This many go down in history as the age of fakery--at least where jewelry is concerned. Some of today's most flashy pieces are not the real thing, but are made of cubic zirconia, known in the trade as CZs and sold under at least 25 trade names.
And while they may be diamond look-alikes, they are frequently set in the real thing: gold or silver. Furthermore, their intrinsic value often lies in the quality of design.
They're often set alongside other look-alike materials that are gaining favor in jewelry boutiques.
About 200 million carats of CZ gemstones are produced yearly, according to Michael Lynch, general manager of Ceres Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of CZs in the world.
Why this rage for fakes? Simply stated, they are less expensive. A pair of cubic zirconia studs might sell for $35 to $50, while diamond studs, depending upon size and quality, could cost at least four times that amount.
Also, insurance rates are high for precious stones, and there is often a concern for safety. This has induced many jewelry fanciers to have their most expensive pieces duplicated for wearing in public, leaving the real things tucked in a safe-deposit box or other storage area for safekeeping.
Not all fakery goes unnoticed. Some jewelers point out that excessive sparkle frequently is the giveaway that CZs are not diamonds, but, they say, some are so diamond-like that a heat test is necessary to tell them from the real thing.
Here are a few boutique/jewelry firms--some of which offer the "real thing" in precious stones as well as the look-alike stones set in designs that make jewelry an art. In either case, with many of the finer designs--or even the trendy baubles--you're likely to cash in a few compliments.
Amen Wardy--66 Fashion Island, Newport Beach, (714) 720-0255. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Features specially designed Wardy jewelry and jeweled accessories to complement clothes sold in his salon. Also offers costume-jewelry collection from all parts of the world. CZ copies of unusual pendants, necklaces, earrings, rings. Priced $70 to $2,000.
Ciro--9620 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 271-4006. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. This British-based company has been on Wilshire Boulevard at the same address for 50 years. It is known for its copies of real jewelry and well-designed costume pieces. Some CZ rings, bracelets and other pieces are set in 14-karat gold. Synthetic stones (including sapphires and rubies) are set in sterling silver. Some gold watches are ringed with imitation stones. Prices for pieces set in gold from $250 to $1,500.
Contagious--14512 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 789-4659. Open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sundays noon-6 p.m., Mondays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. This shop doesn't handle cubic zirconia, but offers many designs in synthetic stones. Co-owner Diane Wagner says: "We use some well-known and many lesser-known designers to enable us to offer a wide variety of unusual and one-of-a-kind pieces." Boutique has more than 3,000 pairs of earrings in glass, rhinestones and mixed stones with metal. Their goal is to offer fashion jewelry at affordable prices. Price range is $5 to $400.
William Jeffrey Designs--8818 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (213) 271-3863. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Store displays Regency Hall Joailliers Ltd. designs, which feature state-of-the-art synthetics mounted in 18-karat gold (also available in silver at Elizabeth Arden Salon, Beverly Hills). One popular item is called the Chalmer's necklace. It's made of CZs with a sapphire cluster in the center; the center stones can be unscrewed and replaced with look-alike stones such as emeralds and rubies. Clusters can also be unclasped, so an item can be worn as a single strand. Jody Jeffrey applies this same "unscrew and switch" technique to other necklaces and earrings. A customer's fine jewelry can also be duplicated here. Prices are $35 to $5,000.
Millie Jewelry Boutique--1023 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (213) 451-4043. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays noon-5 p.m. Many jewelry selections are original designer pieces, and there are choices of Austrian crystal, as well as rhinestones and faux pearls. One series is of sterling silver and features abstract space people and scenes. Ivory also is available. Owner Millie Green designs many pieces. Earrings $15 to $200; necklaces $35 to $450.