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A Lab-Grown Diamond Is Forever (racked.com)
107 points by nols on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

I strongly recommend you read the article "Diamonds are Bullshit" (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5403988) before reading this. To summarize, genuine diamonds are extremely plentiful. It's just that De Beers has done an excellent job limiting the supply, to artificially drive up the price. When synthetic diamonds first came out on the market, De Beers started a succesful advertising campaign basically saying that synthetic diamonds were inferior. The most interesting part of this article is that De Beers' stranglehold on the market is starting to slip; people are realizing that synthetic diamonds are good enough. It will be extremely interesting to see their advertising campaign.

The march of technology carries on.

The lab-grown diamond people need a better angle, like this one:

Our diamonds are lab-grown, by people who are well treated, make a respectable living, like you and I. Our diamonds are cruelty-free, Blood-free, and sustainable.

This is pretty much the story of Diamond Foundry [1], a Bay area synthetic diamond company funded at ~ $100M to date [2]. Their marketing emphasizes the attributes you list in your last sentence.

[1] https://www.diamondfoundry.com/about/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/diamond-foundry-raises-money-...

They already market them that way. See Brilliant Earth's mission:

"At Brilliant Earth we strive to make jewelry as beautiful as it can be. We are passionate about cultivating a more ethical, transparent, and sustainable jewelry industry."

That says essentially the same thing as what kefka put forward but, unfortunately, in a much less compelling way.

I love Brilliant Earth. I purchased my fiancee's engagement ring from them. Excellent website and service.

In Canada, Spence Diamonds is already advertising (what I presume are the same diamonds) as "artisan" and "handmade".

The workers there must have bloody strong hands.

Are they GMO free as well?

Exactly. It's the same situation as high fashion leaving fur behind. Even wealthy buyers decided fur was a dirty industry, and they readily moved to high-quality alternatives.

Programming may be considered respectable in some circles, but it's not always blood-free.

Not too appealing, honestly.

The campaign is simple: natural diamonds are for winners, lab grown are for chumps.

They can probably even start charging more for them to make up for the loss of revenue.

It's the same thing as buying a brand vs generic or lesser known brand, even if the latter is the same or better.

Rich people pay enormous sums for vanity plates, this is no different.

> The campaign is simple: natural diamonds are for winners, lab grown are for chumps.

Honestly, I'd rather have a stone which was formed over geologic ages in the bowels of the Earth than one which was formed over the last month in a garage in Hoboken.

But I'd also prefer not to subsidise genocide, civil war or De Beers. And I'm cheap.

I can see spending extra on a real diamond for something special, but not for something run-of-the-mill.

The thing is, how many of the traditional uses for jewelry-grade diamonds fall into the category of 'run-of-the-mill'? I think the engagement-ring business is probably secure for a long time. Earrings and other small jewelry? Probably not so much. The sort of things given for important anniversaries and occasions? Probably decently secure.

See, for me it's the exact opposite.

"Oh cool, you dug up a shiny old rock that's been in the earth for millions of years."

vs for me, man-made diamonds say:

"We used cutting edge technology that can simulate the weight of an entire mountain over a tiny area to make an shiny thing!"

My wife and I are suckers for cool tech. A man-made diamond will forever be cooler than something that happened naturally over millions of years.

> you dug up a shiny old rock that's been in the earth for millions of years

They're not even particularly shiny in their natural form.

> Honestly, I'd rather have a stone which was formed over geologic ages in the bowels of the Earth than one which was formed over the last month in a garage in Hoboken.

Can you elaborate on why you feel this way? The products are indistinguishable without an electron microscope, and you stated you don't want to contribute to the evils of the natural diamond trade. So what makes a "real" diamond so fucking desirable? The psychology of that baffles me.

I guess it's the same think that makes any object with an interesting history appealing. People would rather have an original piece of art than a copy, cherish the pen that belonged to a deceased father more than an otherwise identical pen, and find greater interest in an archaeological artifact than in a modern reproduction.

Humans and the ol' lizard brain; atoms are atoms!

