Building a Cheaper ‘Moiss-Trap’

When the maker of synthetic moissanite reported a brisk demand for its detectors months before the diamond simulant ever hit the market, the race was on to build a cheaper moiss-trap – particularly since the maker, C3 Inc. of Morrisville, N.C., priced its units at $525.

Ceres Electronics, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., thermal tester manufacturer, has debuted its own moissanite spotter, which costs $349 but hasn’t been inspected by the Gemological Institute of America. (Ceres says it’s making arrangements for GIA to do so.) By this fall, Ceres plans to make available a combination diamond and moissanite detector that incorporates a thermal test.

Meanwhile, GIA itself may enter the detector derby – it has a “visual detection device” that it could market but so far hasn’t. “We’re not sure there is a market for it yet, so we’ve just got it on the back burner,” says GIA Gem Instruments CEO Harry Stubbert. “When we showed the device in Tucson, there wasn’t a lot of interest.”

Inventors hop on the bandwagon. What interest there is seems to come from self-styled inventors, who have flooded jewelers and pawnbrokers with offers for detectors.

R.B. Grammp, a Cleveland diamond dealer who has followed moissanite, has seen at least four other moissanite spotters – some with names like “The Moissketeer” – and he knows of several others in development. “Soon there may be more detectors than moissanite,” he says. But he claims that some of the detectors flat-out don’t work – especially those being offered to nervous pawnbrokers. “You have all sorts of unusual people coming out of the woodwork with detectors,” Grammp says.

Some of the detection methods are unusual, too. There’s “Dr. Hanneman’s Sic,” or secondary image candle – a $99 one-candle-power light that jewelers hold up to the stone to spot the telltale double image. (The name is a play on moissanite’s chemical name, silicon carbide.)

International Gemmological Institute in New York sells a $30 scratch test, basically a pencil topped by a substance harder than moissanite (hardness 9.25 on the Mohs scale) but not as hard as diamond (hardness 10, of course). The “Diamond I.D.-er,” a device sold primarily over the Internet, is said to take a similar approach.

The test doesn’t damage a diamond but could leave a nasty nick on moissanite – or on white sapphire or cubic zirconia. IGI’s Jerry Ehrenwald says scratching the girdle limits the damage, but he admits that even his own lab would never use such a device. “We would generally never recommend a destructive test,” he says, “but this is for people who don’t have the gemological training to do it any other way.”

Limited samples. C3 isn’t exactly happy about the mini-industry it helped spawn. Officials note that detector fever centers on a product that’s just beginning to trickle into the market, and manufacturers of just about all the testers are working with limited samples. Company president and CEO Jeff Hunter says that C3 has examined several testers and found that some work and some don’t. “We are concerned that some of them will not be able to accurately and consistently distinguish all varieties of moissanite because the other manufacturers have not had access to the range of colors that we have.”

Detectors needed? C3’s device has at least one glitch – it misidentifies a yellow diamond as “moissanite.” This isn’t a problem, since there is no yellow moissanite on the market yet. Otherwise the tester has received the blessing of scientists from GIA, who say that, for colorless stones at least, it works just fine.

It’s no wonder many jewelers feel stuck between a synthetic rock and a hard place. Do they shell out the bucks for C3’s proven model, or do they take a chance on a less expensive gadget, placing their faith in the manufacturer’s promises and reputation? Do they wait and see what GIA has to offer?

Or do they follow GIA’s recommendation and learn the gemology and perform the identification themselves? Many think the biggest irony of the current detector mania is that a machine may not be necessary. Moissanite is doubly refractive, and most jewelers can spot it easily once they get the hang of it. Problems arise only if the stone is small or the mounting encloses the pavilion side. Otherwise, James Shigley, GIA’s director of research, says, “The difference between moissanite and diamond is pretty evident if you are experienced at looking at diamonds.”

Don’t believe him? Ask Tim Crank, owner of Natural Creations, a retail store in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Crank recently identified a moissanite necklace brought in by a customer, even though he had never seen a piece before. “I had read what to look for, and it was pretty easy. If you sell diamonds and know what facet reflections look like under magnification, I don’t think you really need a device,” he says.

In the end, Shigley says, the device most jewelers need to detect moissanite is pretty simple – a loupe.

Identifying Moissanite

If you have a stone that could be moissanite, here’s how to confirm your suspicions:

  • Using a 10-power loupe, look for a doubling of the facet junctions. This is most evident when you look through the pavilion or crown facets; you are less likely to see it when looking directly through the table• Moissanite floats in specific gravity liquid 3.32; diamond sinks.

  • Moissanite has a grayish, greenish, or light yellowish appearance when compared with colorless diamonds.

  • Moissanite contains whitish-appearing, needle-like inclusions parallel to each other, but these can be difficult to see.

  • Moissanite does not fluoresce under ultraviolet light.

  • Moissanite does not respond to the standard means of detecting cubic zirconia, including using a thermal tester, turning the gemstone upside down so it can be read through, or breathing on it to “fog” it.

Companies selling moissanite detectors:

  • C3, P.O. Box 13533, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3533; (800) 210-GEMS. $525.

  • “Diamond I.D.-er,” P.O. Box 4635, Winter Park, FL 32793-4635; www.diamondid-er.com. $89.95.

  • Gemnostic Moiss-a-Test, 9801 S.W. 55th Court, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33328; (800) 719-9191, fax (305) 655-2996. $349 (Moissketeer 2000).

  • Gemological Institute of America, 5345 Armada Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008-4698, (800) 421-7250 or (760) 603-4000, fax (760) 603-4550, www.gia.edu. $47 (GIA Gem Instruments loupe).

  • Hanneman Gemological Instruments, P.O. Box 942, Poulsbo, WA 98370; (360) 598-4862, fax (360) 697-6067. $99.

  • International Gemmological Institute, 579 Fifth Ave., Suite 500, New York, NY 10017; (212) 753-7100. $29.95 (scratch test).

  • Sy Kessler Sales, 10455 Olympia Dr., Dallas, TX 75220; (214) 351-0380. $349 (Ceres detector).