Monday, April 30, 2012


It sure is a Monday!

A lovely engagement ring. A pair of sparkling dangle earrings, a brooch, a necklace, the shining accent stones in almost any jewelry. Is it a Zircon or is it a Diamond?

Grains of zircon
Honestly, it’s difficult to tell by the naked eye and even some loupes cannot show the truth. Under a 30 power magnifier, someone with a trained eye can and do see the differences. There are synthetic zirconia or fakes and they are easier to spot because of the dispersion even though these synthetics can be made from grains of reflective zircon the angles are different.

When you think of Zircon, most think fake diamond.  But there is nothing fake about zircons—they’re one of the fieriest natural gemstones in existence next to the diamond. This is due to dispersion. I won’t bore you with all the technical formulae involved with wavelengths, etc. I’ll keep it simple. In gemology the flashes of color you see are due to the degree and angle to which a prism can be cut from a gemstone. It’s the flashes of fire you see in a brilliant diamond. Or a natural zircon.

Zircon colors
Zircons have been mined for thousands of years—Sri Lanka has been mining them for over two thousand years. Gem quality stones can be found in the pebbles of alluvial deposits and in the rough you might not know what you have, unless you know what you’re looking for. Natural zircon can be colorless (and these have traditionally been used in place of diamonds) but also come in shades of gold, pink, green, browns and hazels. Most of the natural zircons are heat treated to clarify the colors or change the color. There are stones from Vietnam and Thailand, when heat-treated, turn a brilliant blue. 

Flamegem--red  zircon
There is also a fiery red zircon, which in ancient times was called Jacinth and was highly valued. They were also called flamegems.

Jacinth (red zircon) in the rough
In ancient Israel, the high priest wore a fiery red zircon on his breastplate. In Exodus 28:19 it’s listed as the first stone in the third row. The book of Revelation speaks of Jacinth as a stone in New Jerusalem, along with other precious and semi-precious stones.

According to Tennyson, King Arthur was said to have Jacinth and other zircon stones set in the hilt of Excalibur. “…all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks, myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth work…”

Excalibur being studded with many zircons wouldn’t be usual when you consider the magical properties of the stones. Zircons were believed to provide the wearer with wisdom, honor, riches, and protection. It was said that when a zircon lost its fire and luster it was a warning of danger. They were also used in enchantment, clairvoyant dreams, and as ornamentation of devices—such as swords, armor, and jewelry—for protection from fire or being struck by lightening, whether natural or from sorcerers or capricious deities. Topaz colored zircon was said to protect against evil spirits.

Red wine zircons

Zircon is also reputed to help the wearer connect with their inner strengths and provide self-confidence and energy. Its supposed to be a stone to help those who grieve to let go, make peace, and move on with their lives. 

The colors of zircons also correspond to different protective properties and represent different signs of the zodiac:

Colorless zircon:  promotes clarity and truth.
Yellow zircon (hyacinth): inspiration, intellect (Gemini, Leo).
Orange zircon: warmth helps us to appreciate and enjoy life (Virgo).
Red zircon: strength, decisiveness (Aries, Scorpio).
Brown zircon: promotes grounding, helps to attract a permanent home (Capricorn). 
Blue zircon: birthstone for Sagittarius, promotes introspection, spirituality, meditation and religion.
Green zircon:
promotes renewal, harmony and friendliness (Cancer, Libra).

I’m fascinated by the environmental upheavals—volcanoes, earthquakes, intense heat, the abrasive wash of water, and enormous pressure—that produce gemstones.  In the natural state most gemstones aren’t particularly pretty. I’m captivated by the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They see this rough looking chunk of rock with a bit something that catches their imagination and they work that stone to release the beauty and that hint of something special their eye saw. Isn’t it amazing?

What is astounding to me is how close in strength and fire zircons and diamond are. Both are natural gemstones; almost equal in beauty and fire, both are valuable although the diamond is more so.  As with many gemstones they have been attributed with rich history mystical power.

So the next time you see a gorgeous piece of jewelry and wonder, is it a zircon or is it a diamond?

Only a trained jeweler knows for sure.