> > Honestly, I'd rather have a stone which was formed over geologic ages in the bowels of the Earth than one which was formed over the last month in a garage in Hoboken.

> Can you elaborate on why you feel this way?

I guess I can try, but I suspect that it's one of those things where different folks just have different mindsets.

I think that it'd be amazing to have a stone (diamond, emerald, sapphire, amethyst — whatever) which was the result of long and slow processes operating over millions of years (in the case of diamonds, dating back to the Precambrian, before there were even plants). That's just incredibly cool!

Sure, a lab-grown diamond is an interesting exemplar of man's technical artifice, but it's just not the same thing.

It's an emotional difference, not a rational one.

Just think about how long it took evolution to go from single-celled organisms to complex ones capable of growing diamonds!

> I think that it'd be amazing to have a stone (diamond, emerald, sapphire, amethyst — whatever) which was the result of long and slow processes operating over millions of years (in the case of diamonds, dating back to the Precambrian, before there were even plants). That's just incredibly cool!

There's nothing special about diamonds here. Go out and pick up some rocks.

Where is here?

The text I quoted, or the comment I responded to.

When you buy a luxury item, you are paying for exclusivity, for uniqueness, more than for quality. This is why people will pay huge sums for this or that clearly-dreadful art piece: because its ownership alone is a statement of wealth and power based on the item's own uniqueness. It says you are the only person in the world to have the resources and knowledge to identify and acquire a unique item.

This is the fundamental basis of any luxury market. Quality is a relatively secondary concern, and ethical considerations have appeared only in recent years. Think about one of those discoveries where a little sketch sold at a flea market turns out to be a Caravaggio or something: suddenly the value skyrockets; the art is exactly the same, it's uniqueness that has changed.

oh yeah, the art, Jesus - even modern pieces go for 5 or 6 figures, as opposed to the nearly free digital art (which is sometimes breathtaking) that you can also print and frame...

Couldn't you understand why someone would want a real meteorite, that had actually fallen from the sky, rather than a regular rock, even if they were indistinguishable to the untrained eye?

Certainly, but compared to native rocks, meteorites are astonishingly rare. Natural diamonds are not at all rare; their scarcity is controlled by DeBeers, and this has been common knowledge for decades. Saying "I want a real diamond because it's rare" is about as juvenile a sentiment as one can have.

Edit: Let me put it another way. Preferring a natural diamond to a lab-grown diamond when you know how they are obtained is tacit approval of murder, theft, and war, atrocities committed to ensure you get that "real" diamond on your finger. It's appalling that any sane, compassionate human being would be so flippant about the lives lost and families torn apart by the diamond trade.

It's not about rarity. It's about the neatness of something that's been around for a long time (diamond) or flying through space (space rock). It's just neat.

I agree that it's a silly thing to make an engagement about, and that the trade is appalling. But let's not pretend it's not cooler on at least one axis to have an object formed inside the earth vs in a lab.

Meteorites are made from different material from what is common on earth, whereas lab diamonds are chemically indistinguishable from mined diamonds. Plus, carbon in both manmade and mined diamonds is the same age...

Are manmade diamonds usually made from coal, charcoal, or atmospheric carbon? Because if it is either of the latter two, the resulting diamond will have a higher carbon-14 content than a mined diamond. That said, if you need a mass spectrometer to determine whether or not to buy jewelry, you're doing it wrong.

Now there's an interesting thought... Atmospheric carbon. How many people would pay extra (over the cost of other man-made diamonds, but still less than artificially-inflated natural diamonds) for a product marketed as "carbon-sequestering anti-climate-change diamonds"? That's an emotional attachment which could offset the emotional preference for natural diamonds.

You would need a lot of energy to separate the carbon from the co2.

So your "green" idea actually makes things worse not better.

Well, specifically for an engagement ring, "I'm cheap" is the opposite of the message you want to send. There's lots going on at the interpersonal level that's all about "You're worth it" (and "I can afford it") that isn't about cold, rational utility calculations at all.

