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Cambodian Zircon

The mining news about Cambodian blue zircon is good and bad. The good news: availability remains the same. The bad news: availability remains the same.

Sorry, folks, but the best supply-side news about this zirconium silicate never seems good enough, especially at times like these when demand-side prospects for this gem are so promising. Just ask zircon devotees like Omi Nagpal, Omi Gems, Los Angeles, who are always on the lookout for stones with the deep, distinctive aftershave greenish-blues on which this gem’s reputation largely rests. Nagpal is searching hard for fine blue zircon as more designers and custom jewelers take a first or a fresh look at the gem that serves as the December birthstone choice. Why the surge of interest? Nagpal believes blue zircon is gaining attention thanks to the strong revival of pastel-blue stones like aquamarine as well as the sharp increases in prices of tanzanite.

Among aqua-types, blue zircon strikes us as the clear preference from a standpoint of looks and value. Zircon is a bargain-lover’s dream: a genuine rarity and a real steal. Nagpal showed us calibrated rounds whose blue blazed in a way that made one think of diamond—yet without the brilliance of the stones robbing them of color.

So why isn’t zircon more widely appreciated?

Spotty supply can’t take the rap for this gem’s lackluster reputation. Despite beauty and affordability, zircon is not without faults. Thankfully, they are small ones.

Brittle beauty

Deep-blue zircon is never plentiful because it is a one-source gem found mostly—some say only—in northwestern Cambodia at Rattanakiri some 40 kilometers from the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. True, zircon is also found in Sri Lanka, but its blues don’t have the bite and bounce of Southeast Asian stones. Indeed, Sri Lanka is known for zircon colors other than blue.

Zircon, like tanzanite, must be heated to attain the color for which it is prized. Since most Cambodian material winds up in Bangkok, it benefits from decades of Thai furnace finesse. One can’t help but wonder what might happen if Sri Lanka were to develop color-craft technology on a par with Thailand. Would the industry start to see better-grade blue zircon coming from that gem-rich country as well?

In any case, when used properly, oven alchemy turns blue-able zircons from reddish, orangy, and yellowish-browns to magnificent stable shades of a color that Nagpal describes as “menthol with a hint of mint.” “There’s always some green in the stone,” he continues, “but you wouldn’t call it a green gem.” He’s right. It’s blue. How ironic, then, that a gem most people now think of as blue—thanks to heating—derives its name from an Arabic color word zargoon meaning vermilion.

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Cambodian Zircon