Cubic Zirconia vs Diamond Engagement Rings: Everything You Should Know

When you start shopping for an engagement ring, online advertisers will besiege you with pitches for not only diamonds, but also cubic zirconias.

What is this much less expensive “CZ” stone? Is it really comparable to a diamond? Can you really save over 90% in the cost and still get a decent, acceptable, lovable stone that will make your beloved melt with delight, and impress her family and friends with your good taste?

Not so fast.

There may be reasons for some people to briefly consider cubic zirconias as a substitute for diamonds in an engagement ring. After all, what if they were truly comparable to diamonds?

But there are few reasons — not even affordability — for anyone to finally choose CZ over diamonds.

Cubic zirconias and diamonds may seem virtually identical to the untutored eye.

And I’ll say it: that includes the eyes of most men. Most of us carriers of the XY chromosome couldn’t comfortably bet $100 that we could tell the difference between a CZ and a diamond with a magnifying glass. They’re both about the same color. They both are pretty hard. They both have facets, and throw off the light in similar ways.

Why is one a few dollars on Amazon, and the other boasts a substantial price even at the competitive prices of James Allen?

This quick guide to the differences between cubic zirconias and diamonds will initiate you into the mysteries.

By the time you finish, you’ll be in a good position to make the best decision for you as a man.

That best choice — spoiler alert — is going to be diamonds.

But why? You need to know. You can’t just take someone’s word for it.

What is Cubic Zirconia?

A cubic zirconia is a manufactured stone which superficially resembles a diamond, but is judged by experts, including most women, to be inferior in quality, appearance, and value. 

Cubic zirconias are cooked up, figuratively and literally, in a laboratory from a melange of zirconium oxide powder, calcium, and magnesium.

You read that right: zirconium oxide power, calcium, and magnesium. So will your fiancee. She’ll read that when — not “if” — she Googles “What is a cubic zirconia?”

And that answer, “made in a lab from a mixture of zirconium oxide powder, calcium, and magnesium,” is not satisfying emotionally, for most people — men or women. There’s something clinical about it, especially when compared to how diamonds are created.

How are diamonds created? Famously, the stone which means “forever” is formed deep in the earth’s mantle, beneath the crust, from extreme pressure. Ninety miles below the surface of this planet, high pressure and temperatures act upon carbon present at the time of Earth’s formation to create diamonds.

That’s awesome.

That’s deep.

That’s emotionally meaningful — this stone on this ring was once deep inside the mantle of the earth, formed from carbon present from the time of Earth’s formation — a truly timeless gemstone.

Yes, some diamonds are created in labs these days. They’re known as cultured or engineered diamonds. Or by that good direct moniker man made. And yet they have this advantage: man-made diamonds are not made from a medical-sounding mixture of calcium, magnesium, and zirconium oxide, but rather by mimicking in the lab the conditions of the earth’s crust.

That’s still romantic. And in any case, you can easily choose mined diamonds, which originated deep in this planet on which you and your beloved live, and breathe, and love together.

Differences Between Cubic Zirconias and Diamonds for Engagement Rings

Questions about technical differences between cubic zirconias and diamonds multiply, once the compare-and-contrast starts.

So I’ll address the main technical differences here, even though what you’ll find at the end of this section is something surprising — which you knew all along.

First we’ll note well that diamonds are harder than cubic zirconias, boasting a perfect 10 on the Mohs scale while cubic zirconias come in at 8.0 to 8.5.

Note also that CZ stones are more easily scratched and damaged, and that they gets cloudy and need more frequent cleaning in order to maintain their brilliance.

You may also remember that CZ engagement stones are “flawless” — because they are manufactured to be flawless — whereas every individual diamond is set apart from every other diamond by its tiny “flaws.” (That’s rather like individual people, isn’t it? Which is one of the touching aspects of a diamond as a symbol of a relationship.)

Getting back to the sleep-inducing, eye-glazing technical differences: you may also observe that cubic zirconias have a dispersion level of 0.066, while diamonds’ dispersion levels are, as you may know, 0.044. This means, of course, that the CZ throws off the oft-remarked “CZ rainbow effect” which clearly broadcasts, “This is not a diamond. This is not a diamond Repeat: this is NOT a diamond.”

And what about the refractive index?

The cubic zirconia, that mixture of various powders including two from which medicines to combat post-menopausal osteoporosis are made (calcium and magnesium), has a refractive index of 2.15 to 2.18, whereas a diamond’s refractive index is higher at 2.24. And you already know that that makes diamonds look more brilliant.

But honestly?

These are for the textbooks.

None of the objective differences matter much to women hoping for, or to men shopping for, an engagement ring.

The diamonds come out ahead objectively. And subjectively, there is the unavoidable emotion of “Diamonds are forever.”

And that subjective judgment is overwhelming in our culture (and every other culture). Diamonds are better, objectively and subjectively. They’re more desirable, more emotionally meaningful, more symbolic of everything you and your fiancee hope for your marriage.

