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Friday 14 December 2018

Zircon: alternative birthstone for December

Spectacular zircon ring. In its series on jewellery birthstones, Is This Mutton? looks at an alternative birthstone for December, zircon - not to be confused with cubic zirconia.

Tanzanite is the better known of the three December birthstones, but today we're going to explore the zircon, one of the oldest gemstones which is often confused with "cubic zirconia."
Cubic zirconia is a cheaper diamond substitute. White zircon is also used as a diamond substitute but there the similarity ends. It's an entirely different gemstone from cubic zirconia, chemically, optically and structurally.

Zircon is a natural mined gemstone, one of the oldest found on Earth. Specimens found in Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia, have yielded U-Pb ages up to 4.404 billion years, interpreted to be the age of crystallization, making them the oldest minerals so far dated on Earth.

Natural cubic zirconia, on the other hand, was discovered relatively recently (around the 1930s) and was then synthesized. All CZ found on the market is synthetic, meaning that it is man-made in labs using technology. Zircon is mined in Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka as well as in Brazil, Australia and East Africa.

A convincing diamond substitute

Zircon is one of three birthstones for December, the others being tanzanite and lapis lazuli. As you can see in the shopping gallery, you can buy zircon for thousands of pounds where it's combined with other gemstones. But it's also very cost effective, particularly if you're looking for a convincing diamond substitute. The first preferred gemstone for this is white sapphire, followed by white zircon.

Well faceted white zircon rivals diamond in brilliance. Its attractive lustre and impressive fire are exceeded only by diamond. And it's actually less common than diamonds. But zircon has a drawback compared to diamonds.  It's brittle, and its facet edges tend to chip and wear. Zircon must be worn carefully to prevent damage. As a ring stone, it should have a protective setting.

Different colours of zircon

As you might have suspected from the phrase "white zircon," they're available in other colors too: blue, red, green, yellow, orange, brown, pink, purple, grey. The most expensive zircons are colorless (white), blue and brownish orange. The transparent reddish brown zircons are known in the trade as Hyacinth or jacinth zircons.

Zircon is classed as high, medium, or low based on its level of deterioration. These are also called alpha, beta, and gamma. The classes are easy to distinguish because the properties change in an even progression.

Learn the history of your birthstone

Check out other gemstones in the Is This Mutton? series:  Garnet, January;  Amethyst, February; Aquamarine, March; Diamond or Bloodstone; April; Emerald, May; Pearl, June; Moonstone, June; Ruby;  July; Peridot, August; Sapphire and Opal, October; Topaz, November;  Tanzanite, December

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