yellowish oval-cut zircon
yellowish oval-cut zircon

Zircon Value, Price, and Jewelry Information


Don’t be confused by the name. Zircon is a natural, magnificent, and underrated gemstone that has been worn and treasured since ancient times. It’s not cubic zirconia. Available in many colors, zircon is one of the modern December birthstones and will look wonderful in jewelry if set carefully.

7 Minute Read

Don’t be confused by the name. Zircon is a natural, magnificent, and underrated gemstone that has been worn and treasured since ancient times. It’s not cubic zirconia. Available in many colors, zircon is one of the modern December birthstones and will look wonderful in jewelry if set carefully.

yellowish oval-cut zircon
This yellowish round 4.92-ct zircon displays this gemstone’s high dispersion very well. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

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Zircon Value

1 to 5 carats
Red
to /ct

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Zircons come in many colors, but blue is perhaps the most popular and expensive. However, almost all blue zircon is heat treated.

blue oval brilliant cut zircon gems - Cambodia
These matched blue oval brilliant-cut zircons have been heat treated. 3.62 ctw, 5.8 x 4.2 mm, Cambodia. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Green is the rarest natural color.

green zircon - cushion cut
Bright green cushion-cut zircon, 5.61 cts. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

To learn more about zircon quality factors, consult our zircon buying guide.

Faceted zircon gems 2 - Cambodia and Sri Lanka
Zircon: Sri Lanka (19.03, 17.43, 14.20, 9.26 // 4.36, 11.26, 15.70), Cambodia (5.56) // Sri Lanka (8.92, 16.63, 7.77, 5.34). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Zircon color suite
Zircon color suite from about 5 to 35 carats: yellow, green, and orange from Sri Lanka; red from Africa; blue from Cambodia. © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Comments

As a species, zircon has many interesting characteristics. Some, such as its high refractive index (RI) and dispersion, seem to have made it the “natural choice” for a diamond simulant, so to speak. When properly cut, colorless zircons can make very convincing diamond imitations and even outshine mediocre diamonds. (Interestingly, despite a long history as a diamond substitute, zircon is actually rarer than diamond).

colorless zircon ring
“Fashion flowers” colorless zircon ring. Photo by Mathilda Samuelsson. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

However, the imitation only goes so far. Poor cutting can make these gems appear relatively dull and lifeless. Although zircons have a respectable hardness for jewelry stones (6 to 7.5), that falls well short of diamond’s famous 10. They also have a very brittle tenacity, lower than that of most gemstones. Their facet edges tend to chip and wear easily.

blue zircon with worn facet edges - Africa
This blue zircon shows notable wear on its facet edges as well as poor meets. 2.65 cts, 7 x 5 x 5 mm, Africa. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

The most obvious optical difference between zircons and diamonds is birefringence (double refraction). While diamonds have no birefringence, zircons have such a strong birefringence that gem cutters must orient the table of the stone to the optic axis. Otherwise, the interior may look fuzzy due to facet image doubling.

Varieties

However, zircons are more than just diamond simulants. They’re stunning gemstones in their own right and are found naturally in a wide range of colors. Heat treatments also produce many additional colors.

pink step-cut zircon
Natural pink step-cut zircon, 2.13 cts. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Trade Names

Hyacinth or jacinth: transparent reddish brown zircons. Historically, this name was also applied to hessonite, a reddish orange variety of garnet.

Starlite: rich, slightly greenish blue, heated zircons. Although you may still encounter this marketing name, it never really caught on.

Jargoon or jargon: light yellow to colorless zircons.

light yellow zircon crystals - jargoons
Light yellow zircons like these have been called “jargoons.” Poudrette quarry Mont Saint-Hilaire, Rouville RCM, Montérégie, Québec, Canada. Photo by Modris Baum. Public domain.

Beccarite: green zircons.

Melichrysos: yellow zircons.

Sparklite: colorless zircons.

Stremlite: blue zircons.

cat's eye zircon - Sri Lanka
Zircons may rarely display chatoyancy, like this brownish gray cat’s eye. Round cabochon, 5.48 cts, 8.1 mm, Sri Lanka. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Misleading Names

Colorless zircons have been sold as “Matara " or "Matura diamonds” and “Ceylon diamonds.” Although zircons are used to simulate diamonds, selling them as actual diamonds is unethical.

Blue zircons have been deceptively sold as “Siam aquamarines.”

Although zircons are rarer than both diamonds and aquamarines, these gems are more popular than zircons. Thus, some dishonest vendors will use these misleading names to sell zircons more easily.

For more examples of deceptively labeled gems, see our List of False or Misleading Gemstone Names.

