CZ versus the real thing

As is well known, life ain´t easy for gemtraders, but sometimes there seems to be a flicker of hope.

In the latest edition (Summer 2009) of "Gems & Gemology", the quarterly of the Gemological Institute of America GIA, there is a short article about zircon mining in Cambodia in the GemNews section.

Besides two atmospheric photos of local mining activities, it is above all one picture which nourishes my hope that these gems, which undeservedly have shifted somewhat out of focus, might enjoy greater popularity (again) in the future.

The photo shows nine blue zircons of truly outstanding colour, and should just be spectacular enough to trigger the attention of gem lovers.

Until a few decades ago zircons were universally known as lively natural gemstones. And because they register a fine 7.5 on Mohs´ scale of hardness, zircons were commonly used in jewellery. Colourless zircons were popular diamond imitations (along with other colourless gemstones) and orange and red zircons (termed "hyazinth" in former times), as well as the blue varieties, produced by heat-treating colourless and brown stones (there is no naturally occurring blue zircon), were highly sought after, not only by collectors.

Alas, things changed quickly with the appearance of stabilized zirconium oxide, mostly called CZ in the English-speaking world. This man-made stone was first synthesized in 1930. Mass production started in 1976 and by 1980 had already reached 50 million carats per year!
In German the trade name "Zirkonia" quickly took hold and the linguistic closeness to the real thing surely accelerated the cometlike rise of the new lab-created product.

The overwhelming commercial success of cubic zirconia had devastating effects on the reputation of zircons, sending them from stardom to near oblivion in no time at all. In fact today zircons are frequently and mistakenly thought to be man-made, a fate which these wonderful gems clearly do not deserve.

But, as mentioned above, there is hope…