Monday, January 30, 2012

Waiting for synthetic diamonds

There are few things as stupid as wasting a fortune on a diamond. If you are ever in a rock shop, you’ll realise that you can buy stones as beautiful as diamonds for the price of a cinema ticket. Rocks, like diamonds, are temporary because they can be easily destroyed with heat. Despite slogans, diamonds are not forever, and on top of that, they are overvalued. But this is just an opinion… it is just a question of taste:
- Oh, a precious stone!
- What? It is just a brick!
- But I like it...
Needless to say, you can spend your money as you wish, but you should also be aware that our actions as consumers are not neutral. Diamond trade is one of the most important factors to fuel wars and conflicts in many African countries. Buying conflict diamonds is like funding war. On 1 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly admitted that diamond trade can fuel wars, as it is the case of Angola or Sierra Leone, and since then this issue has been discussed in many mass media, and even in a Hollywood movie: Blood Diamond. Fighting against it is quite difficult, although there are such commendable initiatives as requesting a certificate of origin for diamonds. The problem is that some companies like De Beers from South-Africa --which is the most important diamond trader in the world and the coiner of the famous advertising line “A diamond is forever”-- have so many interests in getting cheap diamonds that they do nothing to avoid conflicts. On the contrary, they can even promote conflicts.
But there is another way to end up with this blood conflict: science. In 1954 the first synthetic diamond was manufactured. It was a small, poor-quality diamond, but since then researchers have been working hard to manufacture top-quality diamonds. The most widely used method is HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature), which imitates the natural process of these crystals by crystallising carbon at a pressure of 50,000 or 60,000 bars and at a temperature ranging 1,300 to 1,600ºC. More or less, the same temperature and pressure found at 200 km deep in Earth. This method soon resulted in poor-quality, small diamonds, which are really useful for the industry as they are used as abrasive. However, in 1970, a large, beautiful diamond was eventually manufactured. It looked like a natural diamond of 1 carat (about 200 mg).
Besides HPHT, there are other systems to manufacture diamonds, like the chemical vapour deposition (CVD) method. This method used to be really slow, so it was not considered suitable for marketing purposes, but since 2005 there is a company manufacturing and trading diamonds with this technique at international level. Although we are still far from manufacturing utterly perfect diamonds, synthetic diamonds are sometimes hard to distinguish, only by really specialised laboratories. Those times where experts with magnifying lens used to examine diamonds to check flaws, impurities or fakes are over. In other words, in some years, “fake” diamonds will be so perfect that they will be no longer fake. There will be real diamonds created by nature and real diamonds created by men. And when this happens, maybe our passion for diamonds will be over and, consequently, this bloody trade will be over as well.
We cannot prevent people from being fascinated by such ridiculous things like diamonds, but at least we can prevent people from dying for it.


  1. Theodore GRAY. The elements: a visual examination of all known atoms in the universe:
  2. UN report about conflicts caused by diamonds:
  3. Blood diamond movie:
  4. De Beers, world leader in diamond trading, with a long history of war and conflict promotion:
  5. Article in Wired about synthetic diamonds:
  6. A carat:


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  2. There are many synthetic diamonds on the jewelry market. Some are not really viable alternatives to diamond, but some are. The best cannot be distinguished from real diamonds, are much cheaper, and make wonderful jewelry.

  3. White precious stones are the most well known gemstone for wedding bands. In any case, nowadays, you can look over white, shaded, impersonation and even engineered precious stones. What's more, as just mined jewels charge premium costs, are manufactured precious stones tantamount to regular ones in wedding bands?


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