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Cubic Zirconia Vs. Diamonds

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If you're looking for a lab-made stone for your engagement ring, you'll find that there are a lot of options to choose from. Lab-grown diamonds, moissanite, synthetic white sapphires, and cubic zirconia are the most popular man-made stones. Cubic zirconia is another man-made stone to consider if you're on a budget and looking for something conflict-free.

Cubic Zirconia-What Is It?

Cubic zirconia is classified as a diamond simulant - a stone that looks similar to natural diamonds, but is made of different material. Natural and lab-grown diamonds are made of carbon, while cubic zirconia is made of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). The cubic part of the name comes from the fact that the stone has a cubic crystalline form. Diamonds also have a cubic crystalline form, so cubic zirconia is a great diamond lookalike.

cubic zirconia
If you're OK with replacing the stones every few years, cubic zirconia can be a great, affordable option. ©CustomMade. Used with permission.
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at CustomMade
Can you tell the different between a diamond and a cubic zirconia? This is a real diamond ring by Blue Nile (who does not sell cubic zirconia).
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at Blue Nile

The material was originally used by scientists experimenting with different synthetic materials to use in lasers. In the 1970s, scientists in Russia perfected the technique of growing single cubic zirconia crystals. The clear, sparkly crystals were used to make mass-produced jewelry. Today cubic zirconia crystals are a popular diamond dupe in necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings of all kinds.

Cubic Zirconia vs. Diamond

How does cubic zirconia stack up against diamond? Let's compare a few of the key characteristics.


Like diamond, cubic zirconia is naturally colorless. In fact, most natural diamonds have a faint yellow or brown tint. Cubic zirconia is completely clear, comparable to a D color rating. Under natural light, diamonds give off white light. Cubic zirconia will show more fire. Both effects are beautiful and depend on personal preference. If you're looking for that telltale diamond sparkle, however, you won't find it in a cubic zirconia stone.

The sparkle you see in this real diamond by James Allen won't be seen in a cubic zirconia.

Cubic zirconia can also be color treated with different elements, resulting in a rainbow of hues. There are even multi-colored cubic zirconia stones, if you want a truly one-of-a-kind look. These stones are affordable and unique alternatives to fancy colored diamonds or colored gemstones like emerald, ruby and sapphire.

Natural diamonds (and even lab-grown diamonds) have flaws — tiny imperfections within the stone called inclusions. Cubic zirconia has no natural internal flaws but it can show telltale signs of its own lab-grown origins, such as tiny gas bubbles that contain unmelted zirconium dioxide powder used in its creation. Cubic zirconia stones are cut and polished after they're made. They can be cut into many common diamond shapes, like round, princess, pear and cushion.

Natural diamonds such as this one from James Allen may contain inclusions. Can you spot the inclusion here?


When looking for an engagement ring, it can be tempting to choose a cubic zirconia stone simply based on price. Cubic zirconia rings are far cheaper than diamond rings and at first glance, they look the same. This beauty won't last though-cubic zirconia only lasts about two years before its beauty fades. Natural diamonds and other gemstones are expensive, but will last a lifetime.

The beauty on this natural diamond sparkler by James Allen will never fade.
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at James Allen

Diamonds are well-known for their hardness, which ranks at 10 on Mohs hardness scale. Diamonds are very durable and won't scratch from daily use. Cubic zirconia is an 8.5 on the hardness scale. It doesn't seem like a huge difference, but it is. Cubic zirconia scratches easily from daily use-even household dust can scratch the stones. Cubic zirconia also absorbs oils from skin and everyday products. After a few years, even the shiniest cubic zirconia will have a cloudy, scratched appearance. This is not a huge deal if you want to replace your ring every few years, but it is important to consider when comparing cubic zirconia to diamond.


Cubic zirconia is very inexpensive, since it's synthetic and mass-produced. A cut and polished one carat cubic zirconia stone will cost $20 and a similar two carat stone will cost about $30. This is far cheaper than diamonds, which start at $1800 for one carat and increase considerably as size goes up.

Cubic zirconia engagement rings range in price, largely depending on the metal the setting is made of. Rings in the $20-$40 price range are typically made of brass, silver, or copper plated with gold or platinum. The plating on these rings will typically wear away quickly, so it's smart to avoid them. Similarly, many websites sell cubic zirconia engagement rings that cost $100 or more. These rings have bands made from finer metals like 14K gold or platinum. Cubic zirconia stones scratch and fade very easily, losing their luster after about two years. It's not worth spending the extra money for a nicer band when you'll end up replacing the entire ring anyway.

The price point between natural diamonds and cubic zirconia is significant, but there are trade-offs to getting a cubic zirconia. Here, a stunning setting with natural diamonds by Brian Gavin.
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at Brian Gavin

Sterling silver or stainless steel are good metals to pair with cubic zirconia. These rings range from $50-$90. With sterling silver or stainless steel, you won't have to worry about plating chipping off, and you won't be overpaying for the setting.

Another thing to watch for is cubic zirconia rating. Some retailers assign grades, like A, 1A, AAA, AAAAA or 5A, to their cubic zirconia stones. According to retailers, grade AAAAA cubic zirconia stones are the highest quality and grade A are the lowest. However, these grades have no standard across retailers and there are no policies to ensure quality. Cubic zirconia is man-made and mass produced, so the quality between stones is consistent. The cubic zirconia grading system is essentially a marketing tactic with no science behind it, so don't overpay for a supposedly high-quality cubic zirconia stone.

Is Cubic Zirconia For You?

Everyone has their own personal preference when it comes to engagement rings. Cubic zirconia is the best option if you're on a very strict budget. Look for stainless steel or sterling silver cubic zirconia engagement rings. These are beautiful, but inexpensive, and both the band and the stone will last a few years.

A cubic zirconia engagement ring is also a good option if you think your taste will change over time. Diamonds last forever and it can be a daunting task to pick out a stone and setting you'll want for years! Cubic zirconia rings are very inexpensive, so you can choose one and wear it for a while to see if you like it.

Cubic zirconia is also a popular choice for travel rings. If you have a diamond engagement ring and want to leave it at home while you're on vacation, at the beach or pool, or doing outdoor activities like hiking or skiing, consider a cubic zirconia ring. No one will be able to tell the difference! You won't have to worry about your real ring getting damaged, lost, or stolen.

The Bottom Line

Cubic zirconia is a popular diamond alternative. It's affordable, conflict-free, and looks just like a real diamond. The drawbacks are the lack of durability-with daily use, it will lose its shine and sparkle within a few years. If you choose a cubic zirconia stone for your engagement ring, make sure to get a quality band made of sterling silver or stainless steel. Most importantly, find something that you love!

Courtney Beck Antolik

Courtney Beck Antolik is a geologist and science writer based in Denver, CO. She received a B.S. (2010) in Geology from Texas A&M University and an M.S. (2013) in Geological Sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Courtney’s experience with minerals includes a zircon geochronology project and a semester teaching mineralogy labs. Her favorite mineral is beryl, but diamond is a close second.

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