Radiation and Zircon Properties

Some zircon crystals pick up small amounts of radioactive uranium and thorium during their natural growth. This radiation is barely measurable. However, over millions of years, the radiation breaks down the crystal structure. These stones, usually green, become metamict. That is, they are materials that have lost their crystalline structure and become amorphous due to radiation. Metamict zircons have a lower RI and brilliance than the crystalline type.

Zircon is classed as high, immediate or medium, or low based on its level of deterioration. (These are also called alpha, beta, and gamma.) The classes are easy to distinguish because the properties change in an even progression.

  • High zircon is fully crystalline and has the highest properties.
  • Intermediate zircon is material slightly damaged by radiation.
  • Low zircon is metamict.

Interestingly, dispersion is the same for both high and low varieties while other optical properties vary. Low zircon usually has a cloudy texture.

Low ZirconIntermediateHigh Zircon
ColorsGreen, brown, orangeBrownish green, dark redColorless, blue, brownish orange
RIo = 1.78-1.815 (almost isotropic)o = 1.83-1.93

e = 1.84-1.970

o = 1.92-1.94 (often 1.925)

e = 1.97-2.01 (often 1.984)

Birefringence0-0.0080.008-0.0430.036-0.059 (usually 0.059)
Specific Gravity3.95-4.20 (usually about 4.0)4.08-4.604.6-4.80 (usually 4.70)
zircon - Nigeria
Red zircon, 4.04 cts, Nigeria. © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Identifying Characteristics

The most obvious way to distinguish a zircon presented as a substitute diamond from an actual diamond is by the former's birefringence.

blue zircon with birefringent fuzziness
Zircon’s high birefringence makes this 4.57-ct round brilliant-cut stone appear fuzzy. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

All classes of faceted zircon can be identified by abraded or worn facet edges.

Luminescence

The fluorescence of zircon is variable. Some material is inert. Other crystals glow intensely. Mustard yellow and yellow-orange are typical fluorescent colors under shortwave (SW) ultraviolet (UV) light. Some zircons glow dull yellow in longwave (LW) UV light and may also phosphoresce. Zircon may be whitish, yellow, greenish, or violet-blue under X-rays.

  • Red to orange red: inert to strong, yellow to orange (SW).
  • Yellow to orangish yellow: inert to moderate yellow to orange (LW and SW).
  • Green: usually inert.
  • Blue: inert to moderate, light blue (LW).
  • Brown: inert to very weak red (SW).
  • zircon crystals, white light - Norway
  • zircon crystals, UV light - Norway

    Golden red zircons on a biotite and hornblende matrix, with yellow-orange fluorescence under UV light. 7.6 x 4.4 x 3.9 cm, Seiland Island, Alta, Finnmark, Norway. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

    Absorption Spectrum

    Most zircons show a strong absorption pattern that's very useful for identification. Green stones from Myanmar may show more than forty lines, while orange gems from New South Wales, Australia may show only a few lines. Low zircon and heat-treated stones have a weaker display.

    • Most zircons show a strong line at 6535 even in types where a strong spectrum is otherwise absent. They may also have lines at 6910, 6830, 6625, 6605, 6210, 6150, 5895, 5625, 5375, 5160, 4840, 4600, and 4327.
    • Heat-treated stones (colorless, blue, and golden brown) may show only one fine line at 6535 and also a weaker line at 6590.
    • Red and brown zircons may display no spectrum at all.

    Synthetics

    Scientists have synthesized crystalline zircons via the flux method for research purposes. However, there's no known jewelry use for this lab-created material. Nevertheless, you may find "synthetic zircons" for sale online. It's not clear if this material is actually lab-created zircon or perhaps the more commonly found and well-known cubic zirconia (CZ). Although both zircons and CZ have been used to imitate diamonds, they're distinct gem materials. While the CZ used for jewelry is a lab-created material, it's not synthetic zircon.

    Enhancements

    Almost all colorless and blue zircons have been heat treated. This procedure is undetectable. The popular blue, colorless, and golden yellow shades are usually produced by heating. The stones that yield these lovely colors are typically reddish-brown. Zircons with other colors don't commonly receive this heat treatment. Green and yellow colors produced by heating usually have greater stability over time and more resistance to fading from sunlight and UV light than blues produced by heat.

