Cubic Zirconia vs Diamonds: What's the Difference & How to Tell
Alicia Briggs | September 10, 2023
Alicia Briggs | September 10, 2023
Conscientious consumers have many mined-diamond alternatives to choose from today, but these alternatives are often confused with each other. Many shoppers don’t understand the difference between diamond simulants, like cubic zirconia, and lab-grown diamonds, which are real diamonds.
Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cubic zirconia vs lab-grown diamonds, how to tell the difference, and why VRAI created lab-grown diamonds stand apart.
What Is Cubic Zirconia?
Cubic zirconia is a lab-created gemstone made from zirconium dioxide. It’s commonly used as a cheaper alternative to diamonds. Although cubic zirconia can sometimes be found in nature (in its mineral form, baddeleyite), it is extremely rare. Therefore, all cubic zirconia on the market is man-made.
Is Cubic Zirconia a Fake Diamond?
Cubic zirconia is a diamond simulant, which is essentially a fake diamond. While cubic zirconia can imitate the appearance of a diamond, they are not the same.
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Does Cubic Zirconia Pass a Diamond Tester?
Cubic zirconia does not test as a diamond because it is not a diamond. It has an entirely different chemical composition and is made from a different material.
Gemologists do not use the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) diamond grading standards for cubic zirconia and it will not pass a diamond test.
How Is Cubic Zirconia Graded?
Cubic zirconia is not graded in the same way as diamonds. It has its own criteria for determining quality and pricing as it can be cut and faceted in the same way as a diamond.
Cubic zirconia is graded on quality by the “A” scale, from AAAAA or 5A (the highest grade) to 1A (the lowest). Cubic zirconia with a 1A grade is commonly used for small embellishments on jewelry. Higher-scale cubic zirconia, such as AAA, is used as a diamond simulant in engagement rings.
Cubic zirconia is priced according to its quality grade and carat weight. While cubic zirconia is measured in carats, each carat of cubic zirconia is actually smaller than a real diamond of the same carat size because cubic zirconia is denser.
For cubic zirconia, color, and clarity do not apply. Cubic zirconia is man-made with a different formation process than real diamonds. As such, it’s always colorless and doesn’t have natural inclusions like diamonds do.
Myth: Cubic Zirconia and Lab-Grown Diamonds Are the Same
Cubic zirconia and lab-grown diamonds are not the same. This is because lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds and cubic zirconia is not a diamond.
Lab-grown diamonds share the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as mined diamonds. They are made from carbon and form under high temperatures and immense pressure, just like mined diamonds. . Cubic zirconia is made from zirconium dioxide. To an untrained eye, cubic zirconia might look similar to a diamond, which is why consumers choose cubic zirconia for more affordable jewelry and engagement rings. But if you place a lab-grown diamond next to cubic zirconia, the difference between the two is immediately noticeable.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds
The chemical composition and the value of cubic zirconia is inferior to lab-grown diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, made of the same material and graded on the same scale as mined diamonds. Cubic zirconia is a synthetic diamond.
Below, we’ll further break down the differences between cubic zirconia and lab-grown diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond “Sparkle”
A diamond’s “sparkle” is unmistakable. The term jewelers and gemologists use to describe sparkle, however, is brilliance. A diamond’s brilliance comes from its ability to bend, or refract, light. Light enters a diamond and is then reflected off its interior surfaces, called facets. The light interacting with the diamond’s multiple surfaces is its brilliance.
This display of white light inside a diamond is something that cubic zirconia cannot replicate. When a diamond moves, white light appears to be bouncing around inside from one facet to the other. Cubic zirconia does not refract light in the same manner and will have little to no brilliance at all.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond “Fire”
Not only do diamonds have brilliance, they also have “fire.” This means that a diamond can sparkle like a rainbow by reflecting back a variety of colored light off of their surface. A diamond’s fire should only appear on its outer surfaces, however. When a diamond moves, colored light might reflect off the edges or corners of a diamond, but not within.
If colored light is reflected inside, it is likely synthetic. Cubic zirconia is known for reflecting back lots of rainbow-colored light. Although some love this colorful display, the “disco-ball effect” that happens when cubic zirconia is exposed to natural light is one of the easiest ways to immediately identify it as fake.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond Price
Cubic zirconia is astonishingly inexpensive. One carat of a diamond is roughly equal in price to seventy-five carats of cubic zirconia. This is why some consumers have chosen cubic zirconia. But its low quality and effect on the environment are deterrents for many shoppers.
While lab-grown VRAI created diamonds are more expensive than cubic zirconia, they are less expensive than mined diamonds. This is not due to a difference in quality, but because VRAI is a vertically integrated company.
Our lab-grown diamonds are grown in our zero-emission foundry. No mining companies, cartels, or other middlemen are paid during the creation and production of VRAI created diamonds and jewelry. With VRAI, real lab-grown diamonds are available at more accessible diamond prices and are crafted to last forever, without human or environmental toll.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond Durability
Cubic zirconia is slightly harder than most gemstones — it rates an 8 on the Mohs scale which measures a gemstone’s durability. But it is not as hard or as durable as a diamond, which rates as a 10 on the same scale.
