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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Green grow the diamonds, part 2

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend but may soon be the geek's best friend as well if a company called Gemesis and its founder, retired Brigadier General Carter Clarke have their way.

Gemesis is a three-year-old start up in Sarasota, FL, which finds itself in a very peculiar growth industry, diamonds, not real diamonds but synthetic and according to most gemologists undetectable from the real thing. From a seed, a tiny real diamond chip, the Gemesis process grows diamonds by adding a small amount of carbon powder in a chamber heated to 2200 degrees F under extreme pressure. The resulting pure diamond is faultless, diamond hard and ready for cutting like any other mined stone found in nature.

Technology has long been able to produce small industrial diamonds used for saw blades, mining drill heads or as a super hard abrasive but gem quality stones, including stones of multiple carat size, have been impossible until now. Although the actual technology is held, a close company secret the process is surprisingly simple. Electricity and very strong pressure chambers like crock-pots on steroids cook the diamonds over a few hours or days and voila, diamonds a la carte. By adding different minerals yellow, blue and even rare pink diamonds can be produced to order.

These cultured diamonds, as the company likes to call them, pose a real headache for natural diamond suppliers like DeBeers, Rio Tinto and others because there is no practical method other than registration to tell the real thing from a cultured diamond. Registration of course is anathema to diamond sales as long as the supply line remains visible. If a stone is lost or stolen, its real source and therefore its origin and pedigree become obscure. It may be re-cut and shaped or simply reset and sold privately, a diamond can have many reincarnations and only an expert can, by intimate knowledge of gemology, trace a diamond back to its origin. Something similar happens with cultured diamonds in that they too can be traced, spotted, by there purity. Unlike real diamonds, cultured diamonds have no occlusions or slight foggy patches caused by the presence of tiny foreign materials imbedded in the carbon structure. Jewelers use a loupe or magnifying eyepiece to detect these imperfections and grade the stone by their relative effect on the overall appearance of the gem. The cultured stone has no occlusions and by that trait, a jeweler is able to detect them.

Greener Mag contacted Gemesis to learn more about their process and learned that it requires about four days to produce a single 3 carat Gemesis Diamond in a process that scientists believe is similar to that which occurs in nature. The energy required is about as much as that used by a hair dryer.

Color is the fashion in diamonds of late. Pink diamonds from Australia and yellow or blue fetch unusually high prices. According to Gemesis, their "Cultured Diamonds occur in a variety of colors as well, with the most popular colors being yellow and orange. Red, blue, green, pink and a variety of other colors are also feasible."

We asked Gemesis how a buyer might be confident that the stone they purchase is a Gemesis Cultured diamond. They told us, "Gemesis Cultured Diamonds are laser inscribed with a unique tracking number." They went on to say, "We are currently working on an internet based central registration system where consumers can go to verify the authenticity of their Gemesis diamonds."

At the end of the day however, for most of us, it is the final price that determines our decision to buy diamonds. The good news is that Gemesis Diamonds, depending on color and quality, "are priced from one tenth to one quarter of the price of earth-grown fancy color diamonds."

Gemesis is also working on developing diamonds grown for the electronics industry. Diamond is the hardest know naturally occurring material in nature and as such promises to revolutionize transistor technology. Current processor speeds are limited only by the inability of silicon to withstand the high temperatures generated by super fast computing. Diamond can withstand temperatures well into triple figures without being affected and consequently may increase computing power ten fold overnight. Imagine a computer rated in carats as well as megahertz, as geek's best friend after all.

However, what we really like about cultured diamonds is the positive impact of the technology on the environment. If you read the first installment in this series "Green grow the diamonds" about natural diamond mining it becomes evident very quickly that aside from the simple economic advantages of 'growing' diamonds with what amounts to a hair dryer's worth of electricity the environmental savings are spectacular. Scaring the landscape and generations of impoverished, disabled communities are no longer necessary.

With Valentines Day is just around the corner, perhaps a pink diamond can be a green choice after all.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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