    • Heating helps to crystallize partially metamict zircons. This raises specific gravity and sharpens the absorption spectrum.
    • Heating green Sri Lankan zircon makes it paler in color. Red-brown Sri Lankan material becomes colorless, sometimes reddish violet.
    • Heating red-brown Thai and Cambodian stones turns them colorless, blue, or golden.
    • Brownish stones are often heated either with or without oxygen present to achieve shades of blue and golden yellow.
    • Brown zircons with high uranium content may turn green with heating.
    Faceted zircon gems - Cambodia and Sri Lanka
    Zircon: blue stone from Cambodia, all others from Sri Lanka, ~ 5-30 carats. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

    Sources

    Zircon is found all over the world, but gem-quality crystals are rare. Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia are the primary sources of gem-quality zircons.

    Sri Lanka produces material in all colors in gravels, including rare cat’s eyes.

    • zircon rough and cut set - Sri Lanka
    • oval brilliant-cut zircon - Sri Lanka

      Zircon rough and cut set. Crystal specimen: 4.0 x 1.2 x 1.1 cm; oval brilliant-cut gem: 14.11 x 11.25 mm, 11.40 cts. Ambilipitiya, Sri Lanka. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

      Cambodia is the chief source of material that heat treats to colorless and blue.

      Myanmar produces yellowish and greenish stones in gem gravels with ruby. These stones have complex absorption spectra.

      Thailand is one of the most important commercial sources of gem-grade zircon.

      Other notable gem-quality sources include the following localities:

      • New South Wales, Australia: fine gem material (orange).
      • Quebec and Ontario, Canada: dark, opaque crystals up to 15 pounds, yield only tiny gems.
      • France: red crystals at Espaly, St. Marcel.
      • Emali, Tanzania: white zircon pebbles.
      • United States: Colorado; Maine; Massachusetts; New Jersey; New York; Oklahoma; South Dakota; Texas.
      • Brazil; China; Germany; India; Madagascar; Mexico; Nigeria; Norway; North Korea; Pakistan; Russia; South Korea; Vietnam.
      oval-cut pink zircon - Orissa, India
      Oval-cut, 9.44-ct pink zircon, Orissa, India. © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

      Stone Sizes

      The largest zircon gems come from Southeast Asian gem gravels.

      • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC): 118.1 (brown, Sri Lanka); 97.6 (yellow-brown, Sri Lanka); 75.8 (red-brown, Myanmar); 64.2 (brown, Thailand); 23.5 (green, Sri Lanka); 23.9 (colorless, Sri Lanka); 103.2 (blue, Thailand).
      • Geology Museum, London: 44.27 (blue); 22.67 (golden); 14.34 (red); 21.32 (white).
      • Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario, Canada): 23.8 (brown); 17.80 (blue); 61.69 (blue, step-cut).
      • American Museum of Natural History (New York): 208 (greenish blue, Sri Lanka).
      zircon gems, blue and yellow
      Zircons: yellow (15.5 cts), blue (23.75 cts). © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

      Care

      Zircons should be worn carefully to prevent damage. As ring stones, they should have protective settings. Otherwise, reserve zircon jewelry for occasional wear only. To learn more about choosing zircons and other delicate gems for engagement ring stones, consult this article.

      Poorly cut zircons may benefit from expert custom recutting. Take a look at the before-and-after photos of zircons in this article on gem recutting and repair.

      Although most zircons are safe to wear, some may have mild levels of natural radioactivity, especially the low or metamict variety. Gem cutters should check the radioactivity of zircons before working on them.

      Due to their brittleness, zircons should never be cleaned with mechanical systems, such as ultrasonic cleaners. Instead, use warm water, mild detergent, and a soft brush.

      For more care recommendations, consult our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide.

      zircon gems - Australia and Cambodia
      Zircons from left: Australia, 5.2 and 3.7 cts; Cambodia, 15.6 cts and 4.25 cts; Australia, 2.35 cts. The blue zircon displays a pronounced pleochroic bowtie. © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

      Joel E. Arem, Ph.D., FGA

      Dr. Joel E. Arem has more than 60 years of experience in the world of gems and minerals. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Mineralogy from Harvard University, he has published numerous books that are still among the most widely used references and guidebooks on crystals, gems and minerals in the world.

      Co-founder and President of numerous organizations, Dr. Arem has enjoyed a lifelong career in mineralogy and gemology. He has been a Smithsonian scientist and Curator, a consultant to many well-known companies and institutions, and a prolific author and speaker. Although his main activities have been as a gem cutter and dealer, his focus has always been education. joelarem.com


      Donald Clark, CSM IMG

      The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”


      Barbara Smigel, PhD. GG

      Barbara Smigel is a GIA certified gemologist, facetor, jewelry designer, gem dealer, gemology instructor and creator of the well-regarded educational websites acstones.com and bwsmigel.info.


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