Diamond, Moissanite and Engagement Rings
As a chemist and microelectronics engineer I have always been interested in crystals of one kind or another. When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry synthesising new drugs and compounds that had never before seen the light of day we used crystallisation to purify them, and many of the crystals that we created were stunningly beautiful.
Before modern instruments made figuring out the structure of new compounds almost routine, many early German chemists were able to discover the complex structure of organic molecules just by studying their crystalline forms; so painstaking was their work that a whole lifetime might be spent figuring out just a handful of structures.
For a while I worked on high temperature electronics, which is electronics that work at temperatures at which most normal electronics would fry. To achieve this various exotic materials are used as an alternative to the usual semiconductors such as silicon, and two of those materials are diamond and silicon carbide.
Moissanite engagement ring
Created Diamond and Moissanite
Both of these materials appear in nature and can be created in laboratories and factories. While created diamond mainly is used for various process and devices, it is also possible to create diamond gemstones. Sometimes their quality is equivalent to natural diamonds. Silicon carbide occurs in many different forms (there are around 250 polymorphs) and is used in many different purposes; however there is one form of the material that has a strong resemblance to diamond. It is called moissanite and it was named after its discoverer Henri Moissan.
Meteor Crater Arizona
Discovery of Moissonite
The discovery of moissanite has an interesting history. Henri Moissan was a French Chemist who won the Nobel Prize for isolating fluorine. However in 1893 he discovered moissanite while he was examining fragments of the meteorite that created the mile wide Meteor Crater in the Arizona Desert. At first he thought that the tiny fiery crystals were diamonds, but then he found that they were silicon carbide. Subsequently moissanite has been found in other meteorites and in very small quantities in the Earth’s upper mantle rock; but the mineral exists only as tiny crystals, and is extremely rare.
Cree is a US electronics company that specialises in LEDs, and spent many years developing techniques for making pure silicon carbide crystals for use in LEDs, high temperature and high power electronics. They also developed a process for making moissanite which could be cut and polished just as diamonds are. The process was patented and today moissanite gemstones are produced and marketed exclusive by Charles & Colvard.
Created moissanite gemstones are remarkable in many ways. They are almost as hard as diamond, and they are as thermally conductive. Aesthetically they are also similar though moissanite sparkles even brighter than diamond and has more ‘fire’, fire being the property that creates the characteristic flashes of rainbow colours that is a characteristic of precious gemstones.
Diamond or Moissonite?
An important advantage of moissanite over diamond is that it is considerably less expensive. One of the more important jewellery purchases that many of we males ever make is buying engagement rings, and tradition has it that we spend one or two months’ salary on them; however little or much you earn that is a considerable amount of money. However moissanite engagement rings are considerably less expensive. As a comparison you might expect to pay around $4,000 for a good quality one carat diamond, but a top quality one carat moissanite gemstone would cost just $800.
Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” might not have quite the same ring if you substituted “Moissanites” for “Diamonds”; but the ring would sparkle just as brightly and you would save a considerable sum of money.