September 14

Moissanite – an artificial rival of the diamond


There is a lot of it in deep space – in places. We also have a lot of “raw materials” for obtaining this compound, because moissanite is just silicon mixed with carbon. True, in order for the atoms of two non-metals to line up in orderly rows of the crystal lattice, they need to be thoroughly heated and thoroughly squeezed. Therefore, moissanite is formed in abundance in areas of intense energy release – where large-scale cosmic catastrophes occur.

However, the history of the solar system has so far been relatively calm, and there are few SiC molecules in our native interplanetary medium. Accordingly, it is negligible in the earth’s crust: the mineral, carried by individual meteorites, could not concentrate in significant deposits. In the form of crystals of a noticeable (at least in a microscope) size, moissanite stone is found only in meteorite craters and kimberlite pipes.

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Not without a scandal …

Ferdinand Henri Moissant, an ambitious French chemist at the turn of the-centuries, armed with a new heavy-duty saw and set off for America to look for new minerals, was not particularly lucky.

However, after sawing several samples of stone found in the area of ​​the fall of the Arizona meteorite, Moissan discovered traces of SiC and loudly announced the discovery of a new mineral. The international scientific community, wishing to please the future Nobel laureate, accepted the application for the discovery. This is how moissanite appeared in mineralogy.

Broad sections of the world scientific community considered the discovery to be dubious. The fact is that seventy years before Moissan, the famous Swedish chemist Jacob Berzelius created an artificial compound of silicon and carbon, gave the substance the name “silicon carbide”, studied its properties and recommended it to the industry as an excellent abrasive material.

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The saw that Moissan used to cut Arizona stones was coated with silicon carbide. So, there is nothing surprising in the fact that traces of the SiC compound were found in the samples under study. The real crystals of moissanite – dirty green to complete blackness, completely inconspicuous – were discovered only ten years after the American voyage of Moissan.

In general, the synonyms “silicon carbide” and “carborundum” with respect to the artificial mineral are widely used in industry, but scientists try to call SiC exclusively of natural origin “moissanite”.

Jewelers have their own pride

It happens, and often. Nobody suspected about the decorative and artistic potential of carborundum for 150 years. While in 1982, the American E.G. Achenson did not synthesize silicon carbide as a large defect-free crystal.

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There is no intention in such a long delay: technologies allowing the production of uncolored and transparent artificial moissanite appeared only at the end of the ΧΧ century.

Simple studies of the optical properties of a freshly grown crystal gave a stunning result: the refractive index of light in moissanite is a quarter higher than that of a diamond! Dispersion (the ability to produce colored flashes in the thickness of the stone) – two and a half times more than diamond!

They cut moissanite, took a photo – and understood: a mineral, even if it is artificial, surpasses a diamond in all respects! It would seem that a massive advertising campaign could bring artificial decoration to the champion of demand. But no: the complexity of production affected the cost of production.

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There is no commercial sense in making small crystals. And for large, excellent gem-quality moissanite, the price is set at as much as $ 500 per carat. (A semi-carat jewelry insert made of impeccable moissanite can be bought at half the rate).

Today this stone is produced by only one American company. And buying a high-quality moissanite is perhaps more difficult than a diamond …

By the way, about quality

With all its outstanding optical properties, moissanite is inferior to the beauty of a diamond. Firstly, we are accustomed to the brilliant play of light, and even more colorful highlights annoy us. Secondly, despite the successes of chemists, the moissanites produced today have a grayish-green hue, moreover, dull and “dusty”. Thirdly, the rays of light emitted by the diamond are bright, dazzling. Moissanite, on the other hand – and this is clearly visible in the advertising photos distributed by the manufacturer – produces not too dense flashes of a much darker tone.

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For a connoisseur of pristine beauty, such qualities of a stone are a sufficient reason for rejection. So, moissanite has not yet succeeded in overshadowing the natural diamond. However, there is considerable hope for technologists. If they manage to create varieties of silicon and carbon compounds, devoid of the listed disadvantages, moissanite will firmly reign on the throne of the king of precious stones.

Benefits of moissanite

For the sake of objectivity, it should be noted: moissanite is still much more promising than other imitations of diamonds. And cut diamonds themselves, in a purely practical sense, cannot be compared with moissanite.

Due to the special structure of the surface, the crystal of jewelry carborundum is not wetted with grease. If a diamond, conscientiously touched by an “expert” (there is a theory that natural diamonds are slippery to the touch, as if soaped) instantly loses its shine due to a grease print on the edges, then moissanite does not know such a problem. No fingerprints remain on it!

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Jewelry inserts made of moissanite are cut according to the strict canons of optical science – while natural diamonds, in order to preserve carats, are sometimes cut with considerable violations of the geometric symmetry of the product. Such inserts are not a marriage, nor are they works of cutting art.

When exposed to extremely strong heating, the diamond begins to burn. The heat resistance of moissanite is a thousand degrees higher than that of diamond. The platinum ring with moissanite will calmly survive the combustion cycle in the coal furnace and return to its owner intact!

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