Lab Created Diamonds vs. Moissanite - What's the Difference?
What fool’s gold is to gold, one might say Moissanite is to diamonds.
While pyrite (fake gold) crushed the dreams of gold prospectors in the days of the California gold rush, moissanite, so too, has deceived some of the most knowledgeable men into thinking they had discovered a real fortune.
That said, moissanite has managed to play a valuable role in history. In fact, one could argue that had it not been for the discovery of moissanite, the lab diamond may have never been created. But what exactly is Moissanite and how does it compare to a lab created diamond?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What Is Moissanite?
- What Is A Lab Created Diamond?
- What Is the Difference?
- The Difference in Durability
- The Difference in Clarity
- The Difference in Color
- The Difference in Sparkle/Fire
- Lab Created Diamonds or Moissanite: Which is better?
What is Moissanite?
Moissanite was first discovered in 1893 by Henri Moissan, a French chemist examining rock samples in a meteorite. Although he first thought he had found diamonds, he eventually identified the material as silicon carbide (SiC) in 1904.
Moissanite in its natural form is very rare. Until the 1950’s no source of moissanite other than meteorites, was known.
In fact, so scarce is the occurrence of moissanite in nature, that today all applications of moissanite are synthetic ones. In 1995, Cree developed a process for producing single crystals of moissanite. A master diamond cutter suggested its potential as a beautiful jewel to Charles and Colvard, and soon came the birth of synthetic moissanite.
Today, Charles and Colvard, in partnership with Cree are the exclusive makers of synthetic moissanite.
Like diamonds, silicon carbide relies on carbon bonds for its strength, and is the third hardest material known to man. Its physical and electrical properties make it one of the foremost semiconductors for high temperature and radiation resistant devices. It’s made into moissanite using a combination of heat and pressure.
The first step in producing Moissanite is to cut the silicon carbide crystals into preforms, or preliminary shaping’s of the stones. These preforms are then sent overseas to be hand cut and polished to create fire and brilliance.
The preform is then attached to a dop to aid in the grinding process. The dop holds the moissanite in place while the faceting machine spins around it to create the friction necessary to shape the stone. The faceting machines are made of aluminum or steel with diamond chips in them to cut and polish as they shape.
Here’s a video of that process:
Next, the lower portion, or pavilion, of the stone is formed through a grinding process, and the girdle (the part of the stone used for setting) is cut and polished. After it is removed from the dop, the lower part of the stone is reattached to the crown and returned to Charles and Couvard for a final inspection.
What are Lab Created Diamonds?
Since the discovery was made in 1797 that diamonds were made of carbon, man has made numerous attempts at recreating the process of natural diamond growth. Perhaps, the most celebrated one was conducted by Moissan himself in 1893. Since than others have followed suit, but it wasn’t until 1955 that General Electric employee Tracey Hall successfully produced the first lab created diamonds.
The idea behind lab created diamonds is to simulate the way the earth makes diamonds in a more efficient fashion.
Like the earth, lab created diamonds are made from carbon, exposed to extreme heat and highly pressurized conditions to achieve a crystal structure. The only difference is that the growth process of lab created diamonds occurs in a lab, while the growth process of natural diamonds occurs in the earth.
There are two ways of creating the lab created diamond: The HPHT (High Pressure/ High Temperature method, and the CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) method.
In the HPHT method, a press is used to create the proper amount of pressure and temperature.
The HPHT method begins by placing a diamond seed at the bottom of a cylindrical capsule, the carbon source at the top on the capsule, and a metal slug in the center, with pressures reaching between 50,000 and 70,000 atm. Heat ranging from 12,000 to 15,000 degrees is applied to the capsule using an electric current. When the pressure and temperature reach the ideal levels, the carbon from the top of the capsule dissolves into the metal which drips on the seed to form a diamond.
In the CVD method, more commonly used today, a diamond is produced from a hot mixture of hydrocarbon gas (usually methane) and hydrogen placed in a vacuum chamber at low pressure. Energy supplied by electric discharge or microwave energy is applied to the mixture causing the hydrogen to react with the methane, and the hydrogen is released, leaving behind pure carbon, a.k.a.: a diamond.
What is the Difference?
The first thing that needs to be clarified when comparing lab diamonds to moissanite is that neither are fake diamonds.
Lab created diamonds are diamonds grown in a lab, and moissanite is moissanite grown in a lab, which means that they’re really just two different rocks which happen to look alike.
Lab created diamonds are sourced from pure carbon, while moissanite is sourced from silicon carbide, which means lab diamonds are identical in chemical composition to real diamonds, whereas lab grown moissanite is identical in chemical composition to moissanite.
In addition, when naturally occurring, moissanite comes from the sky. The silicon carbide from which it is formed is most commonly in meteorites, or meteors that fall to the ground from outer space.
Diamonds, when naturally occurring, come from the earth. The carbon that eventually becomes diamonds forms first in the earth’s very deepest layers until a series of events and conditions occur to bring it to the surface.
In laymen’s terms, however, the difference is quite clear.
While the moissanite is a sturdy and attractive stone, it is just that. If you’re looking for a practical, low maintenance stone that will make an elegant statement, moissanite is a fine gemstone in its own right, but if you are looking for the real thing, the lab created diamond is it.
