Zircon come in an array of colour, and many varying shades. These include champagne and brown tones, yellow, orange, and red, along with rarer colours such as colourless, green and blue. Green is the rarest natural colour, along with blue.
Where are they mined?
Gem quality zircon is mined around the world, but most predominantly in Australia, Tanzania, China and Cambodia, with other countries such as Madagascar, Myanmar, Canada, the United States and Sri Lanka boasting mining operations. Different locations produce different coloured zircon; Australia produces plum coloured gems, while China is most well-known for its fiery red and orange stones. Zircon is often found alongside sapphire deposits, so most regions that yield sapphires will commonly also produce zircon.
Qualities to look for
Zircon gems should be eye clean, without any visible inclusions. Included stones will be lower in value than those that are clear. It’s important that the stone you choose has a high clarity, as zircon has a special double refraction, meaning you can see twice as many facets inside the cut stone, while also producing a brilliant sparkle.
The most valuable colours include blue, green, colourless and bright red. Heat treatment is a common procedure which results in the desirable rare blue, green and colourless varieties of zircon, and blue stones command the highest prices of any other colour. Large, gem quality zircon are rare, and zircon is denser than most gems, so the carat weight will be higher than similar sized stones.
How to wear
Heat treated zircon can be brittle, so care must be taken to avoid wearing down the sharp facets or chipping the girdle. Despite this, it is a fairly strong stone with a hardness 6-7.5/10 and is ideal for casual and everyday wear in most jewellery, especially naturally coloured zircon.
What makes them special?
Zircon is the birthstone for December.
Colourless zircon produces a similar flash of multicoloured light and sparkle as a diamond, and is often used as a diamond substitute.
During the Middle Ages zircon was believed to induce sound sleep, protect from evil spirits, and promote wealth, honour, and wisdom for its carrier.
The name spinel is thought to be derived from the Arabic word ‘Zargun’, which translates to ‘gold colour’, due to the stone’s commonly golden champagne tones.
Zircon in history
Zircon found in Australia dates back 4.4 billion years, making it the oldest mineral on earth.
The earliest written mention of zircon is in the Bible as one of the first twelve gems worn by the high priests of Israel.
During the 19th century, colourless zircon was extremely popular as an inexpensive diamond alternative.
Blue zircon was extremely fashionable during the 1880’s, and it featured heavily in English estate jewellery.