In 1893, a scientist named Henri Moissan discovered a clear hard substance on a meteorite in Arizona. He originally thought the crystals were diamonds but finally identified them as Silicon Carbide, chemical symbol SiC. The mineral was named Moissanite in his honor. Moissanite was believed to be found exclusively on meteorites but was later found in tiny deposits on Earth.
Tiny deposits? Yes, there is probably not enough natural Moissanite in the world to fill a gnat’s butthole. But science learned how to synthesize the mineral and soon the jewelry industry was using it as a diamond simulant. For some time during the 1980’s and 1990’s, unscrupulous merchants were marketing it as “the gem from space.” And they charged thousands for rings and other jewelry that used the simulated stone.
Simulated Moissanite was touted as having more “fire” than a real diamond and a hardness of 9.5 on the Mohs Scale. Since the latter measurement is exponential, like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, even the difference of .5 makes the stone a good deal more fragile than a diamond, although it is harder than a sapphire.
Fire in a gemstone refers to its ability to refract (bend) light. If there is more bending of light than a natural diamond, the stone must not be as clear as a natural diamond. Clarity is one of the four C’s, color, cut, clarity and carat weight, used to determine the quality of a diamond. Better clarity means a better diamond. Fire is rarely mentioned in the natural diamond world as jewelry experts realize greater fire means a lesser quality stone.
Back in the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s, some TV shopping networks were still touting Moissanite as “the gem from space,” even though it was (and is) artificially produced in a terrestrial factory.
I went to a jewelry store in Maryland back in 2000 because they had a sign outside that advertised them as “Maryland’s Exclusive Dealer for The Gem from Space.” They were selling a 1 carat Moissanite solitaire ring (carat weight is about the same as a diamond) for well over $2000.
They highlighted the stone’s greater fire than a natural diamond. As someone who has taken hundreds of hours of jewelry and gem courses, I was unimpressed. When I asked about the stone’s brilliance and scintillation (the measure of the sparkle of the stone at rest and in motion, respectively, they had no answer. Both factors are important when buying a natural diamond.
I didn’t purchase the ring, but started doing some research. I found there were two TV shopping channels at he time selling Moissanite jewelry at the same inflated prices I encountered at the jewelry store. Again, the “fire” word was mentioned repeatedly as the close up camera shots accentuated the rainbow effect. The prices were not that much less than natural diamonds, but, after all, it was “the gem from space.” Like the jewelry store, they danced around the “simulant” word.
Fast forward to today. Jewelry stores and some TV networks are still selling Moissanite jewelry. But the prices are substantially lower now. Plus they are fairly open about the fact that it’s a simulated stone. Still, if the prices are that much lower now, what will the resale values for Moissanite pieces be a few years down the road?
Remember Beanie Babies? That’s what I think about when I see a piece of Moissanite jewelry that’s selling for hundreds of dollars today. (At least it’s not still thousands.)
Oh yeah, caveat emptor!
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