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Synthetic Cracks in the Diamond Cartel January 15, 2007

Posted by federalist in Uncategorized.
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Technology is finally threatening the DeBeers cartel for gem-grade diamonds.  Two U.S. manufacturers are ramping up production:

Last year, 400,000 carats were produced in the U.S. for gem use, compared with 130 million carats mined annually around the world.

To make its gems, Apollo Diamonds exposes shirt-button-sized diamond fragments known as seeds to carbon particles, which latch onto them under high temperatures. Diamonds then start to form, one crystal at a time. A look through the window of one of the lab’s submarine-like machines reveals two dozen glowing chips that will grow to be one carat in about two weeks. Apollo can now use its own stock of small diamond chips as seeds, rather than relying on seeds from mined diamonds.

In Sarasota, Fla., competitor Gemesis relies on high pressures to mimic what happens underground. Its machines essentially crush carbon under 58,000 atmospheres of pressure at 2,300-degrees Fahrenheit until the material crystallizes into yellowish or orange diamonds.

DeBeers is launching an aggressive yet amusing defense of “natural” diamond. 

It says on its diamond information Web site, adiamondisforever.com. “Adding to the mystery and aura of what make diamonds so sought-after” is the fact that “approximately 250 tons of ore must be mined and processed in order to produce a single, one-carat, polished, gem-quality diamond.”

You can’t blame them for trying to protect their cartel, but “diamond” is literally nothing more than crystallized carbon.  The fact that you have to devote such resources to find big carbon crystals in the ground seems like more of an indictment than an endorsement.  All you get with natural diamonds is impurities — and the most expensive natural diamonds (“investment grade,” as they used to be called) are the ones that minimize impurities, which interfere with sparkle and can also make a crystal more susceptible to fracturing.  In contrast, synthetic diamonds can be nearly perfect:

For example, because there’s virtually no nitrogen in Apollo’s stones, they tend to be more transparent in ultraviolet light than all but the rarest mined stones. Under more powerful, short-wave UV beams, they tend to emanate a strong blue to orange fluorescence.

In very rare cases natural impurities lead to brilliant colors in mined diamond, which have resulted in some of the most valued gems in the world.  Now that synthetic diamonds can be intentionally grown with impurities to produce color, mainstream jewelry should get both cheaper and more interesting.

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Comments»

1. federalist - January 15, 2007

DeBeers ad slogans that didn’t make the cut:

Mined diamond: As impure as your love for her.

Mined diamond — because she is sick of being asked, “Are those natural?”

2. federalist - January 24, 2007

The History Channel claims that 80% of mined diamond is used industrially — yet 80% of the industrial diamond market is served with synthetic diamond! So mined diamond is already a bit player.


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