Difference in Durability
When we talk about the durability, or hardness of a gem, we are usually talking about the Moh’s Scale. The Moh’s scale is the scale used to measure the relative hardness of a mineral in terms of its resistance to scratching. The diamond sets the standard in this scale, receiving the golden status of a ten; confirming its definition as the “hardest material known to man.”
The lab diamond, having been grown under the same extreme conditions as a diamond, also earns this top-ranking notch. It is just as durable and resistant to scratches as the natural diamond.
Moissanite is extremely durable as well. In fact, with a Moh’s scale ranking of 9.25, it is second only to the diamond when it comes to toughness and endurance. It’s extremely resistant to chips and breakages and has an even higher heat resistance than the lab created diamond, making it excellent for usage in thermal conductivity in industrial applications.
However, while both of lab created diamond and moissanite come very close in durability, this distinction is just one of many that sets the moissanite apart from a real diamond.
Difference in Clarity
In gemologist terms, clarity in gems refers to the flaws or inclusions in gemstones. The GIA rates the clarity of gems on a scale from FL, or flawless to I or included with flawless gems being the highest in value and the most sought after. There are also VS ratings, indicating very slight inclusions, and S rating indicating slight inclusions.
With the extreme conditions a diamond is subjected to, the production of a flawless diamond is so rarely found, that it increases the stone’s worth exponentially. The same is true of a lab diamond. It is grown under identical conditions and the likelihood of flaws are equal to that of a natural diamond, even though it’s grown in a lab.
In the case of moissanite, every stone is produced to meet at least VS, or very slightly included standards. Moissanite flaws can only be seen with magnification; and are even hard to spot under a jeweler’s loupe. Less than 10 percent of diamonds actually achieve this level of clarity.
However, while you may be able to find a higher level of clarity in moissanite than in real diamonds, it is an artificial clarity. While flawlessness in a lab diamond is rare indeed, it is common in moissanite, making the flawless moissanite stone less valuable, while the flawless lab diamond is a rare and treasured creation.
Difference in Color
The GIA color scale grades diamonds on a scale from D-Z. It’s in this category in which the lab diamond’s superiority is most obvious.
On this scale, a D rating indicates a colorless of white stone. These are the most desirable. The white diamond is known for its large demand and high value. From there, the stones gradually become darker in color, with letters at the end of the alphabet reserved for stones with a light coloring. Z rated stones are often have a yellow tint or even a light brown tint.
When it comes to moissanite stones, few of them receive higher than a K rating on the GI color scale. Most agree that a smaller moissanite stone is preferable to a large moissanite stone for this very reason. They find that the smaller the stone, the less noticeable the tint. Under certain lights, moissanite can project a yellow or green hue, making it the less popular choice to the lab diamond.
While Charles and Couvard are working on ways to diminish the yellow appearance of Moissanite, the company has still only managed to produce E level moissanite, available at a higher price. Lab diamonds, like real diamonds, run the range of colors from D to Z, earning D ranking diamonds the high level of distinction they are known for.
Difference in Sparkle/ Fire
The sparkle and fire of a diamond refer to the amount of light the diamond reflects and the way it is reflected. The sparkle refers to the brilliance of a diamond, or clear light reflected, while the fire is related to the colored light the diamond reflects.
The fire of a diamond is also known as its dispersion. The diamond is cut to the ideal proportions for maximum dispersal, so it is able to reflect light to maximum fire and brilliance.
Clarity also effects the fire of a diamond; as a rule, the less clarity a stone exhibits, the less fire it is likely to produce.
Because the clarity of moissanite is produced to such a high level so too is its fire and brilliance. Moissanite weighs in with a 2.65 to a 2.69 on the refractive index (RI) and scores a 1.104 in fire dispersion.
The lab diamond, like the real diamond come in at an RI of 2.42 and rates a 0.044 in terms of fire dispersion, putting moissanite much closer to cubic zirconia than a real diamond in terms of fire and brilliance, while the lab created diamond is totally identical to a naturally occurring one.
Lab Created Diamonds or Moissanite: Which Is Better?
Not only are diamonds the most durable minerals on earth, they are also the most beautiful, and as a consequence, the most valuable. Their flaws and inclusions remind us of the extreme conditions they have survived, and make us appreciate them all the more, and the less inclusions they have, the more amazing they become.
Lab created diamonds are the same. They too are made from the same pure carbon that natural diamonds are and emerged in the same fashion. We appreciate them for their endurance and their ability to shine in spite of hardships.
While moissanite may look like a real diamond, it is not made from the same materials, and its properties differ from those of the real diamond. Its clarity is manufactured, its flawlessness is artificial, and the difference is visible.
While moissanite is a durable and beautiful stone, it’s no match for the natural or lab created diamond and doesn’t hold the same value or express the same sentiment. The moissanite is a solid choice for everyday wear, but it doesn’t compare to a real diamond, and that’s what a lab created diamond is.
Scientists have searched for ages to find a more efficient way to grow a diamond. They found moissanite in the past and didn’t settle for it then, and neither should you settle for it now.
They struggled for years to find a more efficient way to duplicate a real diamond and they have finally done it with lab created diamonds, and now we have the chance to take advantage of it. Buying moissanite is a wonderful choice, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. Lab created diamonds are the real thing.
After reading this article, what is your likelihood of buying moissanite? Do you think moissanite is a good alternative to a real diamond, or do you think the lab created diamond is a better choice? Which would you prefer to see in your engagement ring?