues which accompany diamonds.
Diamonds are a naturally occurring substance formed from carbon deep down in the Earth’s crust. Yet their price tag comes from the rarity achieved via the unethical monopoly a small number of companies have held over diamond mining for centuries.
The excessive mining of diamonds in unethical ways that have lead to conflict, exploitation and damage to the natural environment make cubic zirconia even more appealing to contemporary buyers.
How does cubic zirconia compare to Swarovski crystals?
So where do Swarovski crystals fit? Swarovski is a brand belonging to an Austrian manufacturer of fine glass. Thanks to a highly successful marketing campaign in the 80s, Swarovski crystals became a household name across the globe.
Swarovski crystals are a type of crystal glass enhanced with lead then polished and cut to give it a high level of shimmer. These patented crystals are often coated in Aurora Borealis to achieve a rainbow reflection when the crystals are hit by light.
You can find Swarovski crystals on everything from clothes to tableware. The use of Swarovski crystals in jewellery creates a product of a far lower grade than cubic zirconia, with limited functionality.
Unlike cubic zirconia, Swarovski crystals can only be cut in a small number of specific ways and are much softer. They don’t reflect the light well and only score a 1.5 rating on the refraction index so there’s no comparison with cubic zirconia and Swarovski crystals have indeed fallen out of fashion.