I think it depends on the person's mindset. My wife was thrilled that I got her a CZ instead of a mined diamond, specifically because she is against the atrocities of the diamond trade. I feel the same so it was a no-brainer. She would have had less respect for me if I'd given in to DeBeers' propaganda and marketing, not to mention the financial folly of spending a chunk of my savings towards a sentimental rock.

I think that there's a lot of bigotry to eradicate in the business of engagement. If, in order to get married, you need to give an impression of wealth you are essentially condoning a modern wife-buying practice. With the caveat that you're not even obtaining a dowry in exchange.

> Honestly, I'd rather have a stone which was formed over geologic ages in the bowels of the Earth than one which was formed over the last month in a garage in Hoboken.

By the time it's been brilliant-cut, all nominative links to that history are gone. There's all sorts of interesting rocks out there that have been formed over geologic ages in the bowels of the earth, and they're usually dirt-cheap too. Diamonds make attractive jewelery not because of the backstory, but because of the sparkle, and they sparkle just the same regardless of origin.

TL;DR: if it's geological history that you value, a jewel diamond is next to worthless for you.

Would you change your mind if I told you the garage was actually in Weehawken?

Well, the one difference is that they're completely indistinguishable to the naked eye, so even if you're entirely driven by vanity, you could just buy a synthetic diamond (or Moissanite) and let people think it's a massive natural diamond.

That said, I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks synthetic is cooler than natural.


Vanity plates, at least where I live in the US, are all of an extra $20 or so per year on top of the cost of a normal plate. This is a company telling you an alternative is inferior -- more like Verizon advertising that because their network is bigger it must be better than their competition.

If no one can tell the difference, outside of a super high tech lab, then how will anyone know the diamonds are natural, and not lab grown? When they are indistinguishable, and people get used to the idea, most will start buying lab grown. Especially with the ethical angle (conflict free and what not)

Except someone else can see your vanity plate. Is anybody going to know whether you have natural or lab grown diamonds without asking to look at your ring under a microscope?

I guess some people still enjoy showing it off and proclaiming how expensive it was, but you might as well brag about having flushed a thousand dollars down the toilet for all the effect it will have on your life.

Everyone will know, because you just won't shut up about it.

DeBeer's stranglehold is already broken. The Canadian diamonds did that.

The only thing holding the prices up is that none of the people supplying diamonds really want to let loose as the value of diamonds will rapidly go to zero and nobody will get any money.

> De Beers started a succesful advertising campaign basically saying that synthetic diamonds were inferior. [...] It will be extremely interesting to see their advertising campaign.

Nothing says "will you marry me?" like blood and slavery. Carefully curated by the most successful arms dealers. Each diamond has a story.

In light of the article cited here, the following extract of the original article contains some lies, i.e. that diamonds are value-holding assets. As a bonus, you also get some sexism for free:

"The woman expects the man to give her something valuable that retains value just like their relationship. Snapchat Millennials or not, getting engaged to be married is not about creating a snap-relationship with a snap-synthetic diamond that does not retain value." (said by Martin Rapaport)

So, in the end, I see this also as a fight between the two point of view: diamonds as jewerly vs diasmonds as finantial assets. The latter, I believe, is destined to die.

The "asset" part is a DeBeers created fiction.


Natural diamonds companies, for their part, are taking preventative measures to ensure they don't get edged out. ... On the first day of the show, a newly-formed alliance of natural diamond companies called the Diamond Producers Association unveiled a new marketing slogan: "Real is Rare." The campaign, which goes live in September, targets young shoppers who crave real products "in a world of superficial interactions," according to a press release the DPA put out. There's no mention of synthetics in the release, but it's clear the tagline implies that lab-grown diamonds aren't "real."

Don't count the mined diamond suppliers out yet. It's been all about marketing for decades so this is just the first shot.

Buried in that article I found this little gem: ...lab-grown diamonds are identical in structure and appearance to natural ones. They are, however, much cheaper. Baruch says savings may be as high as 40 percent in some cases...

All this noise about a lousy forty percent discount? I was looking for a ninety eight percent discount. I was looking for diamonds flowing out of our faucets like water.


