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Synthetic diamonds a safe value?
Natural jewelry, ranging from rubies, emeralds or sapphires to diamonds are highly valued and exquisite. However, for some decades, the world of jewelry has been invaded by the synthetic, we can find in this way any of the mentioned gems.
In the case of diamonds, they have also found their place in the jewelry market and in technology. They are used as abrasives, in cutting, in polishing tools, and in heat sinks.
In addition, electronic applications of synthetic diamonds are developed including high power switches in power plants, high frequency field effect transistors, and LEDs.
Today they are available in gem quality, in large sizes and in various colors. If it was easy for a stone expert to identify an authentic diamond before, now you must ensure that it is not synthetic, an identification that in some cases is only available to highly specialized laboratories.
Wide uses and acceptance, it is imposed on the day to day of jewelry lovers, we invite you to get closer to synthetic diamond.
What are synthetic diamonds?
Synthetic diamonds are diamonds produced in technological processes, they are also known as CVD diamonds. The abbreviations CVD refer to the method in which they are produced: the synthesis of high pressure and high temperature and chemical vapor deposition.
The synthesis of high pressure and high temperature, in English: high-pressure high-temperature and chemical vapor deposition, in English: chemical vapor deposition, respectively.
Synthetic diamond: From its origin
It was in the year 1797 when the British chemist Smithson Tennant discovered that diamond is nothing more than a mineral made of carbon. After that date, many attempts have been made to convert various cheap forms of carbon into diamond.
James Ballantyne Hannay and Henri Moissan are reported as the first to succeed in this endeavor in the years 1879 and 1893, respectively. In both cases the method included heating coal to 3500 ° C with iron in an oven.
Other scientists joined this project, novel for the time. Among the names we found are Sir William Crookes, Otto Ruff and Willard Hershey.
Sir William Crookes stated his success in 1909 and on the other hand Otto Ruff declared, in 1917, to have produced diamonds of up to 7 mm in diameter, but later retracted his claim.
In 1926, Dr. Willard Hershey replicated the Moissan and Ruff experiments and obtained a synthetic diamond, a piece that is still on display at the McPherson Museum in Kansas.
Despite the ancientness of their techniques, it has not been possible to replicate what they did then. This experiment was carried out by Baltzar Von Platen, a Swedish inventor, and Anders Kämpe, a civil engineer.
Other researchers and scientists joined this race for success and this is how we found Sir Charles Algernon Parsons. Algernon was a prominent scientist and engineer, creator of the steam turbine, who spent 30 years of his life and spent a considerable part of his fortune trying to reproduce the earliest experiments.
Although he wrote articles, carefully noted and was methodical, in the end he declared that he did not believe he had created synthetic diamonds, neither he nor the previous ones. He suggested that most diamonds that had been produced up to that point were like synthetic spinels.
How are synthetic diamonds made?
There are currently several methods for producing synthetic diamonds. The original method is the one that uses high pressure, high temperature and continues to be used due to its low cost at the monetary level.
Large presses are used that weigh hundreds of tons and produce a pressure of 5 GPa at 1500 C. With the method of high pressure, high temperature, diamonds of colors: pink, yellow, blue and orange are obtained.
Another widely used method is that of chemical vapor deposition. With this pathway, a carbon plasma is created on a substrate on the deposit of carbon atoms to form diamond. Many other methods are used, these include explosive formation and sonication of graphite solutions.
The Detonation Synthesis procedure appeared in the late 1990s. With this method, nano-sized diamond grains are created through the detonation of carbon-containing explosives.
A solution composed of 60% water and 40% ethanol is used, it is vaporized to form a gas that is heated to 800ºC and leads to the formation of micro-diamonds of sizes between 100mm and 400mm.
General Electric diamond project
A very important and advanced project was the one established in 1941 between the companies General Electric, Norton and Carborundum to develop a diamond synthesis, but the Second World War interrupted the project.
It was retaken in 1951 at the Schenectady Laboratories of General Electric, and a high pressure diamond cluster was formed with F.P. Bundy and H.M. Strong, Howard Tracy Hall and others joined this project later on.
