September 3, 2021

Cubic Zirconia vs Diamond

Read more about Diamonds

Is cubic zirconia a good alternative to diamonds? While CZs are cheap, there are some downsides. Read on to see if it's the right choice for you.

Love the look of diamonds, but can't justify the price tag? Cubic zirconia gives you the look at just a tiny fraction of the cost.

But although cubic zirconia and diamonds look alike, they're different in just about every way.

If you're considering CZ for your engagement ring, it's important to understand the differences. Is this faux diamond right for you? Below, an in-depth look at cubic zirconia vs diamonds.

Cubic Zirconia vs Diamonds Comparison

First, here's a quick overview of CZ and diamonds, and their pros and cons.

Cubic ZirconiaDiamonds
CreationMan-made in labs Formed over billions of years deep under the earth's crust (or made in labs)
PropertiesMade of a manmade mineral zirconium dioxideMade of carbon atoms
QualityPerfectly colorless and flawlessComes in a range of sizes and color and clarity grades
PricingLess than $20 per carat $5,000 - $6,000 for a good value 1-carat natural diamond; $1,500 for lab-created
ValueWorth nothingRetains some value
Hardness8.5 on the Mohs scale10 on the Mohs scale
Refractive Index2.15 - 2.182.417 - 2.419
Look/SparkleMore rainbow sparkleMore white sparkle
Fancy ColorCan be made in a variety of colors Naturally colored diamonds are rare and expensive

Bottom Line: If you want something affordable that looks like a diamond, cubic zirconia is a good alternative. But it won't last for a lifetime. If you want a special stone that will last or you can hand down, then a diamond is the better choice.

There are other middle-of-the-road diamond alternatives that provide better quality than CZ. Read 'til the end to see if one of those is a better fit for you.

Does cubic zirconia test as a diamond?
No, it is very easy for a professional to tell the difference between cubic zirconia and diamond. They have completely different properties and perform in different ways.

Pros and Cons of Cubic Zirconia

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Looks like a diamond
  • Very sparkly (high refractive index)
  • A perfect "stone" - colorless and flawless
  • Don't need worry about losing it when traveling, etc.

Cons:

  • Will get scratched up and cloudy
  • Only lasts a few years
  • No value at all

Some people also like CZs because they don't want to wear something so valuable on their finger.

Pros and Cons of Diamonds

Pros:

  • Real gemstone
  • Lasts for a lifetime; very hard and durable
  • Better light performance
  • Retains some value
  • Can become a family heirloom

Cons:

  • Much more expensive
  • Environmental and ethical concerns about the mining industry

Now that we're covered the overview, let's get into the deeper discussion. Find out what makes diamonds and CZs different below.

What is Cubic Zirconia?

Cubic zirconia is made from a man-made material called zirconium dioxide. This is a crystalline material that is completely colorless and flawless. They can also be created in a whole range of colors to look like colored diamonds or other gemstones.

The first CZs were made in the 1960s for industrial use. In the 1970s, Soviet scientists found a way to grow them in labs. This started the mass commercial production of CZ for jewelry.

Because CZs are sparkly, durable, and cheap, they have become a popular diamond alternative for small budgets.

Is cubic zirconia a real gemstone?
No, cubic zirconia is a man-made stone. Unlike moissanite or lab diamonds, it is not grown from a real, natural gemstone.

Cubic Zirconia vs Lab-Created Diamonds

A common misconception is that lab-created diamonds are the same as, or similar to, cubic zirconia. This could not be further from the truth.

Lab diamonds are identical to natural diamonds from the earth. They have the same physical and chemical properties. Therefore, they have the exact same look, durability, and light performance. They are real diamonds in every way, just that the creation process is sped up in a lab environment.

Cubic zirconia, on the other hand, only look like diamonds, but don't have the same properties. They don't perform the same way, which we'll get into.

See our detailed comparison article on lab-created vs natural diamonds to learn more. Lab diamonds are a great option to get a real diamond for up to 70% less.

Does Cubic Zirconia Look Like Diamonds?

Cubic zirconia appears white and sparkly just like diamonds. Most casual observers probably can't tell it's not a diamond just by looking at your ring.