The whole raison d'être of gemstones is to be expensive! Diamonds for non-ornamental usage are already dirt cheap. If jewellery-grade diamonds were to drastically drop in price, nobody would want them anymore.

People still want cubic zirconia. Diamonds are technically superior in several ways; at the same price you'd see at least as much demand.

People often want a look-a-like product because the alternative is expensive. If the diamond price nosedived, I'm sure there'd still be some demand, but it would also remove a significant reason for people to want anything that looks like diamonds.

Demand might still be there because it looks nice, but whether that combined with the lower price would make overall demand go up or down is anyones guess.

I think this is a good point, but I have some disorganized thoughts in response:

I don't think people often want a product specifically because it looks like something expensive, since there are two factors at play that severely undermine using a lookalike to appear richer than you are: (1) Most of the people you interact with already have a good sense of whether you can afford the real, expensive, thing or whether you'd need to buy the lookalike; and (2) people who have one genuinely expensive thing generally have a lot of other expensive things, but you (the generic you) don't, making it difficult to carry off the impression.

People definitely do often want a product specifically because it is itself expensive; I find wanting a product because some other product is expensive somewhat farfetched. You'd have to be targeting people you rarely interact with.

I have a small collection of synthetic gemstones, and when I show them off to other people the responses have generally fallen into one of three groups: "Huh. What's the point of having those?"; "Wow, they're beautiful!"; or "They look fake." (I'm not sure what the group 3 people imagine gemstones are supposed to look like.) Demand in group 2 will rise with a price drop. I met one girl who made it clear that she loved my clear cubic zirconia despite my telling her it was only an imitation diamond and suggesting that I preferred the colored stones.

It will come. Once upon a time computers were a lot more expensive than hiring a pool of secretaries to do the same work. The price of lab-grown diamonds embodies the energy, materials, equipment costs and technical knowledge that goes go into their creation. Competition will drive cost reductions in all four of those areas, I predict.

I own a jewelry store (inherited from 1945) and grew up in the industry as a kid, so I'll humour myself with anecdotal feedback:

Although I'm engineer, I have a professional background in the diamond industry. A friend of mine, an astrophysicist working on focal points, wanted a high quality diamond. I helped him secure an 'investment grade' gem. At first I proposed a lab grown diamond from Diamond Foundry to see how he responded as he understands and appreciates optics far better than I (technically), although I could argue my position as a gemologist.

His response: he quickly turned down the option and wanted a natural stone, not lab grown. I found it slightly strange (from a technical standpoint), but understood his response.

We secured a rare IF 1.5ct certified diamond in Tel Aviv.

Natural diamonds are valued more on scarcity and irrational conditions. To sell a lab grown diamond, it may help to sell the story of the lab and the diamond cutter.

I think you mean Ramat Gan; although it's just across the highway from diamond exchange, it's technically a different city. (My only connection to the industry is working next door to Rappaport).

How long until someone is capable of making really big diamonds? I mean big like a soccer ball or something?

Is it silly to wonder if we will one day be able to use diamond as a structural material?

It's suprizingly poor for many things. We don't actually care about any single material property, we care about ratios.

For structural component you want high tensile strenght, high stiffness, high toughness, low weight and low price. If you compare natural diamond to Eglin steel, diamond only wins in weight. Carbon fiber is better in every way, the only problem remaining how you glue the fibers together.

One area of interest has been diamond like carbon for coatings of mechanical parts. (It's actually pitch black, don't get too exited. And it actually doesn't share the precise crystal structure either.)

Again it has few very disfavorable characteristics. Typically good wear resistance comes from good H/E ratio. ( Hardness= hardness, E= Youngs modulus = stiffness ) Now diamond is too stiff. Glass and rubber have better ratios, and both are increasingly used as coatings while DLC seems to be stuck in a very small niche. Threatened by shitloads of different carbides and nitrides which often have better H/E, better strenght and better toughness, while being only slightly less hard. (Strenght and hardness are different things.)

