Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone that very closely resembles diamonds. Because of its startling diamond-like appearance and inexpensive price tag,it is a highly popular gemstone used frequently in jewelry such as rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants. Although this stone is synthetic, it is inspired by its natural counterpart, zirconium oxide (ZrO2), which was first discovered in 1892 but is too rare to be commercially profitable. Through a series of separate experiments by German and Soviet scientists, zirconium oxide and yttrium oxide were eventually melted together at temperatures reaching 4,982ºF (2,750ºC) to grow cubic zirconia crystals in the laboratory.
This gemstone is crystalline, flawless, and clear enough to rate a "D" on the diamond scale for color. Though usually colorless, it can also be made in nearly any color, including soft yellow, characteristic of some diamonds. It sparkles brighter than crystal and is harder than most gems, making it very durable. It also weighs about 65% more than diamond. However, if there is an obvious difference between the two to the untrained eye, it is that cubic zirconia has a higher dispersion rate than diamond.
In the case of gemstones, dispersion refers to the ability of a mineral to split light into separate wavelengths, creating prism-like colors or "fire." Because cubic zirconia has a higher dispersion rate than diamond, when light shines on it, it brilliantly sparkles with many different colors refracted in its crystalline structure. Though very attractive, it "outshines" a diamond in this sense, potentially giving itself away. Efforts continue to be made by some manufacturers of cubic zirconia to render the gem even more diamond-like. It is already so close in appearance that, in some instances, a jeweler's loupe is necessary to tell it from a high-quality diamond.
While a wedding band made with this stone might not have the same "ring" as diamond, it is a great alternative for affordable, yet beautiful jewelry. Perhaps the best person to buy a cubic zirconia gift for is yourself. Splurge on the "diamond" ring you've always wanted, or that beautiful bracelet. You can wear it out on the town without worrying about its dollar value, but still looking like a million bucks.