When it comes to selecting a gemstone for a special piece of jewelry, diamonds have traditionally held the top spot. Their beauty, brilliance and durability have made them a popular choice for engagement, wedding and eternity rings.
But you may have heard of a new alternative to diamonds – moissanite. So what is it? How similar is it to a diamond? And what should you consider in deciding which is the better option for your most precious jewelry?
We’re going to answer all these questions and more, as we take a look at moissanite versus diamond. So read on to find out everything you need to know …
What is a diamond?
We might think we know what a diamond is – a white stone with exceptional brilliance. But a real diamond is much more than this.
It’s a form of pure carbon where the atoms are arranged in a three-dimensional cubic structure. The linear arrangement makes diamond the hardest substance known to humankind.
That means it’s a wonderful choice to adorn rings or bracelets. An accidental bump won’t dent or scratch the stone.
The weight of diamonds is measured in carats. Diamonds are also classified according to their clarity, color and cut. Each of these factors will be reflected in the price.
What is moissanite?
So much for the diamond. But what is this new kid on the block, moissanite?
Moissanite takes its name from the scientist who discovered it, Henri Moissan. Moissan was a brilliant chemist, winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1906 for his work with fluorine and his invention of the electric arc furnace.
Moissan discovered the stones that now bear in his name in the crater formed by a meteorite in Arizona. He made the discovery in 1893, and at first thought he had found diamonds. By 1904, however, he had correctly identified the stones as natural forms of silicon carbide.
Naturally occurring silicon carbide is, however, extremely rare.
Moissan himself experimented with producing artificial diamonds in his laboratory. But it wasn’t until 1922 that the company Cree managed to produce large moissanite crystals. The new method opened the door for the stones to be used in jewelry as an alternative to diamonds.
How can you tell the difference?
As we’ve seen, at a chemical level, diamonds and moissanite are completely different. One is a naturally occurring form of carbon. The other is silicon carbide and comes from a laboratory. But can you tell the difference between them by sight?
There are different views on this. For small stones, the truth is that most people will find it very difficult to distinguish between moissanite and diamond. But as the stones become larger, you are more likely to be able to tell them apart.
The differences are in both the color and the sparkle – often referred to as the “fire” – of the stones.
Moissanite vs. diamond – Difference in color
As natural stones, diamonds vary in color. Each stone is graded according to a lettered scale determined by the Gemological Institute of America.
The letters run from D through to Z. Stones graded D are colorless, those graded Z are a light yellow or brown. Most diamonds you’ll find in jewelry stores will be in the “colorless” and “near-colorless” part of the scale, graded from D to H. (Note, however, that the scale doesn’t apply to colored diamonds.)
You might be wondering why the color scale starts at D, rather than A. That’s because it replaced a number of different and competing scales. Some of these graded diamonds from multiple A ratings through to C. Starting at “D” allowed the new system to start afresh, without potential for confusion.
Early moissanite had a faint yellow or brown color, similar to diamonds graded J to M. It works best in yellow or rose gold jewelry.
But today, you can get moissanite to mimic diamonds throughout the color scale. Premium moissanite has a color similar to diamonds of around G or H grades. And Super Premium stones are almost colorless, falling between D and F.
But moissanite can take on different hues in different lighting conditions. Even a stone graded as colorless can have a yellow or brown tinge under certain lighting. That can be less appealing if you want your stone to be set in white gold or platinum.
Moissanite vs. diamond – Difference in sparkle
As well as the difference in color, moissanite and diamonds reflect light differently.
Diamonds interact with the light in three distinct ways. The first is that they reflect white light. The way the stone does this is referred to as its “brilliance”.
Secondly, when light hits a diamond, it is refracted through the crystalline structure. This splits the white light into its component parts, giving a rainbow effect. This is known as “dispersion”.
Finally, there’s the surface sparkle, known as “scintillation”. Together, these three reactions give a diamond its distinctive glitter.
Moissanite has a different faceting pattern to diamond, and this affects the play of light on the stone. It refracts the light much more readily than diamond, throwing off fiery flashes of rainbow color.
The effect is particularly pronounced in strong sunlight. Some people love it. For others, it may be a little too intense.
Moissanite vs. diamond – Difference in clarity
Diamonds are graded according to their clarity. Flaws are recorded on an 11-point scale.
At the top are flawless diamonds, graded F. These show no blemishes or inclusions under ten times magnification. They’re extremely rare and bear a premium price tag.
One step down is “internally flawless”, or IF. These diamonds show no inclusions under the same level of magnification. They’re also difficult to find and very expensive.
Stones graded VVS1 and VVS2 are “very, very slightly included”. These have inclusions, but they’re difficult to spot at ten times magnification, even for a professional appraiser.
VSI1 and VSI2 are the two grades for “very slightly included”. These inclusions can be seen with some effort at ten times magnification. And SI1 and SI2 are “slightly included”, meaning the inclusions are visible at ten times magnification.
