Zircon History and Lore

Zircon ring
Zircon has a rich tradition as a gemstone and continues to be popular with designers. - Gift of Mary Armatis, Armatis Fine Design
Many people have heard of zircon but never seen it. This is mostly because of colourless zircon’s wide use as a diamond simulant in the early 1900s. It was long ago replaced in that role by more convincing look-alikes, but its name still means “imitation” to many people. That’s unfortunate because zircon is a beautiful coloured stone with its own fair share of folklore and charm.

In the Middle Ages, this gem was thought to induce sound sleep, drive away evil spirits and promote riches, honour and wisdom.

Many scholars think the stone’s name comes from the Arabic word zarkun, meaning “cinnabar” or “vermilion.” Others believe the source is the Persian word zargun, or “gold coloured.” Considering zircon’s colour range, either derivation seems possible.

Blue zircon was a particular favourite in Victorian times, when fine gems were often featured in English estate jewellery dating from the 1880s. Gemmologist George Kunz—Tiffany’s famed gem buyer—was a notable zircon advocate. He once proposed the name “starlite” to promote the gem’s fiery nature. The name never caught on.