The Properties of Zircon Crystals and Gemstones
Zircon belongs to the family of semi precious stones, and indeed, apart from being popular in jewelry production, it is very valuable to the stone lovers and mineral collectors as well. There is, however, one common misconception regarding this gemstone. Unfortunately, people are often not aware of the existence of zircon crystals and stones. They often confuse zircon with another type of stone – cubic zirconia, which is a synthetic substitute for diamond.
Cubic zirconia is an oxide of zirconium (while you probably know that zirconium is chemical element with symbol Zr). The chemical formula of cubic zirconia ZrO2. On the other hand, zircon is a silicate mineral of zirconium, with chemical formula ZrSiO4. Zirconium is a comparatively heavy chemical element, and this classifies zircon among the heaviest precious stones out there in the mineral kingdom.
Zircon is a relatively hard stone, with hardness on the Mohs scale of 7.5. In spite of this fact, zircon crystals are delicate, as they possess strains and dislocations within their crystal lattice which can make them crack easily. Zircon has been found mostly in the eruptive rocks, but also inside some metamorphic rock. Notable occurrences are in Thailand and Vietnam. Bangkok is one of the notable centers for zircons of gemstone quality. Such specimens are required to possess clarity and shine for jewelry production, and they are not so common. One can find them in special matrix stone cavities or in enclosed space within some volcanic rocks. Sri Lanka is known to be the second best source of zircon.
Having said that exceptional zircon crystals are rare, the most frequent are red and orange ones, but this semi precious stone can also have any color from white to brown, especially if color changing impurities are present in the crystal lattice. When not perfect, they can be purchased for relatively small amount of money. Still they can be very much magnetic. The zircons have been highly valued by the Arabs in the past, as immortalized in the celebrated Thousand and One Nights. The very name stems from the Arabic expressions for gold and color.
In jewelry, zircon is very often used to replace other stones and gems. Especially intense blue specimens of zircon are highly valued. Thermal treatment is also used frequently to produce the desired color. Due to its high refractive index, which almost matches that of diamond, zircon is very often used as an imitation of the most precious of all stones. The refractive index is a measure of how much of the light that falls on the surface of a gemstone is reflected back into the eyes of the observers. The higher this parameter, the more attractive the lighting effects and color play of the gemstone is.
In healing and spiritual practices, it has been used as a symbol of purity. In the past it was believed to possess magical abilities in fighting negative influences and evil spirits. Zircon crystals are also amongst the special 10 types of gems present on the mythological Kalpa Hindu tree of life.
The great diversity of zircon crystals, their relative rareness, and comparatively low prices are the major elements that put this wondrous stone so high on the list of favorite gems of countless mineral collectors.
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