Many people have heard of zircon but never seen it. This is mostly because of colorless 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 colored 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, honor, 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 colored.” Considering zircon’s color range, either derivation seems possible.
Blue zircon was a particular favorite in Victorian times, when fine gems were often featured in English estate jewelry dating from the 1880s. Gemologist 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.