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Fabulous fakes for your true love

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend -- but the stone's sparkling substitute-sisters are increasingly "engaging."

Call them fabulous fakes, 'luxe look-alikes or sparkling simulants, but the fact is that the top diamond substitutes of cubic zirconia and moissanite are also lovely gemstones in their own right -- worthy contenders for that setting on an engagement ring. And, the price is right.

"Couples today seem to be favoring a practical approach," says Miriam Biddelman, a New York City couples counselor and psychotherapist in private practice.

"They tend not to want to be house-poor or car-poor in favor of an expensive ring. Whether it's the house, the car -- or a new plasma TV -- it's the functional things that seem to be the priorities.

"At any rate," she adds, "it's not the type or cost of a ring that will determine the longevity or happiness of a marriage."

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Be choosy, not chintzy
Norman Weinberg of Silver & Gold Man in New York has been a jeweler for three decades, custom-making his own pieces in addition to selling others. He's seen many a trend come and go. He says the diamond look-alikes are becoming more popular.

"The use of cubic zirconia and moissanite in engagement rings, as well as in other types of fine jewelry that have traditionally employed such precious stones as diamonds, is definitely a growing trend," observes Weinberg.

"Of course," he says, "diamonds have many attributes, including great beauty, tradition and heritage." They also have "resale value," he adds.

Nonetheless, such sparklers as cubic zirconia and moissanite also have many attributes -- not the least of which is less cost.

"A one-carat moissanite that might cost you $500 could set you back $6,000 if you opt for a diamond instead," points out Weinberg.

As for cubic zirconia, well, let's just say if you've got about $25 and up, you're in the game. Be careful, though. A poor-quality machine-cut CZ may have little more appeal than glass. But one that's been skillfully worked on by hand can dazzle with its fire and luster. And, unlike with diamonds, which require a trained jeweler and professional equipment to properly assess, with CZs, you can let your eyes be your guide.

The bottom line: There is no one-size-fits-all answer as to the best choice when deciding on an engagement ring stone. Your first choice doesn't have to be your "final answer" (as they say in TV quiz-land). Indeed, a jeweler may advise that you start out with a well-cut cubic zirconia, if that's what suits your taste and budget -- and save for a diamond that you get later, perhaps at an anniversary.

Here's some information to help guide your decision.

Diamond look-alikes or costume jewels?
Cubic zirconia, which is generally made of an amalgamation of zirconium oxide and yttrium oxide, can look fabulous for a few years -- but discoloring or clouding is a possibility. So is chipping. While CZs are a reasonably tough stone, scoring a respectable 8.5 on the Mohs scale (diamonds are hardest at a top-of-the-scale 10), wear and tear can take their toll. For this reason -- and for its price point -- CZs make an excellent starter stone, at the very least. Local jewelers, the Web and home-shopping programs provide plentiful sources.

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-- Updated: May 3, 2005
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See Also
Investing in gems for fun and profit
Diamond quiz
Gold: the glittery quiz
Sparkle plenty: a gemstone quiz
Frugal U. definitions
More Frugal U. stories

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