But if someone happens to be comparing your CZ stone next to a diamond, then it's easier to see a difference.

The biggest telltale sign is that cubic zirconia sparkles in a different way than diamonds. It emits more rainbow sparkles, instead of a diamond's white sparkles.

In fact, it can look even more sparkly than a diamond. The rainbow sparkles create kind of a disco ball effect. That's something some people don't like about CZs.

We'll cover a more in-depth discussion on light performance in the next section.

CZ vs Diamond Light Performance

The light performance is broken down into 3 components:

  • Brilliance: Refers to the white light you see. Diamonds have a refractive index of around 2.42, compared to 2.15 - 2.18 for cubic zirconia. This means diamonds are more brilliant than CZs, though not by much.

  • Fire: Refers to colored light you see. Fire is caused by dispersion. Cubic zirconia has a greater dispersion of 0.058 - 0.066, compared to 0.044 than diamonds. This is why CZs have a more intense rainbow sparkle.

  • Scintillation: Refers to the flashes of light that reflect off the surface as you move it. Diamonds have incredible scintillation. Each facet dances with light. CZs don't have that kind of sparkle, especially under certain lighting conditions.

In short, diamonds are more brilliant, though cubic zirconia give off so much fire that it may seem more sparkly under certain lights. But as mentioned, this is probably not obvious unless you're comparing side-by-side.

Can cubic zirconia get wet?
It's okay to get water on your cubic zirconia jewelry. But over time, a lot of exposure to water will damage it. Harsh cleaners are also not good for the stone. So it's best to take off your CZ ring when cleaning, showering, swimming, etc.

CZ vs Diamond Durability

A diamond is forever, but not so for cubic zirconia.

Cubic zirconia is rated 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. This is considered pretty durable and will hold up to daily wear. It's even harder than most gemstones.

However, it is not hard enough to be scratch-proof. The surface will scratch over time and eventually look cloudy and dull. It can also get damaged with exposure to chemicals and water. It's best to remove your CZ ring before physical activity, showering, doing dishes, etc.

If your stone becomes worn, the good news is that it's cheap to replace your cubic zirconia stone. You can even upgrade to a bigger one, or try out another shape. It could be a good choice if you want to change up the look every few years.

Diamonds have a hardness of 10, which is the hardest gemstone available. It will not scratch and get cloudy. A diamond will last a lifetime and more if you take care of it.

Does cubic zirconia last?
While cubic zirconia is durable enough for everyday wear, it will get scratched and cloudy over time. With normal everyday wear, a cubic zirconia wedding ring may last 2-3 years before becoming dull. With careful or occasional wear, it could last 5 years.

Quality: Color and Clarity

Cubic zirconia is created to be completely flawless and colorless. It's equivalent to IF on the diamond clarity scale and D on the diamond color scale. This is the highest grade possible.

When you buy CZ, you don't need to worry about looking for a good stone. Every stone is perfect.

Diamonds come in a range of clarity and color grades. Flawless and colorless stones are extremely rare. Most diamonds have natural flaws and contain traces of yellow.

The pricing for diamonds depends on their quality. The fewer flaws, the more expensive. The key is to find the best balance between cost and visual beauty.

Does cubic zirconia tarnish?
The cubic zirconia stone itself will not tarnish. But the jewelry it's set in can. CZs are usually set in cheap metals like silver and stainless steel. These can tarnish with exposure to water and chemicals.

This is why we recommend upgrading to a platinum or gold ring if you plan to get a CZ engagement ring.

Cubic Zirconia vs Diamond Price

Cubic zirconia costs almost nothing compared to diamonds. A good value 1-carat natural diamond costs around $5,000 - $6,000. A perfect 1 carat CZ costs less than $20.

As you increase in size, diamonds get exponentially more expensive. But cubic zirconia still pretty much remains just as cheap.

In fact, you can buy an entire cubic zirconia engagement ring for less than $50. Since CZ is not a valuable stone, it's also usually set in cheap rings, like silver or stainless steel.

