What’s in a name?
If you could ask the humble zircon, the answer might be mistaken identity and decades of undeserved obscurity.
In the Victorian era, the peak of popularity for zircons, a mined mineral, colorless ones were regularly used as diamond alternatives and blue ones were particularly popular.
“Zircon can come in a wide range of colors — blue, yellow, brown, green and, rarely, a purplish-pink color,” said Nathan Renfro, senior manager of colored stone identification at the Gemological Institute of America. “They also have quite a high luster and a high degree of dispersion; as the light travels through the stone, it’s divided into its component colors, so you see flashes of reds and blues and greens,” a phenomenon commonly referred to as fire.
Then, along came cubic zirconia, an inexpensive synthetic crystal discovered in the 1930s but not developed to the point it could be faceted until 1969. By the end of the 1970s, it bypassed zircon and became the most common diamond simulant.
But the public had become confused, believing that zircon and cubic zirconia were similar, if not actually the same material. “People associated the name zircon with a cheap imitation,” Mr. Renfro said.
Today, there is evidence that the record on zircon is finally being set straight. The ranks of independent designers who have responded to its charms are growing, and the gem appeared alongside diamonds and traditional precious gemstones last summer in the high jewelry collections of major houses such as Louis Vuitton and Buccellati.