In short: 2 companies have developed a way to syntheticly produce diamonds. Not the little diamond flakes that are produced now, but big ones, and diamond wafers, which in the near future could be used to produce diamond computer chips.
DeBeers is freaking out, and rightfully so. With mass production the market the value of a diamond could drop dramaticly. They’re saying hypotheticly diamonds could reach $5 a carat.
My opinion? I sure as hell hope so. The only difference is that these diamonds aren’t dug out of the ground by some worker in a third world country making $2 a week, and they are of flawless quality. The whole value and hype of a diamond was created by the campaign’s of DeBeers. And as little attention as this has recieved it’s alomost like there’s a consiparcy to keep the story under wraps. This is big freakin news!
And image the computer products that could be developed as a result! I can’t wait for my 100Ghz processor!
Look for DeBeers to start adding logos or other visibly identifiable markings to their natural diamonds so that people will know they are real diamonds.
Or maybe come up with a different gem to replace the diamond. After all, it was the DeBeers marketing which promoted the idea of a diamond engagement ring. So chose some other gem (ruby, emerald, etc.) and make that the new gem.
The new marketing campaign could be something like this:
“Why buy the love of your life a colorless hunk of coal? Buy a heart-shaped ruby instead. It’s the only way to truly let her know that you love her.”
In reality there is no existing “diamond market.” De Beers has manipulated prices, perception and supplies to the point where their CEOs all have outstanding warrants for their arrest should they set foot on American soil.
Diamonds are neither rare nor hard to find. Very large and flawless stones are another matter. Although the “Wired” article you link to is interesting and fact filled, it is also a little dramatic. I refer you to a much more realistic piece out of The Industrial Physicist from August - September of last year. They interviewed Carter Clarke of Gemesis and he was not quite so optimistic as the “Wired” article made it seem.
As you can see, they make no big mention of being able to produce flawless colorless white diamonds. Note (in my linked article) how the nitrogen gas needed to “getter” (reactively attract oxygen from) metallic compounds out of the aluminum-carbon starting mix also contributes highly undesirable (yellow) color. Why do you think they’re still only showing off yellow diamonds? Diamond synthesis is colloquially referred to as a “Goldilocks” process. Not too hot, not to cold, it has got to be just right. Please note the mention of 200 variables that must be controlled in order to reliably produce gem quality material. While this is an exaggeration, it still approximates the war of nerves needed to fabricate a girl’s best friend.
The Apollo group mentioned in that “Wired” article is much closer to the goal of applied diamond synthesis. For over two decades semiconductor researchers have understood (and published about) the utility of diamond layers. Known as DLF (Diamond Like Films), controlled reactions of carbon rich methane gases were known to produce usable thin films, but not any long sought rocks of the ages. The founder of Apollo will find his work with growing single crystal III-V (gallium arsenide) to be of great use.
There were some other interesting passages in the “Wired” article. To wit:
While a bit dramatic, it still serves to illustrate the stakes involved.
Now this is where the meat can be found.
At this point, we are no longer talking about jewelry. With its refractive index of ~2.42 , diamond is highly transparent to not only visible light but higher frequencies ranging from ultra violet to microwaves. FILR (Forward Looking Infra Red) detectors and other sensing devices all require a window through which to view the outer world. For an infra red Sidewinder missile, the lens is a shaped piece of pure single crystal silicon. Rock-hard and fully transparent to heat based photonic emission, it serves pretty well.
Problems arise when jet fighters fly at multiple Mach speeds. Raindrops have been know to gouge out bit of a jet’s titanium skin. Such in-flight micro-collisions also can degrade the formed surfaces of a Sidewinder’s monocrystalline lens. Imagine the durability of a diamond aperture. Only high pressure forms of cubic boron nitride and carbon[sup]13[/sup] exhibit greater density or hardness. Now, consider that diamond, while a near-perfect electrical insulator, remains six times more thermally conductive than copper.
Here we arrive at a bit of pure horseradish embedded in the “Wired” article:
At temperatures that will puddle silicon any multi-compound computing system will be demonstrating conductivity issues due to kinetic and electrical noise being introduced into its atomic structure. The above quote is a gross overstatement of diamond’s promise. Nonetheless, diamond films and solid shapes hold great potential to overcoming the materials based limitations of existing technology.
In closing, De Beers has a lot to be afraid of, but only due to their extortionate manipulation of a market that would long ago driven the price of diamonds in to the realm of precious metals.
One should also note that De Beers has quite a large industrial diamond business called Element 6. I would not be suprised if they aren’t hastily trying to culture their own multi-carat diamonds. Just in case…
Also if Gemesis ever does manage to produce colourless diamonds, it is to their advantage to keep the price of diamonds high? Why sell a grown diamond for $200 when you can sell if for $1800 and still undercut De Beers (who might be selling theirs for $1900). Remember the aim of businesses is to maximise profit and if selling less diamonds for $1800 means bigger profit that is what they will do.
