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If you have been researching or shopping for diamonds online, the chances are you will have come across Moissanite at some point. There can be a little confusion over what Moissanite really is, and conflicting information about how it compares to a diamond.
This guide will outline the truth about Moissanite, including how and why it differs from a diamond when it comes to matters of creation, beauty and price.
The History of Moissanite
In 1893, while examining rock samples from a meteor crater in Canyon Diablo, Arizona, Henri Moissan discovered mineral moissanite. At first, Moissan believed the crystals to be diamonds, however in 1904 he identified the crystals as silicon carbide. Silicon carbide is a naturally occurring, rare mineral. Just two years before Moissan’s discovery, Edward G. Acheson had synthesized silicon carbide in his lab.
Silicon carbide (in its mineral form) was given the name Moissanite, in honour of the discovery the French chemist had made and his continued work on the properties of the mineral throughout his life.
Moissanite in its natural form is extremely rare; in fact, no other sources for moissanite than meteorites were discovered until the 1950’s, over 57 years later, when it was found in the Green River Formation in Wyoming. It has only been found in a small amount of rocks and even today discoveries are limited.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Moissanite was introduced to the jewelry market. Charles and Colvard received patents to create lab-grown silicon carbide gemstones that could be marketed and sold for jewelry purposes. Charles and Colvard continue to sell lab-grown moissanite jewelry, marketing it as a diamond alternative that eliminates the need for exploitative mining processes and is a more cost-efficient gemstone.
What is the Difference Between Diamonds and Moissanites?
The differences between diamonds and moissanites can be tricky to identify at a first glance, however with a little knowledge, you can clearly see the distinctions between the two gemstones. These differences fall into three main factors; optical properties, durability and price.
The advantage of lab-grown gemstones is that the desirable properties can, in some way, be controlled. For example, Moissanites are all listed as colorless. However, this is not fool proof. In fact, a huge percentage of moissanites have a greyish or yellowish hue. By contrast, a diamond that is listed as colorless will have a dazzling white color and be completely free from any brown, yellow or grey hues. As moissanites cannot be accurately characterized by their color it makes it very difficult to make the correct choices for your jewelry. You may find moissanite sellers categorizing their gemstones and charging different prices, however as there is no governing body or grading framework for moissanite, these colors are subjective and there are no guarantees. Generally, a Moissanite appears as about a K in color on the GIA grading scale, therefore anyone looking for a colorless or near colorless gemstone, moissanite would be unsuitable as a substitute for a diamond.
Another area where the differences between moissanite and diamonds becomes particularly evident, is when you examine the brilliance. Brilliance refers to the appearance of light refracted from within the gemstone. The brilliance of a moissanite presents itself very differently to a diamond as their faceting pattern is different. Moissanite gives off a large amount of fire and these rainbow colored flashes can be clearly seen under bright lights or sunlight. This is because moissanite has a refractive index from 2.65-2.69 which is higher than that of a diamond. The effect of this fiery rainbow effect divides opinion; while some people enjoy this optical effect, others find the overly brilliant moissanite to have a ‘disco ball’ appearance which is entirely different to the brilliance we see in a diamond. If your plan is to pass off a moissanite gemstone as a diamond, seeing this fiery rainbow in sunlight is likely to give the game away.
A diamond reflects light in three different ways; brilliance, fire and scintillation. White light being reflected back is the brilliance. Fire (also referred to as dispersion or dispersed light) which is the rainbow light seen in dimmer environments or when there are just a few small light sources present, for example a candlelit restaurant. The final way is known as scintillation. Scintillation is the intense sparkle or ‘blinking’ effect that can be seen when a diamond is moving. This effect demonstrates the importance of contrast within a diamond; the black spaces within the diamond create the blinking effect against the positive areas of white light. Scintillation is best observed in a floodlit setting or under office-style lighting.
The durability of minerals and gemstones is measured on the Mohs scale. It is measured by the materials ability to scratch a softer material. Moissanite receives a score of 9.5 on the Mohs scale; with this score, it is suitable for every day wear and engagement rings. However, it is still outranked by a diamond. The hardest, naturally occurring substance on earth, a diamond has a score of 10. This is just one of the reasons that diamonds have been coveted in fine jewelry for so long.
|Hardness||Substance or mineral|
|>10||Nanocrystalline diamond (hyperdiamond, ultrahard fullerite)|
|5||Apatite (tooth enamel)|
|2–2.5||Halite (rock salt)|
The price of a diamond is dictated by the Four C’s; carat weight, color, clarity and cut. Any one of these features can dramatically alter the beauty, and therefore the price, of any diamond. This is why it is essential that buyers choose diamonds which have been properly certified by internationally recognized gem laboratories such as the GIA and AGS. They create an industry wide standard for grading, making it easier to compare quality and price.
