Girls have a new best friend

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The bride was dazzling. As she walked down the aisle, wedding guests gawked.

But were they looking at her, or at the gigantic rock on her ring finger?

She preferred to think it was her beauty, for she knew in her heart that the splendiferous three-carat gem on her hand wasn’t really a diamond. But nobody else knew (except for the groom). So it didn’t matter that her carefully manicured finger held not a diamond, but a moissanite.

Yes, moissanite.

Heard of it?

If you haven’t, you’re not alone. People who own moissanite (MOY-san-ite) probably wouldn’t clue you in. And that can be a bit of a public relations problem for the people who sell it, since they won’t get the kind of invaluable publicity that’s generated only by word of mouth.

So retailers must advertise the heck out of moissanite, a manufactured gemstone that looks like a diamond and is nearly as hard as the most treasured gem in the world.

But moissanite stones are more brilliant and have more fire and luster – highly desirable qualities in a diamond – all at a tenth of the cost of the real thing.

The natural version of this gem with the hard-to-remember name was discovered in the late 1800s by a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Henri Moissan, who was analyzing samples from a meteor crater in Arizona when he discovered tiny amounts of the mineral. There was enough of the sparkly substance to get his discovery named after him, but not enough to create jewelry.

Nearly a century later, in the late 1980s, a North Carolina company, Charles & Colvard, developed a proprietary process for producing large crystals of the mineral from silicon and carbon. By the mid-’90s, the lab was creating moissanite gemstones, and Charles & Colvard is still the sole source of moissanite.

If your image of a diamond stand-in is that other well-known created gem, cubic zirconia, set it aside. Bryan Henning, owner of Classic Diamonds and Gold in Colorado Springs, Colo., and other jewelers familiar with moissanite said its comparisons to CZ are few. Henning can pick out a cubic zirconia by the way it refracts light – it’s not nearly as brilliant or fiery as moissanite. It’s also much softer than a diamond or moissanite, so it scratches and dulls easily.

But for decades, cubic zirconia has been the only substance that could mimic a diamond, except for the gaudy glass rhinestone.

Monte Nelsen, owner of Nelsen Brothers Jewelersin Colorado Springs, Colo., started in the jewelry business in 1989, and has been carrying moissanite alongside his other gems for nearly three years.

“I read about it in a trade magazine, and ordered some. I was impressed, started carrying it, and got a great response from my customers almost immediately,” Nelsen said.

He said moissanite’s remarkable mimicry of diamonds can be a negative, at least as far as a jeweler’s bottom line is concerned.

“It competes with diamonds, and definitely affects diamond sales,” he said.

Still, he realizes the value of moissanite and carries a wide assortment of the gems, which are much more impressive than diamonds in the cost-to-size ratio. A one-carat diamond can cost $4,500; a one-carat moissanite: $450.

And size is everything, at least now in the gemstone industry.

“I’m selling some moissanite right now to customers as replacements for engagement stones,” Nelsen said.

“Their engagement rings aren’t the size they had hoped for. With moissanite, they can have that one-carat or two-carat ring.”

But they’re not going to divulge their secret when they step outside the store, Nelsen said.

Nor do they need to, because few people are likely to question the authenticity of the fiery gem.

Moissanite has been known to fool even veteran jewelers. The only real difference is in the weight, Henning said.

“The specific gravity of moissanite is about 10 percent less than a diamond,” he said.

Engagement rings might be the most obvious use for moissanite, but Charles & Colvard this year began targeting another market for its gems: female jewelry shoppers, specifically the “pink collar achiever,” or upwardly mobile career woman who buys jewelry for herself.

Apparently, the company is on to something, because most moissanite customers at Nelsen’s and Henning’s stores fit that profile.

“The main customer is the career woman who’s interested in fashion jewelry,” Nelsen said.

But can the brilliance of moissanite compete with tradition? The National Jeweler’s latest consumer buying forecast showed that only 14 percent of consumers in the West would consider moissanite for an engagement ring. That number is highest in the South, where moissanite is made: 36 percent said they would consider buying the gem.

Nelsen and Henning said acceptance has been slow, but once people see moissanite next to diamonds, they are often impressed.

“People look at it as a fake diamond, but because of its fire and brilliance, it competes rather well,” Nelsen said.

But even if people buy the faux diamonds, that doesn’t mean they’ll tell their friends.

“It’s more like, “Tell my friends? Not on your life,’ ” Nelsen said.

Sparkle on

• Rinestone: An artificial stone made of hard glass and cut to look like a gem. One carat, starting at $3.

• Cubic zirconia: The cubic form of zirconium oxide; grown in the lab. One carat, about $100.

• Moissanite: Lab-created gemstone made of silicon and carbon. One carat, about $450.

• Diamond: A mineral made of carbon. One carat, about $4,500.

More about moissanite

• It’s made of silicon carbide, a mineral, in a laboratory.

• It has more brilliance, more fire, more luster than a diamond.

• It is lighter than a diamond.

• It costs about a tenth as much as a diamond for the same carat size.

• It won’t scratch.

• It is nearly as hard as a diamond. Diamonds register 10 on a standard scale used by jewelers. Moissanite registers 9.25, ahead of rubies and sapphires at 9 and emeralds at 7.5.

Source: Charles & Colvard, Classic Diamonds & Gold

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