Professional Jeweler Archive: Zircon's Zest

May 2000

Gemstones & Pearls: News

Zircon's Zest

The classic's popularity is gaining momentum

Blue zircon could become a hot gem this year, thanks to improved availability and low prices.

Omi Nagpal of Omi Gems Inc., Los Angeles, CA, is already selling more of it than ever before. The same is true for Simon Watt of Mayer & Watt, Maysville, KY. “I sell every single piece I can get my hands on,” he says. “For the money, where can you get a stone like this?”

The success stories aren’t hard to believe. Zircon’s high refractive index gives it unparalleled dispersion. In fact, Nagpal’s collection gleams from his showcase like diamonds. In addition, prices are often well below $100 per carat wholesale for top quality 3-5-ct. gems and under $50 per carat for good quality 3-5-ct. gems.

But even though sales of blue zircon at the Tucson gem and mineral shows this year and for dealers are strong, dealers say blue zircon is still a “sleeper.” They’re waiting for the rest of the jewelry world to wake up.

A Thing or Two about Zircon

Zircon shares a few crucial traits with tanzanite. Both are heated to achieve their color and both are relatively soft. On the Mohs hardness scale, zircon (7-7.5) compares favorably with softer gems such as tanzanite (6-6.5) and apatite (5).

However, zircon is brittle, especially after heating. Because friction can abrade crisp facet edges, zircon should always be shown in individual stone papers and set in jewelry that will protect the edges.

Gemological texts say heat-treated zircon can fade when exposed to light. “But I’ve never seen it fade,” says Nagpal. Other dealers agree the color appears stable, even when shown in brightly lighted showcases.

Zircon’s potential problems aren’t insurmountable. “A lot of gem cutters and setters learned how to handle and design jewelry for more fragile gems when working with tanzanite,” says one dealer. “Cutting and caring for zircon is an easy transition.”

Poised to Move

Besides blue, zircon can be colorless, red, green, yellow, orange, green or brown. Green zircons often have a natural radioactive component and should not be worn every day. Zircon of any color is desirable because it’s usually found in relatively clean crystals and in large sizes. Zircons well over 5 carats are common.

For a gemstone such as zircon to enter the mainstream in finished jewelry, a constant supply of rough for fine single stones and uniform, calibrated collections is crucial. That supply is available today. Most zircon comes from Southeast Asia, primarily Cambodia. In the past few months more blue zircon than ever has made its way to Thailand, where it’s fashioned and released onto the market. Zircon has always been found in the search for sapphire and is collected in traditional sapphire localities such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the African continent, Vietnam and Cambodia. New finds in Madagascar should help boost supplies.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Blue zircons from Cambodia have brilliant dispersion and vivid color and are increasingly available at a moderate price. Courtesy of Omi Gems Inc., Los Angeles, CA; (800) 666-4533.
Zircon comes in a variety of colors. Courtesy of Bear Essentials, Jefferson City, MO; (800) 753-4367.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications