Sunday, February 26, 2012

History of The Earth's 3 Most Famous Gems

To this day, people are still debating over the effectiveness of cubic zirconia as a diamond substitute. Did you know that aside from cubic zirconia, there is a diamond alternative called moissanite?

Statistics comparing hardness, refractive indexes and dispersion don’t seem to end any arguments; to most people they are merely numbers that don’t really solve anything. Perhaps if we knew more about the gems’ histories, we would have an easier time deciding how useful each gem actually is.

So let’s delve into the past of the diamond, the moissanite and the cubic zirconia stones:

1.       History of Diamonds
Naturally, no one can say with certainty when the very first diamond was discovered. However, one can say with confidence that the role they’ve come to play in our lives truly began in the 19th century, through man’s developing knowledge of technology and word of mouth. Our new-found methods to improve cut and polish while constructing a successful advertising campaign proved a recipe for success in a time when economy was going through a growth spurt. Before the 19th century, we have vague clues suggesting that diamonds had their place in religious belief systems and ancient tools, which can be traced back to 3,000 – 6,000 years ago. It also would seem that the Indian culture may have been the source of their origin; but no one can be certain.

Their main use throughout their known history has always been adornment, due to the attractive display that results from dispersing white light into spectral colors. After all, this stunning property is their main purpose.

Between 1772 – 1797 scientists conducted experiments that were able to determine the diamonds’ composition (which is made up of carbon) and other various properties. These natural diamonds can be found in 3 typical places: cratons (where diamonds crystallized at deep depths within the earth); meteorite impact craters (where diamonds were left as deposits from asteroid impacts and were most likely not formed post-crash) and volcanic pipes (whereby rocks and minerals are transported out by magma during a volcanic eruption).

2.       History of Moissanite
Typically named after Henri Moissan, who discovered this rare mineral in 1983, this diamond alternative was initially mistaken for an actual diamond. But nearly ten years after its discovery in the Canyon Diablo meteorite, Moissan learned that its crystals consisted of silicon carbide, disassociating it from the diamond’s immediate family. However, for nearly a century it was argued whether moissanite was the earth’s natural product or whether it was a result of human abrasive tools. This question was fuelled by the fact that there were so few locations where this mineral was ever discovered. Today’s assumption is that it is in fact one of nature’s beauties, as it was discovered as an inclusion in kimberlite in a Yakutia diamond mine back in 1959.

Their debut into the jewelry industry began somewhere around 1998, but the rarity of this mineral forced the hand of the industry and so the only moissanite stones on the market today are lab-grown. Interestingly, certain properties including hardness surpass the diamonds’, but the appearance is definitely distinctive, which is why it is considered a diamond alternative and not a simulant or substitute.

Their discovery as a natural form of zirconium oxide in 1982 seemed like a hopeful yet pointless end, until a Soviet scientist figured out how to grow zirconium in a laboratory. Thanks to the Russian Space Program, cubic zirconia resulted when trying to produce a stone with the same optical properties as rubies, as natural rubies were both scarce and yet essential to the development of the lasers used by the Space Program. Cubic zirconia was then formally introduced to the jewelry industry in 1977 as “djevalite” and truly found its popularity when Swarovski & Co. decided it was worth mass production.

More good news is that manufacturers are constantly searching for ways to improve cubic zirconia and make it as competitive a diamond substitute as possible. Cubic zirconia currently fails to sparkle quite as strongly as diamonds, but they flash more in terms of rainbow color, also known as “fire”. The contradiction is quite hard to fathom.

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