If you decide to go with a CZ engagement ring, consider getting a higher quality gold or platinum setting. This will elevate your ring and make it feel more special. You can still enjoy a luxurious ring while saving thousands on the stone itself. It could be a good compromise.

Is cubic zirconia worth buying?
CZ is worth buying if your priority is saving money. A perfect 1-carat CZ will run you only about $20. However, don't buy CZ if you're hoping to retain some resale value or pass it on as a family heirloom.

CZ vs Diamond Value

Cubic zirconia has no value at all. No matter how big your CZ stone is, it's not worth anything.

If you have a CZ ring, the only valuable portion is the actual jewelry itself. If you have a platinum or gold ring, you can sell it for scrap metal and get close to the current market price of the precious metal. If you have a silver or stainless steel ring, then it's not worth much.

Diamonds, on the other hand, will hold some value. The resell market is pretty weak, but you can maybe get about 50% of the value back.

A diamond ring can also be a great heirloom to pass down. But in general, you shouldn't see diamonds as investments - unless you have an especially rare colored diamond, or large high-quality stone.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cubic Zirconia and Diamond

There are some ways to tell the difference. But for most of these, you either need to have both a diamond and cubic zirconia next to each other, or some tools for closer observation.

A skilled gemologist can usually tell just by observing because they know the telltale signs. But an untrained eye probably cannot.

Here are some ways to tell the difference between a CZ and diamond.

  • Sparkle: As discussed earlier, diamonds and CZs sparkle in different ways. CZs have a more rainbow sparkle, while diamonds have more white sparkle.

  • Density: Cubic zirconia has more density than diamonds. If you have a loose CZ and a loose diamond of the same size and have a scale, the diamond will weigh less.

  • Quality: If under magnification, you see no flaws at all, then it's most likely cubic zirconia. Most diamonds have natural flaws. But there are also diamonds that are flawless, though super rare.

  • Cut: CZs are cut differently than diamonds. Because they're a softer material, they have more rounded edges. They don't have the sharp edges and facets that diamonds have.

  • Fog test: Diamonds have better thermal conductivity. If you breathe on a diamond, the fog from your breath will dissipate almost immediately. If it's a CZ, the fog will stay on for a few seconds.

Other Diamond Alternatives

Not sure if a cubic zirconia engagement ring is right for you? Here are some other diamond alternatives.

While they do cost more than CZ, the quality is better. Your ring will last longer. These are good middle-of-the-road options.

Lab-created diamonds
Lab diamonds have the same physical and chemical properties as those formed in the earth. They are in every way real diamonds, with the same hardness, brilliance, and light performance.

Because they're made in labs, the price can be up to 70% cheaper than a natural diamond of the same size and quality. A good value 1-carat lab-grown diamond costs around $1,500 - $1,800 (compared to around $5,500 for a natural diamond).

Moissanite
Moissanite is a white gemstone that looks very similar to diamonds. It was first discovered in a meteor crater. Now they're lab-grown, but it's still made from a real gemstone.

The main difference is that, similar to CZs, moissanite has more rainbow sparkle. It is more durable with a hardness of 9.25, so it won't scratch and get cloudy. You'll have a brilliant stone that'll last a lifetime.

Moissanite only costs about $600 for a 1-carat stone. It's one of the best diamond alternatives if you're looking for a real gemstone that's affordable and sturdy.

White sapphire
Sapphires come in many different colors. A white sapphire resembles a diamond in look.

You can find 1-carat white sapphires for less than $1,000 (and even cheaper for a lab-created stone). But it may not give you the brilliance you're looking for. Sapphires often appear a bit hazy. You'll have to see if it's a look you like.

Bottom Line

Cubic zirconia is a good alternative to diamonds for those on small budgets. But it can't be a complete diamond substitute.

The biggest downside is that CZs won't last a lifetime, as they will scratch. If you want to go this route, we recommend getting a proper setting. A durable ring will help protect it more - and plus, it'll look nicer and feel more special.

In the end, the choice comes down to what you value. CZ is a good choice if you want to save or aren't comfortable with wearing expensive jewelry every day. But if you want something that will last forever, then a diamond is better.

Anna G is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and reviews website. Write to Anna G at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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