The Schenectady group improved the anvils designed by Percy Bridgman, who received a Nobel Prize for their work in 1946. Bundy and Strong made the first improvements, and then Hall made others.
Hall got his first successful commercial synthesis of the diamond on December 16, 1954, and it was announced on February 15, 1955. Hall’s collaborators were able to replicate their work, and the discovery was published in the journal Nature.
Hall went down in history as the first person to grow a synthetic diamond with a reproducible, verifiable, and well-documented process. He abandoned General Electric in 1955, and three years later developed a new apparatus for diamond synthesis to avoid infringing on his previous patent, which was still assigned to General Electric.
He received the American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention for his work on diamond synthesis.
Further development of the industry
An independent synthesis of the diamond was achieved on February 16, 1953 in Stockholm, Sweden, by the Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA), one of the leading Swedish manufacturing companies.
In 1949, ASEA hired a team of five scientists and engineers as part of a top-secret diamond manufacturing project, codenamed QUINTUS. For this project, the team used a device designed by Baltzar von Platen and Anders Kämpe.
A few small diamonds were produced in just an hour, but not the size or gem quality, and work was not reported until the 1980s.
In this decade a new competitor emerged in Korea. It was the company called Iljin Diamond, which was followed by hundreds of Chinese companies.
Iljin Diamond claimed to have achieved diamond synthesis in 1988 while improperly taking over General Electric’s trade secrets, through a former Korean GE employee.
Applications of synthetic diamond
In the machining and cutting tools:
Synthetic diamond is characterized by its hardness and this property makes it ideal for machinery and cutting tools. It can be used to polish, cut or wear any material, including other diamonds. In the industry it is part of diamond tipped drills, saws and the use of diamond powder as an abrasive.
We must say that natural also has these applications, but synthetic is more popular due to better reproducibility of its mechanical properties.
Natural is not suitable for machining ferrous alloys at high speeds. As carbon it is soluble in iron at high temperatures and leads to a greatly increased wear of diamond tools compared to alternatives.
Main characteristics of synthetic diamond
The first thing we must say is that they are very similar, at first glance it is difficult to tell them apart. But in order to recognize them, you have to know what their main properties are.
Synthetic diamond has extreme hardness and is mainly intended for industry, to manufacture industrial cutting objects, diamond hammers, diamond scalpels, among others.
It is applied in the field of medicine, it is a tool widely used in surgeries that require precision, such as in ophthalmology.
Other of their characteristics are their thermal conductivity and their electronic mobility, that is why they are used in abrasives, as polishing and cutting tools and in corrosive media due to their high resistance to acids.
Its use is also frequent in electrochemistry. When immersed in pure water, there is no chemical reaction that affects the diamond’s electrodes.
It is non-toxic and bio-compatible. In optics it is appreciated for its transparency. As for the electrical conductivity, it is weak, which is a great advantage for the semiconductor industry.
Disadvantages of synthetic diamond
Just as its use is very varied and the application leads to great benefits for men, synthetic diamond also has advantages and disadvantages.
One of the biggest disadvantages of this type of diamond is its size. They are small, they never get to be the size of a natural one. Another drawback of synthetic diamond is impurity, which never occurs in a natural one.
Experts assure that they are the result of the high temperature and high pressure method.
Other methods like CVD produce very pure rhinestones, in these cases impurities hardly exist, but as a result the stones are less solid.
Benefits of synthetic diamonds.
Its price may be lower, so you can buy a large carat stone for a lower price and the same characteristics. Natural and synthetic diamonds have the same costs when cutting, polishing and inspecting.
On the other hand, the extracted ones take a long process to take it for sale. The work of miners, dealers, cutters, polishers, jewelry manufacturers, and retailers is required. To this we add the supply chain, which in the case of synthetics is much shorter by skipping the mining process.
The extraction of Diamonds has a significant impact on the environment. All companies are aware of that fact and take important steps to minimize that impact.
On the other side of the scale synthetics are much less damaging to the environment, it takes considerably less energy to grow a Diamond in a laboratory than it does to extract it from the ground.
Synthetic diamond in the jewelry industry.
