Moissanite - A Buyers Guide
If you're considering whether Moissanite might be an option over Diamond, this article is designed to give you the current 'lay of the land' as of Winter, 2013 to help get you up to speed on the tradeoffs involved.
First, a fast overview - Moissanite is composed of half silicon and half carbon atoms. Diamond is composed of effectively pure carbon. It is due to this compositional difference that Moissanite has additional brilliance and fire as compared to a diamond. Silicon is a larger atom than carbon and happens to manipulate light better, and hence we see the differences in the first statistics:
Diamond 'brilliance' = 2.42 vs. Moissanite 'brilliance' = 2.65
The potential for brilliance is termed 'refractive index' and that is what the above numbers are. Because Moissanite is inherently about 9% more brilliant, all things being equal, is why Moissanite can often 'outsparkle' even diamond.
Fire is when a gem splits incoming white light into various colors of the rainbow. Think of a prism with white light going in, multi-colors exiting. This occurs on the angled sides of the top half of the gem (crown) by the way, the brilliance or white light largely emanates out the table, or center top area.
Fire is measured as dispersion, and here is that comparison:
Diamond = .044 vs. Moissanite = .104
Here again, Moissanite wins with over twice the fire of diamond. Thus, at this point Moissanite takes an early lead with twice the fire of diamond and 9% more brilliance.
But, it's not all fun and glory so to speak because another important factor in any colorless gem...is it's ability to be be truly colorless.
Color in white diamonds is measured on a letter scale, starting with D (completely clear) and working it way down as more and more tinting is visible.
Thus, you have three clusters of color ranges:
D - E - F = Colorless (and most valued)
G - H - I - J = Near Colorless
K-L-M = Faint Tint (or Faint Color)
The purer the color, or in this case, the purer the lack of any color or tinting, the more valuable in the diamond world.
Diamonds are able to be truly transparent because they have a wide 'bandgap'. The electrons in their crystal are very tightly bound, so when light contacts them, they don't move much and therefore light passes through without being affected and it remains clear or transparent to the eye.
Moissanite as crystal cannot hold it's electrons as tightly, so when light hits it, there is some movement relatively speaking and so it is more prone to showing tints and that tinting will actually vary stone to stone and in different types of lighting.
We can measure this as a material property and compare:
Diamond 'Band Gap' = 5.5 vs. Moissanite = 3.0
That is for a 'perfect' crystal and of course most crystals aren't perfect at the atomic level - they have defects, broken or missing bonds, and they have impurities so there is variation stone to stone. But as you can see, diamonds inherently will have the edge in terms of being able to natively be 'whiter' than Moissanite due to having a much higher band gap overall.
Thus, you can purchase a colorless diamond (D,E,F color) but in Moissanite the color grade for center stone sizes (1ct+) is often J, K, L and sometimes even M. The typical diamond purchased is usually H color in the US, and so you can see that the average Moissanite falls below that. Thus, diamond has an edge here intrinsically.
The larger the Moissanite stone, typically the more visible the tinting and the tinting can be yellowish or it can sometimes be light greenish. The cut also has an impact - rounds are the most brilliant and so can better dilute any tinting with additional white light.
Fancy cuts such as radiant or pears can be a disappointment as they are often L-M and sometimes even N due to less brilliance and being deeper cuts. Basically, these are color grades you would not purchase in diamond unless you liked 'warmer' tinting.
The color tinting was one of the main reasons Moissanite never took off in terms of replacing diamond. Even though it was more brilliant and had more fire, the tint was too much for many, but that has changed.
In 2011, BetterThanDiamond had been doing work on lab grown diamonds and theorized that some of the diamond enhancement processes would work on Moissanite since they have some shared properties.
As a result, a permanent atomic level color improvement was achieved and the first H color Moissanite, or true near colorless Moissanite, was born. This became trademarked as 'Amora enhanced Moissanite' and new life was breathed into Moissanite as a diamond alternative.
Charles and Colvard, the producers of Moissanite, took notice and partnered with another lab to offer their own ehanced Moissanite, Forever Brilliant.
And thus, the market for what is known as 'enhanced Moissanite' came into being. For those who want a truer diamond replacement that can stand up with diamond in terms of typical color, enhanced Moissanite is what you'll want to consider.
Here are the basic tradeoffs between the two current enhanced Moissanite brands:
7.5mm round (1.5ct):
Amora enhanced Moissanite = H color
Forever Brilliant = J color
Both are near colorless, the Amora is two color grades higher in most cases and comes with an independent grading report to confirm the color.
In order to maximize a gems 'potential for brilliance' or as note earlier, the refractive index, the gem must be cut to optimal angles to help light bounce around internally and be reflected back to the viewer, rather than leak out the sides dimming the resulting view.
This is why a well cut diamond will outshine a poorly cut diamond- both have the same 'potential for brilliance' since they are atomically diamond, but optimal cutting must be done to develop it to it's full potential.
Within round cut diamonds, you have the typical range from Good cut (standard round brilliant), Ideal cut (optimal angles) and Hearts and Arrows cut (optimal angles & optimal symmetry and optimal facet proportions). A regular cut round might return 68% of the incoming light to the viewer, versus a Hearts and Arrows cut can return up to 98%.
Now, most diamonds are not cut to Hearts and Arrows standard due to cost so we'll stick with a regular round brilliant for comparison.
Moissanite is hand cut and when graded as a diamond, will usually be either 'Fair' or 'Good'. Charles and Colvard is the only one that can currently cut Moissanite due to their patent, and these are hand cut.
Thus, there is a variation stone to stone on how well they are cut, but Charles and Colvard does not screen or otherwise grade the resulting stones.