Also DLC dissolves into steel and burns in very hot temperatures. These are shared by actual diamonds. So diamond doesn't even cut it in hardcore cutting blades, where extreme hardness and compressive strenght would otherwise be useful. Only concrete and aluminum are routinely cut with diamond.

This makes me wonder what the actual real-world equivalent of the SFF trope 'diamond edged monomolecular sword' might actually be, since it sounds like diamond would be a pretty poor material to actually use.

I actually studied one mind-numbing material science book with medieval swords in mind to keep interest. Seems like the vikings got it right with high carbon steel. The only good improvement to it would be boride or hard chrome coating. But the main function of such would be temporary stop to corrosion.

The major problem of swords is fatigue while notched. Low alloy steels are some of the best known materials for this. But they don't stay sharp very well and hardened high carbon steel can just cut through such beam. When you go from high carbon steel to very high carbon steel, you get additionally "left over austenite". A real time hardening method which helps both against nocthing and against fatigue. The stuff spontaneously quenches itself under stress(!). A reaction more commonly known to happen in manganese steel, but here it happens to lesser degree.


Diamond isn't necessarily a good structural material. It has great hardness, but poor toughness.


I think it would be pretty cool to see giant diamonds used in unexpected new applications in homes and buildings.

> A diamond's exceptional properties (it is one of the hardest natural material on the planet, the most effective heat conductor, and largely unaffected by most acids) make it ideal for drilling, grinding, and cutting.

I'd also like to see someone incorporate a layer of diamond into a CPU heat sink.

Just because...

Imagine the pimped out gamer PC cases you'd get.

Sure. It's a great thermal conductor.

If they become really affordable, I'd love to have a giant, soccer-ball-sized diamond just for the fun of owning an enormous ultra-hard object that once used to be super-rare and expensive. The optical properties of a huge diamond would probably be quite interesting too.

Gallagher will drop one off a building for grins. I can't wait!

While diamonds are super hard, they'd make pretty poor structural materials. They don't stand up well to compressive forces, which is essential for buildings.

They are very good at withstanding compressive forces, at least on small scales. It's shearing forces that I would be concerned with.



The compressive strength can't be greater than sqrt(2)*shear, because at that point you get a diagonal shear. It might be a slightly different ratio if the material has different directional strengths, but the principle holds. At least, that's what I was taught in MechEng Materials.

Interesting. I know that as a crystal, diamond is going to have directional cleaving planes. Intuition says that that would be an issue with shearing loads, but at the same time it can obviously withstand very high pressures. I don't have any mech. background, so I appreciate your better informed viewpoint.

Rather than single crystal diamond, nano-polycrystalline diamond[1](npd) is probably an all-round better structural material, as you don't have to worry about the cleavage planes of single crystals.

Unfortunately, it can only be made at high pressure and temperature, and it requires significantly higher P (>20 GPa vs <10 GPa) and T than typical HPHT diamonds. That means (1) current HPHT apparatus cannot be used to make nano-polycrystalline diamond, and (2) it is unlikely that we will ever be able to make large single pieces, as large volumes at high pressure require very large presses.

Synthetic industrial diamonds are typically made in China using hinge-type cubic anvil apparatus, whereas npd requires a Kawai-cell octahedral multi-anvil apparatus to reach higher pressure. Thus, the existing synthetic diamond infrastructre cant be used to make npd. The largest npd pieces reported in the literature are 15 x 15 mm cylinders, and they required a 6000 ton press.

I don't want soccer-ball sized npd, just npd big enough, (as well as cheap and readily available) to make typically-sized anvils for high pressure apparatus. It is stronger than tungsten carbide, so it can go to higher pressures, and it is relatively transparent to x-rays, so it is easy to make in situ measurements. Widespread availability of such material would significantly change high pressure research.

[1] http://www.grc.ehime-u.ac.jp/en/prius/facilities/himedia

The article always referred to the artificial diamonds as 'synthetics'. Other articles called them 'cultured' diamonds - drawing comparisons with pearls - which is a far better sounding term from a marketing perspective IMHO.

