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moissaniteMoissanite.  Image by the Charles and Colvard Company. http://www.moissanite.com/

Today I decided to skip ahead to the stone originally planned for this week, and it is an interesting little local gem for me.

In 1893, the French scientist, Henri Moissan, discovered a new mineral in the fragments of a meteorite from Arizona.  The crystals were a form of silicon carbide, and in 1905 the stone was named “Moissanite” in his honor (though Moissan actually credited the original discovery to Edward Acheson, an American inventor who created it accidentally in 1891).  People struggled to synthesize the mineral over the next century, because nearly all of the natural material arrived as those same microscopic shards from space.  It proved tricky as silicon and carbon can combine in a hundred different ways based on the heat and conditions, but several formulas were developed.  Three scientists from my alma mater of NC State University discovered the technique of making silicon carbide for electronics in 1987.  Today, silicon carbide is everywhere, including the brake pads of expensive cars, skateboard grips, telescope mirrors, furnaces, rocket engines, and bullet-proof vests, due to it being nearly as hard as diamond (9-9.5 Mohs), and having a higher refractive index.

The first clear, gem grade material was produced in 1995 and is used as a diamond simulant, actually surpassing diamond in its brilliance and fire.  Moissanite has been made famous by the Charles and Colvard Company, which is actually a couple of miles down the road from my apartment in Morrisville, North Carolina.  Hold a cut moissanite in your hand and you will be amazed at how sparkly it is.  Add in their affordability and the fact that you don’t have to worry about unethical mining practices, and you can see why moissanite is a popular alternative to diamond.  It even comes in colors!