Do you know the difference between a cubic zirconia (aka CZ), a rhinestone or a Swarovski Crystal? And does their difference really matter? Well this article will help you identify with these specific gemstone variances. All of the stones are shiny, sparkly, glittery and dazzling, however one is known as a diamond substitute and the others as a naturally crystalline gem of some sort. But all stones are manmade and produced in laboratories.
The biggest difference between rhinestones and cubic zirconia is in how they are made. The first rhinestones came from quartz crystals from the Rhine River in Germany, hence their name. The highest quality rhinestones are still made from cut quartz crystals, though more inexpensive rhinestones can be made out of glass, acrylic, or paste. On the other hand, cubic zirconia are synthetically made out of zirconium oxide to simulate the appearance of a diamond. These imitation gemstones are not true minerals. Cubic zirconia is made using a high-temperature heating method and then cut for reflectivity to yield its diamond-like sparkle. Unlike Swarovski crystals, cubic zirconia usually isn’t coated.
Swarovski crystals is a compound element consisting of Silicon Dioxide with a little bit of Lead. Similar to items like Lead Crystal Stemware or a Cognac Decanter, cubic zirconia is derived from the compound element Zirconium Dioxide with Yttrium, Magnesium and Calcium (as an added stabilizer).
On the Mohs scale (a scale of hardness used in classifying minerals, which runs from 1 to 10 using a series of reference minerals and a position on the scale depends on the ability to scratch minerals rated lower), hardness for Swarovski crystals is 6 to 7. But hardness for cubic zirconia is 8 to 9. Therefore cubic zirconia is as durable in jewelry as popular precious gems such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and well on its way to approaching the hardness of a real diamond which is at 10.
Swarovski crystal is made using a high-temperature heating method which melts the silicon oxide powders with lead, which makes the substance we know as lead crystal. After cooling and cutting, the crystals are covered with metallic coatings to make the already shimmering matter reflect light even more.
Both Swarovski crystals and cubic zirconia can be cut to create sparkling gemstones and manufactured to reflect any hue in the rainbow. Both Cubic Zirconia and Swarovski Crystal can be faceted to glitter like diamonds provided the creativity, talent and skill-set of a gemstone cutter.
If you haven’t taking a few courses in Gemology, the untrained eye can hardly tell the difference between a Swarovski crystal, rhinestone and a gem-cut cubic zirconia. With the current advancements in technology and jewelry designs, it is even harder to distinguish one from the other. But here is the clue, almost every time there is a giveaway coating on a Swarovski crystal or the slightly higher price for a comparably sized, cut cubic zirconium gemstone.
Rhinestones generally cost less than cubic zirconia since they are made out of a variety of different materials, with those made from cut quartz costing more than those made from plastic. You will likely pay more for a cubic zirconium since it generally resembles a diamond, is usually set in a precious metal, and must be manufactured in a laboratory.
For some reason there is a social shame that attaches to anything described as a “substitute” for something natural or rare. Cubic zirconia suffers the unfortunate classification of an “imitation” or “substitution” for a diamond. On the other hand, Swarovski Crystals are the lead-containing crystalline version of silicon dioxide but named as crystals, thus incorrectly implying an Earthly origin. Do not be swayed by nomenclature, misleading information, wives tales, or the imprecise language of marketers. Know that in both cases, you are indeed getting some version of an earthly element made by some human-being in a lab.
So next time when you go out shopping for that “bling-bling”, let the sparkle that catches your eye, be your guide. Use only your individual appreciation for the glitzy and scintillating reflections of each stone to steer your selection. Singer Rihanna said it best, “Shine bright like a diamond” or at least let your jewelry sparkle like a diamond…even if it isn’t one!! I meant after all, you’ve got nothing to lose!!