Despite all these fine distinctions, diamonds of any of these grades will appear perfect to the naked eye. Diamonds graded I1, I2 and I3 have inclusions that are obvious at ten times magnification. These are the kind that can more obviously affect the brilliance and transparency of the diamond.
In contrast to this complex scale, moissanite is usually free of all but the most minor inclusions. So if you want the satisfaction of knowing you have a flawless stone, it’s much more achievable with moissanite.
Moissanite vs. diamond – Which is more durable?
So much for the visual differences between moissanite and diamond. But the two stones differ in other ways too.
We’ve already seen that the exceptional hardness of diamond makes it a great choice for jewelry. After all, most engagement and wedding rings will be worn every day. And sitting on your finger, a ring is particularly vulnerable to knocks.
But while diamond is the hardest substance on earth, moissanite is also very tough. The hardness of materials is measured in Mohs. Diamonds score a perfect 10 on the Mohs scale. But moissanite is not far behind, at 9.25 Mohs.
This makes moissanite another good choice for jewelry worn daily. You won’t have to worry about the surface of the stone becoming scratched with normal wear.
Moissanite vs. diamond – Which is more sustainable?
The impact of diamond mining on the populations of mining countries and the planet is a hot topic. It’s helped drive a boom in synthetic diamonds and moissanite, produced in laboratories.
Diamond miners have attempted to hit back, arguing that natural stones are actually more sustainable. So who’s right? Which is more sustainable, a natural diamond or a synthetic stone like moissanite?
The history of diamond mining certainly casts a dark shadow. “Blood diamonds” also known as “conflict diamonds”, have fueled the slaughter and oppression of thousands of people.
Much diamond mining in countries like Angola, Sierra Leone, the Congo and Liberia has relied on forced labor. And the price fetched by those diamonds has funded weapons of war.
The Kimberley Process aims to stop the flow of conflict diamonds into the market. Today, the World Diamond Council estimates that all but 1 percent of diamonds traded are conflict-free.
If you’re buying a diamond from a reputable dealer, therefore, you can be confident in its conflict-free status. But that’s not the only measure of sustainability. The question of the carbon impact of mining versus creating stones in a laboratory has also been hotly debated.
A 2019 report by the Diamond Producers Association argued that mining actually produced less carbon than the laboratory process. But critics were quick to point out that not all the factors influencing the carbon footprint of mining had been considered.
Exploration, for example, frequently involves building new roads in inaccessible areas. And poor mining practices can lead to soil erosion, water pollution and deforestation. The effects in one area of Angola were so severe that an entire community had to relocate.
But at the same time, such development can have positive impacts too. Mining can provide employment and income to poor communities. And the financial returns can support economic development at a national level.
There are also complexities when it comes to assessing the carbon impact of moissanite production. The electricity used to power the process comes in many cases from power stations run on carbon fuels. In China and India, for example, many power stations are still coal-fired.
But synthetic stones made in other locations may have a considerably smaller carbon footprint. The Diamond Foundry, for example, based in the US, claims to be the first carbon-neutral producer of synthetic diamonds.
So what does all this mean? Well, it’s difficult to be certain that either natural diamonds or moissanite are more sustainable. But whichever you prefer, you can select your stone to minimize its social and environmental impact.
Ask your jeweler whether your diamond is certified conflict-free. And ask where your moissanite has been produced, and whether it’s been produced using renewable power.
It’s likely they’ll find it harder to answer the second question than the first. But even asking those questions will show retailers the value of sourcing sustainable jewelry. The more of us who do it, the bigger impact it will have on methods of production.
Moissanite vs. diamond – What’s the difference in price?
Both moissanite and diamonds can vary significantly in price, depending on the characteristics of the stone.
For moissanite, price is determined by size and color. For diamonds, clarity and cut will also affect the price.
Ounce for ounce, though, moissanite is significantly less expensive than diamonds. That’s at heart because the stones can be produced on demand. There is a cost, but production can be increased very easily. That avoids the shortage of supply that would push up prices.
So how much more can you expect to pay for a diamond than moissanite? Well, for a stone of the same diameter, you can expect to pay between 25 and 40 percent more for a diamond. But if you’re hunting for a colorless diamond, or one that’s flawless, the difference can be much greater.
That does mean that diamonds are still considered the more desirable stone. But if you opt for moissanite, you’ll be able to get a much larger stone for your money.
Some jewelers also pair moissanite with natural diamonds. A larger moissanite as a centerpiece, for example, can be set off by smaller diamonds around it. That’s a good option for a real diamond ring that has the extra bling factor of a large stone.
Ready to choose between moissanite and diamond?
That brings us to the end of our round-up of everything you need to know about moissanite versus diamond! We hope it’s helped you decide which is the best option for you.
And if you’re still not sure, why not look for jewelry that combines both? Moissanite and diamonds work very well together, and rings with both are becoming easier to find. It’s a great way of getting the value of moissanite with the romance of natural diamonds!
But whichever gemstone you choose, we hope you love your new jewelry. Whether it’s diamond or moissanite, it will be a thing of beauty giving many years of pleasure.