While Gemesis has some interest in keeping the sale price of diamonds up, they will not have the market penetration that lower prices would bring. It is indeed a quandary. De Beers has an inventory of enough diamonds in all stages of production (raw, cut, polished) to the point where they have overtly threatened (in turn) the Russian and Australian diamond startups with flooding the market just long enough to put both of them out of business. This ploy obviously worked, because both of these countries acquiesced in joining the De Beers cartel.
Someone desperately needs to break De Beer’s back. Only synthetic diamond fabrication promises to do this. I have serious doubts that Gemesis will be able to succeed as the diamond market is specifically oriented to flawless colorless white +1 carat stones. Their process (so far) does not lend itself to fast growth of such material.
Apollo’s CVD method shows promise, but to deposit single crystal diamond phase carbon is more than a little daunting. Their wafer product alone could make them immensely wealthy as it has instant and sustained demand in both the electronics and defense industries. If Apollo has indeed found the elusive sweet spot, this might bode ill for De Beers in the long term. Still, the monstrous backlog of inventory sitting on De Beers’ shelves mean they can essentially ride jewelry diamond prices down to well below even the break even point of Gemesis or Apollo. With the multi-billions of dollars that De Beers has in the bank already, I can only imagine that they too are pursuing synthesis.
Since the final diamonds are synthetic, a synthetic seed wouldn’t seem to violate any principals involved. Synthetic seed crystals would be very regular in size, have a higher purity and more consistent stochiometry. They would also cost a lot less. Buying from De Beers would be (as the Taiwanese say about doing business with China), “feeding the tiger with your own flesh.”
After reading the Apollo patent, it is quite obvious that they do not have a method of growing gem size diamonds. The major advance I find cited in their process portion of the patent relates to the use of ECR (Electron Cyclotron Resonance) or microwave stimulation of the methane reduction plasma. The only other significant finding is their research into initiation layers (diffused carbide interface films) and the texturing required to enhance nucleation of the desired diamond coating. Their use of ion etching to accomplish a nonabrasive preconditioning of the deposition substrate all points towards industrial and electronic applications.
Both ECR and ion milling have been around for decades. For fairly obvious reasons, the patent’s authors do not provide much detail about the aforementioned “sweet spot” of process parameters noted in the “Wired” article. These people are (as I suspected) going after non-cosmetic (i.e., not jewelry related) applications. Their mention of color control via boron doping was very interesting. I was amazed to see no mention of how it might be possible to create a diamond lensed laser scalpel. While they mention making a solid diamond scalpel more visible to the naked eye and how doping said tool thereby provides electrical conductivity to suppress ESD (Electro Static Discharge) i.e., static arcs, they do not mention the opto-mechanical hybrid design I have seen discussed elsewhere.
Imagine having a diamond edged scalpel that also serves as an optical conduit for laser radiation. You would have the best of both worlds, a precise and incredibly sharp edged cutting tool that also channeled cauterizing (laser) energy to close off all tissue damage caused by the laceration. Selective doping and multilayer structures could also enhance heat removal to keep the implement cool during use. All of this points to a tremendous new family of surgical tools.
However, none of this indicates that De Beers has a single thing to fear. A quick review of Apollo’s patent also revealed that tailoring gas compounds to enhance growth rates and other desirable properties tends to increase the COG (Cost of Goods) by orders of magnitude. An excerpt from the patent:
De Beers is hardly quaking in their boots and more’s the pity.
For anyone who takes this issue seriously, this article (linked in the earlier thread) is required reading. It precisely details the outright fraud that De Beers has perpetrated upon the market. An excerpt:
Several people on this and other threads have pointed out that selling a diamond is generally disappointing. The seller gets around one-third of what they paid for the stone new. Given that there is little or no difference between a brand new diamond and a “used” one, how does DeBeers or whoever prevent a thriving trade in second-hand diamonds?
Is there any objective reason for the differences in pricing or is it simply an opportunity for gem dealers to rip someone off? How would someone tell the difference anyway?
Thats probably not too far from the wholesale price that a gem dealer pays for his “new” stones. Its not like a typical jewelry store make hundreds of sales a day, so it has to pay its employees, rent, insurance, etc on the few sales a day it does get.
Although there is some pretty ugly market manipulation something else to consider is how often we buy jewelry. Most prople don’t buy really nice pieces of jewelry more than a couple times in their life. Makes it even harder to support a business. In many cases the price we pay for diamond jewelry is pretty much what the market will bear, and what the stores can stay in business on.
Many people here never look at things from the perspective of the business owner and are painfully unaware that the neghborhood discount store has similar levels of markup.