The Amora enhanced does pre-screen the stones for cutting because of this variation from hand cutting, and only accepts 'Good' grade cuts, so there is an intrinsic advantage beyond color for the enhanced Amora.
The other knock on the Moissanite cutting is that most cuts are done with very thin tops. Whether this was to save on total rough used or to try to cut down on the visible tinting, the result is the same in that when viewed from the side, a round cut Moissanite will appear flattish compared to a regular round cut diamond.
Charles and Colvard argues this helps to promote the total brilliance (by having flatter crown angles, less light is 'dispersed' via the crown exit and more exits as brilliance) but regardless, to a well-trained eye, the Moissanite may not come across in the exact same appearance as a diamond. The flat cutting can also cause the table facet reflection to appear as a circle reflection in the middle of the stone making it appear as though there is a small hole at the bottom of the Moissanite.
That said, most people will be hard pressed to really note the cutting difference in daily wear, especially with the additional brightness helping to cover up things.
So, an edge to diamond in cut, but not an outright win. If you can get a 'good' cut Moissanite, either by a pre-screened enhanced or picking through some unenhanced for cut, then you'll likely be happy.
Diamond is the hardest bulk material on the planet. Moissanite comes in at roughly third hardest (behind cubic Boron Nitride).
Regardless, both are extremely hard and the benefit is little concern over scratching during daily wear.
One interesting side effect of the Amora enhancement process is that it increases the hardness slightly, by about 1.5%. So a bit of a durability boost.
Chipping however, can be a risk with both diamond and Moissanite (though usually minor). Moissanite is tougher than diamond - it does not have 'cleavage planes' which are like seams where a hit in the wrong spot can cause the diamond to 'unzip' and cleanly fracture.
However, that benefit is diluted with the thin cutting as noted above. The thinner the edge of a gem, the less it's true strength is shown and the greater the risk of chipping. This is why a princess cut diamond, with very thin edged corners, is far more at risk of chipping than a round cut diamond with its thicker sides.
Thus, while Moissanite is technically tougher, it's current 'thin' cutting makes it a higher risk factor for possible chipping over time versus a typical diamond which is not as thinly cut.
The warranty from Charles and Colvard does not cover chipping though sometimes they will handle it regardless. For a round cut, the risk is likely less than 1% though over a lifetime,but it is a slight risk.
Diamond of course has no warranty either and it can and does chip...so overall, slight edge to diamond due to thicker cutting on average, but not much.
Moissanite wins this hands down, but lets take a look at the numbers for a 1.5ct round, in both enhanced and regular Moissanite compared to a typical diamond in similar color grades.
1.5ct Round Moissanite = $404 (online pricing) - assume K color with some screening, L color worst case
1.5ct Round Forever Brilliant = $699 (online pricing) - J color
1.5ct Round Natural Diamond = J color = $8,696
1.5ct Round Amora Moissanite = $730 (online pricing) - H color (with independent grading report)
1.5ct Round Natural Diamond = H color = $13,306
(Prices from BlueNile.com, Feb 22nd, 2013)
The short summary is Moissanite in enhanced form, can readily offer similar color but at 10% of the equivalent diamond pricing (or 90% savings), and with more brilliance and fire.
Big win for Moissanite in the cost department.
Lab grown white diamonds are a very scarce commodity in reality and their pricing is close to the equivalent mined diamond. The 'exception' is if you search online where you will find many sellers who take CZ and call it a 'lab grown diamond' for $200.(Hint: if you are paying less than $2,000/ct it's not a real lab grown diamond).
Thus, for the most part diamonds are mined from the Earth. This can have negative implications environmentally depending on how it is done. Issues surrounding blood diamonds (where diamonds were mined and sold to support various violent warlords) are largely a thing of the past,but human rights violations are still a valid concern in certain areas. However, diamonds also bring a lifeblood of funding and jobs to some parts of Africa as well, so it's a mixed bag though leaning towards overall economic benefit.
Moissanite, while naturally occurring in outer space and very deep in the Earths core, is present in only microscopic sizes. Thus, all Moissanite for gems is grown in lab, primarily by Cree in the US who then sells the rough wafers for cutting to Charles and Colvard.
As a result, Moissanite has no environmental issues and so edges out this category.
That is the fast overview of Moissanite versus diamond.
If you are after a true colorless gem (i.e. D/E/F color), then Moissanite will not work for you and you'll need to go with Diamond or wait for the upcoming Amora GEM (which is a whole different hub I'll write up later...google it for now if interested).
For those who are after a near colorless gem, then diamond or enhanced Moissanite is an option. Amora enhanced is whiter at H color, but is also harder to come by due to lower production levels, so Forever Brilliant provides a J color option in rounds.
The benefit in this color range is of course you can leverage the greater brilliance and fire of Moissanite while still being very competitive with diamond for color...and of course, coming out way ahead in terms of pricing.
Finally, if you like 'warm' colored gems, then a K or L color regular Moissanite especially in an antique cut like the OEC may be an option. Just look for one with yellow tinting since that mimics diamond - green tinting is something that diamonds simply don't do.
Modern cut Diamonds in this color grade are not common though so it's somewhat of it's own category specific to those who like the warmer tints.
As with most items, the best pricing is usually available online due to the lower overhead of those sellers versus having to maintain a retail store. And the enhanced Mossanites are more available online versus in local jewelers on average.
Hopefully this lets you hit the ground running in terms of understanding the pros and cons of both diamonds and Moissanite, and the next step is to home in on what you value the most within the different categories and then begin the actual selection process.
Best of luck!