As no such governing body exists for Moissanite, the price of these gemstones is generally only affected by size and whether the Moissanite is enhanced or unenhanced. Moissanite is around 15% lighter than diamond, so a comparison using carat weight is inaccurate. Instead, the size of moissanite is calculated by its measurement in millimetres.
All of these factors make it difficult to compare the prices of diamonds and moissanites. In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges. The lack of quality grading for moissanite and the incredibly detailed grading for diamonds make it difficult to create a direct comparison. However, a rough guide can be given which will allow you some insight into price differences.
A 1.00ct diamond equates to a 6.5mm moissanite. I have used Charles and Colvard for moissanite prices as they are the most established moissanite vendors around.
This 6.5mm Charles and Colvard moissanite costs $599. It is a round brilliant cut and is categorized by Charles and Colvard as colorless (which would equate to a D, E or F grading by the GIA).
This 1.00ct round brilliant diamond by Blue Nile is GIA certified. It is an E in color, an SI1 in clarity and has an Ideal cut grading. It costs $5,173.
It is worth noting that Charles and Colvard have encountered issues when it comes to the color grading of their diamonds. As there is no standardized way of grading moissanite, they give boundary color gradings (in this case a D-F), and some customers have found them to be inaccurate. This is due to the natural hues of a moissanite which make a truly colorless stone impossible.
The chart below shows some more price comparisons:
|Size (in Carats)||Diamond Price||Size (closest equivalent to Carats)||Moissanite Price|
Once again, it is important to note that, like optical properties, comparisons of price between diamonds an moissanites is another ‘apples and oranges’ situation. There is undoubtedly a huge difference in price, but essentially these are two entirely different materials. One is a natural substance, taking thousands of years to form within the earth’s mantle. The other, is a lab-made substance. Their chemical compositions differ, as do their appearance and their price.
The FTC has recently issued a warning to Lab Grown Diamonds companies. With production increasing and prices falling a “race to the bottom” has started which has involved unethical marketing, learn more about this here.
Moissanite is often marketed as the eco-friendly alternative to a diamond as its lab creation avoids mining procedures therefore minimizing environmental impact. Over the years, diamonds have slowly begun to shake off their association with unethical procedures, however there is still a lack of clarity on the matter.
As a minimum, diamonds from respectable vendors will be part of the Kimberly Process; this initiative has successfully removed blood diamonds from the open market, and they now make up less than 1% of the total diamonds traded. In fact, many companies such as Whiteflash, James Allen and Blue Nile are part of diamond schemes who aim to make a positive impact upon the countries where they are mined. You can read more about Whiteflash’ social responsibility programmes here, Blue Nile’s here, and James Allen’s here.
There are positives and negatives on both sides of the argument and it is important to have an even view on ethical and social matters before making your choice. Moissanites undoubtedly have less of an environmental impact, however when undergone responsibly, the diamond mining process supports millions across the globe who are reliant upon the industry. Whiteflash further details the positive effects of the diamond industry in this article.
Is Moissanite the Same as a Diamond?
Perhaps you are still wondering, what’s the catch? If it looks like a diamond and performs like a diamond, surely it is the same as a diamond? This is simply not the case. Moissanite bears a similar appearance to a diamond, but there are distinct differences between the two, differences that even a novice can identify, particularly when the gemstones are placed side by side. Furthermore, the two do not perform the same. Moissanite has different optical properties and degrees of light return and although it gets a good score on the Mohs Scale, it does not have the same durability as a diamond.
From creation, to appearance, to durability and price, Moissanites should not be considered the same as diamonds. Instead, moissanite should be though of as a gemstone in its own right as opposed to a substitute for a diamond.
The Final Word
Unmistakably different (once you know what you are looking for), Moissanites and diamonds each have their own unique properties. We covet diamonds for the seemingly miraculously conditions which must come together for their creation, for the unique birthmarks that form within them and for the entirely unique sparkle that cannot be match by any other known substance on earth. Without more information developing on the quality gradings on moissanite, it is difficult to make many recommendations based on the best moissanite vendors.
Richard Jenkins, The Diamond Guru
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