Honestly, I can't even remember how the subject came up. But it did. Synthetic moissanite. Seems that one of my compadres was asked to review a paper describing how to identify the stuff…
Moissanite certainly is an interesting bit of "product." First synthesized in the 1890's, until recently most of us knew it as silicon carbide (SiC). Yes, this stuff is harder than a just-jilted tax auditor, but the resemblance to diamond pretty much ends there. It tends towards green in anything beyond half a carat and this is not helped by fire that is double diamond's. But moissanite's biggest problem is quite simple. It is doubly refractive. And this is not just a slight blur in vision, but a full 43-point bum-stumbling drunken fog. If moissanite were entered in a cat show, it would be immediately disqualified due to a severe case of dog-breath.
I was along merely to document the occasion, to maintain the steady hand of sobriety on the wheel of discourse. Adult supervision, if you will.
Claim to maim
What do you say about a diamond simulant who's main claim to fame is its ability to fool a thermal conductivity tester? I realize the C3 boys may be new to the gem market, but how do we break it to them gently? Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but a pair of X chromosomes doesn't always gain you entry to the Miss Universe pageant.
Not that they haven't tried. I hear the manufacturer intends to promote moissanite not as a diamond substitute, but as a unique gemstone in its own right. That's… uh… interesting, along the lines of selling Kinko's-copied $100 bills as real money. Maybe not a growth industry, but hey, dammit, I try to keep an open mind.
Okay. Uncle already. I confess. Put away the bamboo slivers. I am guilty of a number-one case of skepticism when it comes to moissanite. I can still remember the glory days of the Kashan synthetic ruby in 1979–81, where it seemed that every other week we were reading about some newly discovered "natural" inclusion in the red roses of Texas. Alas, the world eventually discovered Kashan to be just as exciting a place as the small Nebraska town where my mother grew up. Just where is Kashan today? Repeat after me: Grant, Nebraska. Ever heard of it? I didn't think so.
That's… uh… interesting, something along the lines of selling Kinko's-copied $100 bills as money in their own right. Not exactly a growth industry, but hey, dammit, I try to keep an open mind.
Shine, shine, Roosevelt dime
Of course, C-3 tried to make moissanite shine. It shines all right, just like the $85 "chrome" plastic wheel cover that fell off my van on my last trip to Baja. Rather than simply trying to flog the rocks, the manufacturer has chosen to spend time time warning us about how tricky identification can be, how it will fool a thermal tester and how, under certain conditions, it can even fool specialized moissanite testers which – surprise, surprise – it also manufactures. Indeed, to hear C-3 tell it, moissanite is the slipperiest serpent to slither down the pike since Fidel Castro.
But back to Tucson. As you may recall, my friend was asked to review a paper on moissanite identification. Just one brief look left him in jaw-dropping awe. Why the string of Ph.D.'s attached would have put the Apollo project to shame. It was clear – this was some serious shit.
His reaction? Is this for real? "Yes," came the reply, the article will be more popular than the paper clip and would he mind taking a minute or thirty-three to review it. So he accepted, with these fatal words: "You want a moissanite paper? I'll give you one tomorrow."
Shortly after the cock crowed the next morn, an article was delivered. And quite a piece of work it was. The title page said it all:
Moissanite and It's Identification – A Treatise on the Same
Damn! This was double-deep doo-doo. It positively radiated vellum-bound, pipe-smoking, ivy-walled academic excellence.
Kind of great
We have now arrived at the point wordsmiths call the "build," where tension literally crackles and pops across the page. But before finishing this off, let us pause for reflection.
I don't know how many of you have listened to the Miles Davis album, Kind of Blue, but if you have, you'll understand. The liner notes find pianist Bill Evans talking about art and the unconscious pure action. Specifically, he describes a Japanese school of painting where the canvas consists of a thin piece of parchment stretched to the breaking point. Erasures or changes are impossible. There is no complexity. Only the most simple, bold, pure strokes are feasible, for to hesitate is to miss, to destroy the painting by ruining the line or breaking through the canvas. The music in Kind of Blue is of a similar nature, total improvisation, straight from the heart – bold – pure – magic.
When my friend told me of the contents of his paper, I had a similar experience, an epiphany with words – not unlike Miles running the voodoo down. Opening it to page one revealed the following sentence – alone – in magnificent harmony with space and time:
"Moissanite: It's doubly refractive, stupid!"
For those still in need of a moissanite tester, I've got one. I sell 'em cheap. Call me at 1-800-GET-A-LOUPE to pick up yours.
Published in GemKey Magazine (2000, Vol. 2, No. 4, May-June, p. 64, 107), this was installment #10 of my Digital Devil column. Alas, my friend's paper never appeared. The editor had a strict policy against five-word articles.
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