Can People Easily Tell the Difference Between Cubic Zirconias and Diamonds?

If you’re new to shopping for diamonds, and, as a result of the onslaught of advertising, considering a cubic zirconia as a substitute, then you may wonder, “Can people really tell the difference easily?”

And the answer is, among women especially, Yes, we can.

If you as a man shopping for diamonds for the first time can right now tell the difference in a gemstone with a refractive index of 2.15 and one with a refractive index of 2.24, then you’re either a jeweler or you’ve spent a lot of time studying this — much more than most.

But many women can tell. They can tell because it’s important to them. It’s important because it has emotional meaning. And make no mistake: it has emotional meaning to them not because they’re hoping for a CZ engagement rings, but for diamonds.

Bottom line: people will know the difference, even if you think they won’t. At least one friend or family member will have studied this in detail, and she makes a covert habit of inspecting every engagement ring which comes within eyesight. That one friend or family member will spot the CZ at a distance of forty paces. This is not the kind of knowledge people like to hide. They love to talk about it, and what they notice. And then of course everyone will know.

So yes. Your fiancee’s family and friends will know the difference.

If it fits your true values, and hers, to boldly buy a CZ and proclaim that, be aware of this reality: many people may see that as a rationalization. This is not necessarily a politically correct reality to acknowledge.

Of course not all will see it as a rationalization. Some quite logical, Spock-like minds will see it as admirable rational. But — and I say this gently — most people are not possessed of Spock-like minds. And rationality is a kind of opposite of emotion.

A diamond ring carries more emotion and more meaning than any simply rational choice. For that matter, if you’re being completely rational, why not skip the engagement ring altogether?

There’s a very good reason why we don’t skip the ring altogether: we want the emotion, the symbolism, the connection.

Diamonds do that better than cubic zirconia.

Plus, there are easy ways to make diamonds very affordable. Read on to find out how.

How Diamonds Can Actually be Affordable

For most people, real diamonds, however small, and however “flawed,” are much more authentic (literally and emotionally) and respectable than cubic zirconias.

The way to make diamonds affordable is to shop for a smaller diamond, and for a diamond with more flaws and “lower” quality.

It’s still a diamond.

Any diamond in any engagement ring merits respect automatically. No matter how small, no matter the quality, a diamond can’t honestly be disrespected.

On the other hand, and I say this gently, and only to the man who is in front of his decision, not behind it: cubic zirconias can sometimes require a little effort for people to respect.

Almost everyone, when they consider the value of love, and the beauty of a new committed relationship, can forget the lack of emotions around a cubic zirconia. Almost everyone can simply respect the choice of the couple.

And yet, that does require some effort, for most people. Good friends can do this, if they are practiced at that. People want you to feel ok about your choice. They will say whatever needs to be said.

But diamonds are deeply engrained in our culture as symbolic of love and commitment. Respecting them is effortless. In fact it’s hard not to feel respect for diamonds. They’re simply the right choice.

To test this, try a private word association game with yourself.

Imagine saying “diamonds” to virtually any woman. What words does she associate with the word “diamonds”?

Diamonds are … a girl’s best friend.

Diamond are … forever.

Diamonds are forever. Their carbon was present when the earth was formed.

Say “cubic zirconia” and the word association will not be “are forever.”

Cubic zirconia …I’ll leave that word association unfinished. For me, nothing comes to mind. Maybe fake. But maybe that’s just me.

You don’t have to settle for CZ.

Diamonds don’t have to be prohibitively expensive.

However small or of modest quality they may be, it’s a diamond.

Read on to see how to shop for a diamond on a budget.

How to shop for the best diamonds you can afford within your budget

When you walk into a jewelry store, you immediately come under the influence of a highly manipulative, artificial environment designed to get you to choose the most expensive ring you cannot even afford. The salesperson is dressed expensively, and has been selling — we are made to suppose — very expensive jewelry all day long to well-heeled customers. It’s easy to feel that you must pony up in order to preserve any scrap of your self-esteem before escaping terribly bloodied in your credit card account.

So don’t do that. Under no circumstances go into a brick and mortar jewelry store. It’s like walking into a hypnotist’s chamber. They planned hat entire experience as fishermen plan to catch and gut fish.

Instead, use an online retailer. Online, you have all the power because you have total market knowledge and choice at your fingertips.

We’ve vetted and selected these highly reputable online retailers of diamond engagement rings. You can trust them implicitly.

You can shop in the privacy of your own home, without any pressure, and with instant, full knowledge of the marketplace.

You can set your budget, comparison shop, and get the absolute best deal for the best diamond which fits your budget.

Online shopping also carries that invaluable benefit of being able to do the shopping over the course of a few days — so you’re not rushed into a bad decision. You can save selections to compare later. You can text links to your fiancee, if she’s helping to select it.

Diamonds don’t have to push you beyond your budget. Among the sales and deals at the reputable jewelers in this list, you’ll find the one that was meant for you.