From its discovery in 1893 to its introduction to the jewelry market in 1998, moissanite has been steadily increasing in popularity and is accepted as, perhaps, the best substitute for a real diamond. But is it? What about cubic zirconia…and other natural stones, such as white sapphire, that are chosen as diamond substitutes?
Let’s look at this fascinating gemstone…but first, let’s do a quick refresher on the most well-known and economically important diamond substitute, cubic zirconia.
Cubic Zirconia vs. Moissanite
Cubic zirconia began with the 1937 discovery, by German minerologists, of naturally occuring cubic zirconia as microscopic grains associated with zircon. German and Soviet scientists wanted to create this material in a lab setting specifically for use as a diamond substitute in lasers and optical applications. Eventually, Soviet scientists perfected the technique for growing cubic zirconia in a lab and mass production began in 1977 for the jewelry market.
Naturally occurring cubic zirconia is extremely rare, so literally all cubic zirconia in jewelry has been made by humans. When first introduced, it went for about $250 per carat. Mass production brought it down to the point where it is roughly $2 per carat these days. With a hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale, it’s pretty hard, but not nearly as hard as a diamond and the least little bit of dirt or oil from your skin will dull its luster and shine. It has long been perhaps the most popular diamond substitute due to its convincing appearance, but its more recent competitor may have the upper hand now…
Naturally occuring moissanite was first discovered in 1893 in rock samples from a Canyon Diablo, Arizona meteor crater by Henry Moissan (hence the name). While originally believing the crystals to be diamonds, 11 years later he corrected his original statement and said the crystals were actually silicon carbide…which was ironic, as artificial silicon carbide had been lab-created only two years prior.
Moissanite, therefore, refers to both naturally occurring and lab-created silicon carbide.
As with cubic zirconia, naturally occurring silicon carbide is extremely rare, so all that you see in jewelry is made by humans. Moissanite was first introduced into the jewelry market by Charles and Colvard in 1998 when they became the first firm to create these gems in a lab and put them on the jewelry market.
Also, like cubic zirconia, when this gem gets a little dirt or fingerprints on it, the sparkle fades whereas diamonds are more resistant to dirt and oils. Nonetheless, moissanite is much more dirt and oil resistant than cubic zirconia and will maintain its luster and shine for much longer and need less cleaning.
Along with its beautiful shine and “rainbow flashes,” one of the most attractive characteristics of this gemstone is its durability. With a hardness of 9.5 (out of 10) on the Mohs scale, it is hard and ideal for everyday wear in engagement rings or other jewelry, compared to cubic zirconia’s hardness of 8, which makes it much more susceptible to damage from scratches and bumps.
In terms of value, moissanite, while considerably less expensive than diamonds, still maintain reasonable value whereas cubic zirconia is so cheap anymore that it is commonly and readily used in the costume jewelry market. It’s always a matter of personal preference, but if diamonds are out of your price range, it’s really hard to beat the beauty, sparkle, shine and value of moissanite. If you have questions about this or other gemstones and jewelry, stop by and see us, call us at (301) 574-4400 or ask us a question on our contact form.