Zircon: From Gemstone to Pigment

Zircon gem in red

Photo by simplyyayimages.com

Zircon is a mineral compound composed of the elements zirconium and silicon. Zircon is commonly found in nearly every type of rock formations all around the world. Zircon has been used as a gemstone for millennia. Even though zircon comes in different colors but the most sought after is colorless zircon due to its close resemblance with diamonds, thanks to its fine dispersion and brightness.

Name and history of zircon

Zircon faces chronological injustice because most of people know it as an imitation element due it its extensive use as a low-cost diamond substitute in the beginning of the 20th century. However, the stone is naturally found in many different shades. Even the origination of the name ‘zircon’ indicates that the other colors of the mineral were equally popular in the past.

Name origin of zircon

There are two popular theories regarding the name origination of this mineral stone:

  • Some historians think that ‘zircon’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘zarkun’ which translates to vermilion or cinnabar, both represent different shades of red.
  • Other historians are of the thought that zircon is borrowed from the Persian word ‘zargun’ meaning gold colored.

With zircon’s natural occurrence in a wide variety of color shades, either of the name origination can be true.

A prized stone during medieval times

Different variants of zircons held an important place during the middle ages. People believed that these stones had the ability to repel evil spirits. Possessing zircon was associated with good fortunes and wisdom.  

Important ornamental stone of Victorian era

Zircon became widely popular during Victorian era. Many jewelry specimens of the time were fitted with rare blue variants of the gemstone. A famous gemologist of the time, George Kunz was known for his fondness of zircon. He even proposed the change in name of the stone to highlight its vivid characteristic.

Geology of the stone

Igneous rock formations that have undergone the process of metamorphism usually host zircon gemstone. They are also found as an accessory mineral in granite deposits. Most of this zircon goes unnoticed because its aggregate is present in very small size dispersed in a larger volume of the given ore.  

Gem-grade variety of zircon can be found in the soil and sedimentary rocks. Due to their high resistance to grazing and chemical reactions, they remain to keep their shape and structure even when the rock formation around them undergo erosion. Therefore, there are certain billion-year-old deposits of zircon as per their carbon dating. The bigger the cut of zircon, the better it would be to be used as a gemstone.

Gemstone zircon

Even in modern times, zircon gemstones are used in many jewelry items. Most of the famous choices of zircon gemstone are brown, red and yellow and treated variants of green and blue. We have already discussed that colorless zircons are used as the low-cost diamond substitutes. The other in-demand type of modern times is blue zircon.  

Perfect fit for pieces of jewelry

Due to its greater value of hardness on the Mohs scale (7.5) and good cleavage grading, it is suitable to be used in different ornamental items including earrings, brooches, rings, and bracelets. Jewelry items featuring zircon as the primary gemstone can last for many years without losing the sheen and magnificence of the stone.

Industrial and gem-grade mining of the stone

Since the use of zircon is not limited to the domain of jewelry and gems anymore. Industrial use of zircon has also been established with time. Mining of both types of grades is usually done in separate geological sites.  

Gem-grade

Gem-grade deposits of zircon are being mined for centuries from the alluvium deposits located in the far eastern countries of Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Sri Lanka is also famous for the mining of gem-grade zircon.  

Industrial-grade

Now more mining of the stone is done for the sake of its industrial uses. Australia tops the chart for mining zircon for its industrial uses. Brazil, China, and Kenya also have some noteworthy land and marine alluvial deposits of industrial-grade Zircon.

Due to its high-temperature resistant characteristic, zircon is used as a refractory lining that is installed inside furnaces and kilns. By converting zircon minerals into zirconium dioxide at extremely high temperatures, it gets into an amorphous form which is then used as a pigment in different industrial and manufacturing processes.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.