Zircon – Your Complete Guide
Zircon is the oldest known mineral on Earth, with deposits in Australia dating back to almost four and a half billion years, making it even older than the Earth’s moon. It’s found in all three types of rocks; igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. The gemstone is often mistakenly confused with cubic zirconia, which is actually an artificial compound manufactured within the confines of a chemical laboratory. During the Middle Ages, zircon was believed to invoke peaceful sleep, ward off demonic entities, while bestowing the wearer with a greater sense of honour, wisdom and chances of securing financial prosperity.
Facts About Zircon
- The name is derived from the Arabic word zargun, which itself is derived from the Persian words zar, meaning ‘Gold’ and gun meaning ‘colour’
- Available in a range of colours including reddish brown, blue, green, yellow and colourless, which is often used as an imitation for diamond. Green is the rarest colour, making it highly prized, while blue is the most popular colour
- Its categorised as either low, medium or high zircon
- Hardness rating of 6 (low zircon) to 7.5 (high zircon) on the Mohs scale, making certain samples suitable for engagement rings (although special care must be taken)
- Birthstone for December
Effects of Radiation on Zircon
Some zircon deposits absorb minute quantities of radioactive material during their development phase. While the radiation itself is infinitely small, over a period of millions of years, it eventually degrades the structure of the mineral entirely. Zircon samples are listed as either low, medium or high, depending on the level of degradation present.
High – crystalline structure is completely intact and is of the highest quality.
Medium – minor degree of structural damage due to radiation.
Low – crystalline structure has been completely worn away, rendering it amorphous.
Aesthetic Differences Between Colourless Zircon and Diamond
While colourless zircon can be a believable substitute for diamond, zircon possesses a quality that diamond doesn’t, known as birefringence (also known as birefractive). This term refers to a material that possesses a refractive index which is dependent on the polarisation and direction of light that contacts its surface.
Artificial zircon has been manufactured for experimental purposes for many years. While there is no use for them in the creation of jewellery, such zircons can still be found on sale. It’s not known whether these materials are instances of fabricated zircon or cubic zirconia. While naturally occurring zircon, synthetic zircon and cubic zirconia can all be used as imitation diamonds, they’re all very different materials.
Virtually all blue and colourless zircon gemstones in circulation today have undergone some form of heat treatment. Unlike various other stone varieties where treatments result in visible imperfections (seen either from the naked eye or through a microscope), zircon that has been subjected to colour enhancement is imperceptible.
Effects of heating:
- Can help to rejuvenate the crystalline structure of some radiation-damaged zircons
- Brown zircons can be heated to achieve various tones of blue, yellow or even green, depending on the presence of uranium
- Green zircons that undergo heat treatment will make the colour lighter, while reddish-browns can achieve a brilliant violet colour or in some cases, become colourless altogether
While zircon itself is found in relative abundance right throughout the world, samples suitable for jewellery purposes are scarce. The two largest sources of zircon are Australia, who produces 37% of the world’s total and South Africa, who produces 30%.
How to look after zircon jewellery
Although zircon can be used for jewellery purposes, extra care must be taken to avoid accidental damage. Like other gemstones that are prone to breakage, zircon should only be cleaned using a weak detergent, warm water and a gentle brush. If you need additional advice on looking after your peridot jewellery, consult your local jeweller.
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