Zircon, another of December’s official birthstones, can be described by a single word: sparkly. Zircon gets noticed. Zircon breaks up white light into its spectral colors – a property called “dispersion” – almost as well as diamond does. Anything that can compete with diamond’s optical properties deserves a shot as the centerpiece for a jewelry design in my book. When you can literally see flashes of color coming from a stone across the room – and it isn’t a diamond – that stone is probably a zircon.
Let me clarify one thing real quick: some people confuse zircon with cubic zirconia. They’re not the same thing. They’re two totally different minerals with different chemical makeups. Zircon is a naturally occurring mineral; cubic zirconia (CZ) is a man-made synthetic that does not occur anywhere in nature. CZ was debuted in 1976 as an inexpensive diamond simulant, and zircon has been getting a bad rap ever since.
Okay, back to jewelry. Of the December birthstones, zircon comes in the most colors. In fact, zircon comes in every color naturally (though some are super rare). The rarer natural colors, like the blue most people recognize, are induced in naturally brown stones by heat and irradiation treatments. If that thought turns you off, think of it like speeding up the earth’s natural processes. Reds, greens, blues, and purples all occur naturally through a combination of trace impurities and prolonged exposure to the earth’s natural radioactive emissions. If left alone and given sufficient time, all zircons will arguably progress through some or all of those colors.
Zircon is versatile from a design aspect. Even though zircon is December’s birthstone, certain colors remind me of other months or seasons. Blue and white zircon definitely make me think of wintery landscapes, but brown zircon, with its flashes of red and orange, look like October to me. The tone of some green zircon pops like Colombian emerald and reminds me of grass in May. Yellow zircon shines bright like the sun on an April morning. Natural reds from Tanzania range from cranberry to dusty rose, both of which are perfect for summer and winter months. Each color stirs a different memory, a different emotion, and the inspiration to create is never far behind.
Beautiful colors aside, I love stuff that has a story. I like building that story into my pieces. Zircon doesn’t have the romantic past some gems do, but that doesn’t mean it has no past. Zircon actually has a longer story to tell than any other gemstone, even diamonds.
While zircon has been appreciated as a gem since the Middle Ages, it goes back a little farther than that. Tiny crystal specimens of zircon from Australia are considered to date back almost to the very birth of our world. These crystals are so close to the beginning, they likely represent samples of the earliest crust of the Earth. That would make these zircon crystals the oldest isolated materials ever found. Some experts argue these crystals are actually older than the moon.
And zircon doesn’t fascinate only me. Zircon is so vast and varied and interesting that a pseudo-discipline of geology and mineralogy has been spawned in recent decades: zirconology. The study of zircon has aided such fields as stable and radiogenic isotopes, sedimentology, petrology, trace elements and experimental mineralogy. That’s a fancy way of saying your zircon jewelry kind of revolutionized the way science looks at geology. Sort of.
To me, zircon bridges the gap between art and science. Making beautiful, wearable jewelry always requires both. Utilizing zircon in jewelry creates a bit of poetic harmony because of how important the mineral is to science, and how beautiful the gemstone is to behold.