Thursday, December 18, 2008
Faking it: CZs
A woman recently asked me, "How do you like my earrings?" and then said, "Could you tell they are CZs?"
These are two completely different questions.
High quality cubic zirconia is a boon to security-conscious travelers, those who object to inflated diamond prices, or people who just have other uses for their money. If you are thinking of simulated diamonds, and you want them to look real, here are some things to consider.
(If you just want flash and don't care if it's blatantly fake, rock out at Claire's or any mall costume jewelery shop).
I am not talking about synthetic diamonds, another ball game. Synthetics are lab-grown gems that replicate the actual mineral. So far not readily available in larger sizes, and not yet significantly less expensive than mined. And I'll discuss moissanite in detail later.
1. Go modest or go home
It's tempting to get a boulder because you're only spending hundreds, versus many tens of thousands. But if you do not live the life, surrounded with the gear to go with a 5ct. pear-shaped CZ like the ring at right, it's going to look fake. Even a real huge diamond will look questionable if you're wearing a little Target dress and flip flops.
When in doubt, a guideline: If you wouldn't wear it in diamond, don't wear it in CZ.
(Sidebar: I had a godmother who did her laundry in a strand of gumball-sized "pearls" with a "diamond" clasp. One day, as they clanged into the machine when she bent to pull out her wash, my mother said, "Gertrude! Pull up your pearls, what if they were real?" Gertrude said, "They are.")
The second reason to hover around the 1-to-2ct point (or lower) is that the stone looks less real as size increases.
Without going into the physics (refractive indices, etc.), the brilliance and fire of a CZ is not the same as diamond. Online sites selling CZs love to say "even more brilliant than diamond!" but that's just another way of saying "does not look quite the same". This is much less noticeable in a smaller stone.
2. Set is paramount
If you want to travel worry-free or like classic styles, buy good CZs set in gold. If you venture beyond the simplest studs or pendant, be prepared to spend money. In short, do not drop the setting quality for the CZ, set it as if it's a D flawless diamond. (Shown, 18k setting by Fragments.)
The reason why a CZ piece looks fake is that about 98% of production houses use cheesy settings. Even if gold (usually 14k), the weight is thin and fabrication poor. Take the CZ to a fine jeweler. Don't be embarrassed; they set CZs all the time. Or buy a beautiful heirloom mount (the setting minus the stone) and put a CZ into it.
If you're putting the sim into a ring, you will pay far more for the setting than the stone, but do not compromise. (Never set in silver-which will look muddy and dull- or plate.) If you eventually replace the CZ with a diamond, that setting will endure.
A client of my jeweler's set at least a hundred 15 to 25-point round CZs into an 18kt gold necklace she bought in India. One day she might replace them with diamonds, but today she has a jawdropping piece for a relatively modest investment.
There is more hideous CZ jewelry out there than fake dating ads, and these products give a decent material a bad rep.
The only online CZ rings that I might like (I'd have to see them "in the flash") come from MiaDonna; the Summa tension ring shown is about $1500 with a 1ct. stone.
3. Choose from a selection
If your jeweler throws a hissy fit because you're not buying diamonds, find someone new.
CZs range of colour varies, like diamonds, from absolutely white (D in diamond grading) to a warmer tones (J-K), as well as fancies (pink, yellow) which are certain to look fake unless very small or you are traveling with a bodyguard. You can pay $175 for a loose CZ and the identical CZ will be marketed by an online retailer for $550, branded and surrounded by all kinds of hype.
Specify a very high quality loose stone, with a durability guarantee. Order a selection of stones (various sizes, cuts or colours) and see what you both think. Look at the sim in natural light; let your eye be the judge.
4. A CZ is not forever
Remember, you are buying it because it is not an investment. It may look like diamond, but it will not perform like diamond. Think of your stone like a pair of good shoes that need upkeep, not like an irreplacable heirloom.
Clean up your act
Dirty CZs look different from dirty diamonds, sad and depressing. Be a fanatic. Clean with Windex and a soft cloth. If you have a sonic cleaner, use it, but don't put the CZ-set items in the tub with other pieces.
Treat it right
Scratches are the kiss of death for CZs because it's the scratching that turns them cloudy. CZs have improved in the last decade but nearly all cutting houses are supplied by one dealer (Ceres). Treat the stone like glass, not diamond. On a Mohs scale of mineral hardness, CZ is 8.5, diamond 10. Yes, a CZ cuts glass, but glass cuts glass. It's softer also than ruby or sapphire (9), but harder than emerald (7 1/2-8.)
Replace as needed
Some sellers guarantee the material for a year; be prepared to replace the stone to keep it looking real.
The stone in a ring lasts two or three years if you don't wear it gardening. You'll have much longer wear from earrings, a pendant or your tiara. If you get a custom-cut CZ, buy two so your replacement is ready when you notice a change.
What do I think?
I've seen crappy-cut diamonds that I thought were glass, I've seen CZs that looked like good diamonds. I have not yet seen CZs that look like the finest diamonds. If you're waving your hand around at a cocktail party, a well-set CZ will pass muster with 90% of your admirers, unless the person sitting next to you is a jeweler.
Under jewelers' display lights, I can see the difference without a loupe when comparing good diamonds next to CZs. But in natural light, I lose my accuracy.
I don't subscribe to the mystical notion of genuine stones' effect on health or spirit, and the investment performance of a diamond (unless an exceptionally large, extremely fine, or rare stone) is not as stellar as the public believes.
So why not? There's no shame in CZs, as long as you don't end up with an overpriced, badly-made piece.
If you're craving a bit of glittery glamour, get your sim on and sparkle away. Just stay away from monster sizes, buy 'em loose, set them beautifully, and replace as needed.
These sites that sell high-end finished CZ jewelry and loose stones; useful to research before talking to your jeweler.
Better Than Diamonds, Asha Brand
MiaDonna (One jeweler posting in an online forum says these are also Asha CZs)
Loose CZs and custom cuts:
This company sells to both retail and wholesale customers.