Cultured Diamonds

By Deane Barker on March 4, 2005

The New Diamond Age: This was a great feature in Wired magazine about 18 months ago. It details the current state of the precious gem market, and how diamonds can now be made for less than they can be mined.

“These are cubic zirconium?” Weingarten says without much hope.

“No, they’re real,” I tell him. “But they were made by a machine in Florida for less than a hundred dollars.”

Weingarten shifts uncomfortably in his chair and stares at the glittering gems on his dining room table. “Unless they can be detected,” he says, “these stones will bankrupt the industry.”

What’s going to lead to the downfall of the natural diamond, apparently, is the need for them in industrial applications, and the need for them to be even more pure than what gets pulled out of the ground.

Diamond, it turns out, is a geek’s best friend. Not only is it the hardest substance known, it also has the highest thermal conductivity — tremendous heat can pass through it without causing damage. Today’s speedy microprocessors run hot — at upwards of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, they can’t go much faster without failing. Diamond microchips, on the other hand, could handle much higher temperatures, allowing them to run at speeds that would liquefy ordinary silicon.

De Beers, the diamond monopoly, it apparently pretty freaked out about the whole thing. They have a machine called DiamondView (no, not the Mitsubishi line of monitors) that can detect “cultured” diamonds (people who don’t like the idea of non-natural diamonds call them “synthetic”).

These machines, however, are having to get more and more accurate, because the manufactured diamonds are getting more and more difficult to differentiate from the real thing. (How can you tell a real one? Flaws, or “inclusions,” that could only come from nature. The manufactured diamonds are almost flawless.)

Note that the article is not refering to cubic zirconia or Diamonique or anything. These are real diamonds, made in the same way as nature makes them — just over the course of three days rather than three million years. Think you’ll never buy one? Read this article.

Recently, on ABC’s Good Morning America, viewers were jolted awake when experts concurred live on TV that a regular jeweller’s chances of spotting cultured diamonds amounted to “zero”.

I find it hard to have sympathy for De Beers, since that company has relied on the “rarity myth” for years to drive up diamond prices and ruthlessly controlled the supply. De Beers isn’t a very nice company, it seems. Read this Salon article and this transcript of a FrontLine documentary. They don’t like anyone questioning the rarity of diamonds.

De Beers stockpiles diamonds mined from countries around the world and releases a limited number of diamonds for sale each year. De Beers produces half of the world’s diamond’s supply and controls about two-thirds of the entire world market, according to a Washington Post report. At times, just to keep prices up, De Beers has bought tremendous numbers of diamonds from countries attempting to inject large quantities into the market.

In the end, I agree almost word-for-word with Anil Dash in this post. (At the very least, I enjoy the idea of an arrogant company getting rocked by some geek and his strange machine…)

Not surprisingly, Wikipedia has a good write-up on the science of making diamonds as well.

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Comments

  1. I read the Wired article as well. Cultured diamonds from Gemesis still seem pretty expensive to me. I recently bought some “Russian lab diamonds” on eBay UK from labgemz for dirt cheap prices (under £10). I have no idea what these stones are made of but (i) they look great and have fantastic sparkle and (ii) they can scratch glass.

  2. From my perspective as a jeweler, the panopoly of synthetic diamonds and diamond simulants entering the market are all fine. Two critical requirements are that:

    1. The nature and origin of any synthetic or simulant should be fully disclosed by the seller.

    2. The “gemstone” and the jewel it is set in should be beautiful and loved by the wearer.

    Beyond that the choice between natural, synthetic and simulant is a matter of personal taste.

  3. Looks like this hasn’t been updated in a while, but true white cultured diamonds are not available over .50ct at this time (there’s been just a few around .60ct).

    The labs have not been able to live up to the media articles claims/expectations on a production basis unfortunately, and several have dramatically cut back production efforts. Whites are the hardest and slowest to grow. The only whites we are seeing are coming from HPHT as well, and not CVD (apollo).

    However, real blue diamonds (real boron blue) are now available up to .90ct and closing in on 1ct size for fancy colored diamond lovers. Thats a very recent development.

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