After two centuries of experimentation and obtaining, synthetic diamond takes its first steps in the jewelry industry and only a few decades later it is located among the great competitors.
This they are Gemesis in Florida, Apollo Diamonds in Boston, LifeGem in Chicago and Algordanza in Switzerland. The annual production is estimated to be more than 3,000 million carats, something like 600 tons of synthetic diamonds, a production that is higher than the 26 tons of natural diamonds that are extracted annually from the mining deposits.
Prices of synthetic diamonds.
The price of synthetic diamond is between 10 and 100 times lower than the price of a natural diamond, this is good news for the public and for the industry, but not for luxury jewelry.
In this way, high jewelry can compete with synthetic diamond jewelry designs at prices much more accessible to everyone.
A notable difference in quality is that high jewelery can boast of the original quality of its precious stones and jewelery, only in this way do brands like Cartier, Mauboussin, Piaget, among others, validate their product.
It is taken as a starting point that the diamond is expensive, precious and scarce, therefore the price rises constantly over time. Actually, few stones or metals bring us closer to our luxury ideal as the natural diamond, but that could be about to change thanks to the sale of the first synthetic diamond.
De Beers and the sale of synthetic diamonds
De Beers always assured that he would not sell synthetic diamonds, but would continue with his natural line that made him an industry monopoly.
However, he has started doing what he always denied, selling diamonds created in a laboratory. It is important to note that the pieces do not differ in any natural way.
They have identical chemical composition and their properties and appearance do not differ at all, this generates a great contradiction in the industry. The reason is that if you can create your own diamond in a laboratory its value, you would no longer need luxury ones.
De Beers will start selling a quarter of a diamond for $ 200 and the whole piece for about $ 800. The truth is that producing them is cheaper, they are pure chemistry. If it were a natural one it would be multiplied by ten.
A diamond is forever
It was in the mid-thirties of the last century when Mark Oppenheimer hired an American advertising agency and designed the image campaign considered the most successful of all time.
Movie stars came in commercials and on television trying to sell not the brand but the value of the stone, the diamond was associated with luxury and romance. It was a success and a few decades later they added the slogan “A diamond is forever”.
And then why change everything
Despite being a monopoly born in South Africa and maintaining complete control of the market until the beginning of the 21st century, new competitors and the certain devaluation of the diamond (have taken it to the next level, using synthetic diamond.
Is that wearing a diamond depends on the perception that customers have. The natural is valuable for the exotic, rare and special and the synthetic loses that breath and becomes nothing more than a beautiful object, without much value. De Beers knows this, but he doesn’t want to miss out on the business.
But in the end, are they real diamonds?
In reality the only thing that differentiates them is their origin. A diamond that is created in a laboratory involves cutting-edge technology that replicates the diamond’s natural growth process.
The result is a stone that chemically, physically and optically is the same as a stone that grows under the Earth’s surface, with the same physical and chemical properties of a mined diamond.
How are synthetic diamonds certified and graded?
A natural diamond is evaluated using 4C. This means cut, clarity, color and carat. Diamond is evaluated for the accuracy of its rough shape, for its color, clarity and size. Synthetic diamonds are classified and certified using the same process.
The stones are sent to a gem laboratory specialized in Diamond classification. The most popular are the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the International Institute of Gemology (IGI).
Each diamond is graded independently by various gemologists and those individual scores are then compiled and analyzed to determine the final grade.
The largest synthetic diamond in the world.
A rarity in the world of synthetic diamonds, created by the hand of man, is what until now is considered the largest in the world. It weighs 10.02 carats and is the work of a Russian firm called New Diamond Technology.
The gem is cut in emerald cut and the certificate describes it as type II, VS1 clarity, E color and very good-excellent cut.
It was manufactured using the high-temperature, high-pressure method at the company’s facilities in Saint Petersburg, and in less than 300 hours the 32.26-carat rough stone was completed from which the final piece was obtained.
It is the third major diamond that this manufacturer certifies in the Asian laboratory. The first is four-carat cushion cut and the other five-carat brilliant-cut, which until now was the world’s largest man-made.