Abstract In the first extensive, systematic study of inclusions in zircons from ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) and high-pressure (HP) metamorphic rocks of the Kokchetav Massif of Kazakhstan (separated from 232 rock samples from all representative lithologies and geographic regions), we identified graphite, quartz, garnet, phengite, phlogopite, rutile, albite, K-feldspar, amphibole, zoisite, kyanite, calcite, dolomite, apatite, monazite, omphacite and jadeite, as well as the diagnostic UHP metamorphic minerals (i.e. microdiamond and coesite) by laser Raman spectroscopy. In some instances, coesite + quartz and diamond + graphite occur together in a single rock sample, and inclusion aggregates also comprise polycrystalline diamond crystals overgrowing graphite. Secondary electron microscope and cathodoluminescence studies reveal that many zircons display distinct zonation textures, which comprise core and wide mantle, each with distinctive inclusion microassemblages. Pre-UHP metamorphic minerals such as graphite, quartz, phengite and apatite are common in the core, whereas diamond, coesite, garnet and jadeite occupy the mantle. The inclusions in core are irrelevant to the UHP metamorphism. The zircon core is of detrital or relatively low-grade metamorphic origin, whereas the mantle is of HP to UHP metamorphic origin. The zonal arrangement of inclusions and the presence of coesite and diamond without back-reaction imply that aqueous fluids were low to absent within the zircons during both prograde and retrograde metamorphism, and that the zircon preserves a prograde pressure–temperature record of the Kokchetav metamorphism which, elsewhere, has been more or less obliterated in the host rock.