I couldn't help but recall the "Submarine" [1] essay from PG, which made me wonder if this entire article wasn't just a huge PR piece written by the lab-grown diamond company.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/submarine.html

How do you think the vast majority of articles in this general vein end up happening?

PR people reach out to reporters with stories that (they hope) said reporters will find interesting for themselves and their readers. It's how things work. Hopefully, the story still ends up being sufficiently researched but, in most cases, the reporter or their editor didn't just wake up one morning and decide this would be an interesting story.

Fuck De Beers.

I bought my fiancee a lab diamond last year, for ethical reasons (nice to read it is better for the environment too). The lower price allowed me to get a better stone, too.

I cannot understand the mindset that rejects lab grown diamonds. It is the pinacle of selfish, ignorant consumerism.

If you reject De Beers why would you still choose to buy a diamond to your fiancee? De Beers were the ones that completely made up the diamond engagement ring business through advertising. It didn't exist before them.

A diamond ring doesn't exactly scream 'anti-consumerism' either, it has practically no use and is valued only because it is expensive. To me it says 'look how important money is in my life'.

De Beers were the ones that completely made up the diamond engagement ring business through advertising. It didn't exist before them. De Beers were the ones that completely made up the diamond engagement ring business

I don't think that's true. My grandmother's engagement ring for example was diamond and that was before the whole DeBeers thing started. What De Beers did do was move diamond from being just one of many possible options to being that only possible option for an engagement ring.

If they're successful, the people who run the dirt-diamond industry may end up bankrupt and digging for scraps of food on the streets.

I really can't see a down-side.

Na I expect either the industry will get into the hip of 'organic' diamond (they already used impurities giving a more nuanced color as differentiator) or will just expand laws to prevent sales of synths as jewlery.

They already lobbyed the laws once after all and they aren't shorter on cash this time around so..

"Certified Blood-Diamond free"


The Kimberly Process[0] from what I understand is pretty much bullshit. It purports to certify diamonds as being "conflict free", but there a numerous loopholes and laundering the source of the diamonds is trivial.

That's why the diamond I bought came from Canada.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberley_Process_Certificat...

The population of Botswana would be bankrupt and digging for scraps of food (there is a customs union with South Africa, but beyond that, the economy doesn't seem particularly diversified).

Holy crap they're scared though, and with the amount of money they have, it can get ugly. :-/

I worked with PGD for a bit.

They are concerned about usual threats that any jeweler/producer would have. But their (former) CEO also said to me that De Beers already has synthetic facilities and will likely pivot over to where IIa is in a few years. They just got the jump and are taking advantage of it.

Diamond mine days are numbered.


They'll just pander to the rich.

Luxury brands did not end up bankrupt because cheaper and just as good or even better alternatives came to the market.

As long as there's a way to verify they're really natural. The article mentions synthetic diamonds getting certified and sold as natural ones. Once they become indistinguishable, how could anyone trust a luxury brand to really be what they say? Any shady trader in Africa could have contaminated the supply just as they already do with the Kimberly process.

That's what's most exciting. Maybe natural diamonds will lose all their value because nobody will be able to know if they've even got one or not.

What is not discussed is the benefit that diamond substrate could have in the IC industry. It conducts heat much better than silicon. The first time I heard that I found it crazy, but now that synthetic diamonds can be produced cheaper and faster that idea is not that crazy anymore.

I was very disappointed to find that synthetic diamonds are not that much cheaper than natural ones. I'm not sure why you'd buy a synthetic since it has almost no resale value and you're not saving much on the purchase either.

Diamonds have poor resale value period.

I have friend that when she was looking for an engagement ring desperately tried to find a synthetic fashion grade diamond, but couldn't anywhere. She was really bummed. She wanted the lab grown one as testament to science.

She must not have looked very hard cause I found them easily in all shapes and sizes


as far as my limited experience goes, diamonds are a dime a dozen... BUT gem-quality diamonds are extremely rare, even synthetic ones. if you need to buy IF/F with an ideal cut at 0.5cts and above, it's going to be pricey, lab grown or not. the lab process will introduce colour and flaws in the diamond just as the natural process does.

The lab processes introduce color and flaws only if they're wanted.