As far as durability goes, if worn occasionally, cubic zirconia could last up to ten years. If worn every day, cubic zirconia most likely won’t last more than three years. Cubic zirconia will get scratched and age over time.
In comparison, real diamonds are meant to last a lifetime and beyond with proper care and cleaning. It’s difficult to scratch or damage a diamond, even if worn daily.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond Sustainability
Recently, consumers that choose cubic zirconia jewelry often feel good that their gemstone didn’t require mining. But unless its makers are using renewable energy to power their plants and laboratories, they are still creating significant carbon emissions and likely relying on non-renewable coal. This means that cubic zirconia is not necessarily a sustainable alternative to mined diamonds.
VRAI created diamonds, although man-made, are grown in our zero-emission, hydropower foundry. Our lab-grown diamonds are the only Carbon Neutral Certified lab-grown diamonds and provide a truly sustainable alternative to mined diamonds.
How to Tell the Difference Between Cubic Zirconia and Diamonds
You can easily tell the difference between cubic zirconia and a real diamond by viewing them side by side. Diamond simulants and real diamonds have distinctly different ways of reflecting light. Diamonds will reflect a bright white light, but cubic zirconia will emit a rainbow of colors.
When real diamonds move, they can also reflect different colors from their surroundings. But colored reflections will only be seen on a real diamond’s edges, not inside. Cubic zirconia will reflect significantly more colors and be from the inside.
Another way to tell if a diamond is fake or real is to inspect its surface. Real diamonds will have sharp facets, no visible wear or scratches, and potentially visible internal inclusions. Cubic zirconia will not have a strong, intricate faceting structure and they may have visible scratches.
Pros and Cons of Cubic Zirconia
If you’re considering buying cubic zirconia for jewelry or an engagement ring, first consider the following pros and cons.
- Hardness. Compared to other diamond simulants, cubic zirconia is a harder and therefore more durable gemstone.
- Affordability. Cubic zirconia is incredibly affordable which makes it a popular choice for shoppers on a tight budget.
- No Imperfections. Cubic zirconia is a man-made gem that does not have any imperfections.
- No Mining. Since cubic zirconia is lab-created, it isn’t mined and therefore doesn’t contribute to the potential human rights abuses that diamond mining often entails.
- Durability. Despite its hardness, cubic zirconia’s durability does not compare to diamonds. If worn every day, cubic zirconia will only last a few years.
- Less Brilliance. Cubic zirconia does not have the brilliance and light reflection that a diamond has, so it won’t have the same beautiful shine when worn.
- Not Sustainably Made. Cubic zirconia isn’t typically produced using renewable energy and can have the same carbon emissions as a diamond mine.
- No Resale Value. Cubic zirconia is essentially worthless, with no market value.
Moissanite vs. Cubic Zirconia
The most common diamond simulant is moissanite. Moissanite is also popular due to its affordability, but this is because, like cubic zirconia, moissanite is not a diamond at all.
Moissanite is made from silicon carbide that is also mass-produced in laboratories. The end result is a gemstone similar in appearance to diamonds. Like cubic zirconia, and any other gem claiming to be a synthetic diamond, moissanite cannot be considered entirely ethical or environmentally friendly. The short-term solutions they offer are often outweighed by the long-term effects of their carbon emissions.
Cubic Zirconia FAQs
Below you’ll find the answers to common questions about cubic zirconia.
Is Cubic Zirconia Worth Anything?
Cubic zirconia is popular because of its affordable price tag, but the price is largely reflective of its value. Cubic zirconia is not worth much and does not have resell value.
Is Cubic Zirconia as Good as a Diamond?
No, cubic zirconia is not as “good” or the same as a diamond. Cubic zirconia is considerably less durable, has less brilliance, and therefore beauty, and does not have the same value as a real diamond.
Does Cubic Zirconia Look Cheap?
Cubic zirconia diamonds are beautiful which is why they are so popular for fake diamonds. However, if you put a cubic zirconia simulated diamond next to a real diamond, it will look “cheaper” and lower quality. The difference between the two in quality and beauty is noticeable side by side.
Can the Average Person Tell the Difference Between Cubic Zirconia and Real Diamonds?
Yes, anyone can tell the difference between cubic zirconia and a real diamond because they reflect light very differently. Cubic zirconia won’t have the same fire, scintillation, or brilliance that a real diamond does. This is the most noticeable tell that it is a fake diamond.
However, at first glance, the untrained eye most likely cannot tell that cubic zirconia is fake. But upon closer inspection, most people familiar with diamonds will notice.
Can You Wear Cubic Zirconia Every Day?
Cubic zirconia can be worn daily but it won’t last very long. If you wear cubic zirconia jewelry every day, it most likely won’t remain in wearable condition for more than 2-3 years.
Does Cubic Zirconia Dull Over Time?
Over time, cubic zirconia often becomes cloudy and visibly scratched if regularly worn.
Explore VRAI Created Diamonds
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