The old way of making diamonds, growing them in metallic solvents at pressures over 50K atmospheres (where diamond is the thermodynamically stable form of carbon) produced crystals with metallic solvent inclusions and other flaws that would distinguish them from naturals. It was hard but not impossible to make a D flawless gem with HPHT methods. It was never economical because of the equipment capital cost and slow growth rate required for that type of diamond.

The microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition (CVD) can make D flawless gems routinely and cheaply. Using hydrogen and methane as the source gases, one can make very nice colorless rough which can be further improved with a short post-deposition high temperature anneal in hydrogen plasma. Laser cutting and conventional faceting then give you a very nice DF rock.

If you want colored diamonds, boron in the synthesis gas gives blue. Other treatments give the full color spectrum.

It is possible to tell CVD synthetics from naturals, but it's not easy. Flaws and inclusions aren't usually helpful. It takes sophisticated absorption and luminescence spectroscopy to see optical features that uniquely identify CVD gems. Most jewelers don't yet have this capability.

I wonder when it's possible to 3D-print the necessary shape. Given the material properties, the results could be, eh, really good.

I'm genuinely interested because I cannot believe diamonds are still such a hit in 2016: why are people buying them?

The only value in diamonds is their price.

They're useful for drills, cutting disks; they look pretty when cut. Don't know about their other uses but they clearly have some utility.

I used to study next to a lab that made synthetic diamonds, the cost was about $50. Far far less than the 'savings' the article claims.

So the entire industry of diamond squatting is on the verge of collapse, that is unless DeBeers buys out these labs.

DeBeers isn't buying out the labs. They're suing the labs for patent infringement [1].

The technology barrier to entry is low. If you have the tech chops and can spend $30K, you can do a DIY microwave plasma system and grow your own diamonds. I do this at home. Buying the extant labs won't inhibit subsequent competitors entering the business. And neither will lawsuits, in the long run. IP has a limited life.

I think the brain of the DeBeers dinosaur has finally noticed the mammals gnawing on its tail, and is responding in the only way it knows how. They would be better served to go into the synthetic business themselves, using their marketing resources and > 1 century of branding weight to carve out a new business sector. DeBeers is not a fast mover, so I don't expect this to happen.

[1] http://www.business-standard.com/article/markets/de-beers-gr...

What size diamonds can you make with your gear and how long does it take? Could you scale/automate the operation easily?

Mine is mainly for research on plasma chemistry, so it's not set up for maximum deposition rate, which is an important parameter for commercial viability. I've made a 3.8 ct. unpolished stone in a 4 day run. If I were to do the laser trim (gets rid of the off-orientation edge growth) and send it out to be cut and polished, it would yield a nice DF brilliant-cut stone of ~ 1.25ct. weight. At retail, that might sell for ~$10K.

Systems optimized for commercial production will get to that weight in less than 24 hours with multiple substrates. Typically, they'll grow 10 - 25 stones at once. They do this by using much higher microwave power (typically 30-60kW) at a lower frequency (915MHz) which gives a larger plasma so they can cover multiple substrates. My system is 2kW @ 2.45GHz (same as microwave ovens), so its throughput is non-commercial. But it's a nice research tool for investigating how plasma chemistry affects diamond growth. And it's fun to grow diamonds in my garden shed! :-)

What kind of research are you doing? Sounds pretty cool!

I'm trying to optimize growth rate and quality as functions of plasma power density, deposition gas composition, pressure and substrate temperature. I think there's a lot of process improvement yet to be found.

In the biz environment, you typically get to something that has "good enough" economics, and you start shipping. At that point, you're afraid to touch the deposition equipment for fear of screwing up deliverables. This tends to freeze production economics at far less than what's possible.

I'm poking around to find the next 10x reduction in deposition costs. Everybody should be able to afford diamond doorknobs, don't you think?

DeBeers can buy out these labs. The knowledge doesn't go away, however, and so more labs get started. DeBeers can keep buying them for quite a while, I suppose, but starting them continues to be profitable if DeBeers keeps buying them...

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