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soon that five carat diamond might not cost as much as you think...

Discussion in 'TRIBE Main Forum' started by Woody, Oct 8, 2005.

  1. Woody

    Woody TRIBE Member

    Man-made diamonds sparkle with potential
    By Kevin Maney, USA TODAY

    BOSTON — In the back room of an unmarked brown building in a run-down strip mall, eight machines, each the size of a bass drum, are making diamonds.
    Apollo Diamond "seeds" grow into pure diamonds perfect for lasers and computer chips, as well as jewelry.

    By Geoff Forester for USA TODAY

    That's right — making diamonds. Real ones, all but indistinguishable from the stones formed by a billion or so years' worth of intense pressure, later to be sold at Tiffany's.

    The company doing this is Apollo Diamond, a tiny outfit started by a former Bell Labs scientist. Peer inside Apollo's stainless steel-and-glass machines, and you can see single-crystal diamonds literally growing amid hot pink gases.

    This year, Apollo expects to grow diamonds as big as 2 carats. By the end of 2005, it might expand to 10 carats. The diamonds will probably start moving into the jewelry market as early as next year — at perhaps one-third the price of a mined diamond.

    The whole concept turns the fundamental idea of a diamond on its head. The ability to manufacture diamonds could change business, products and daily life as much as the arrival of the steel age in the 1850s or the invention of the transistor in the 1940s.

    In technology, the diamond is a dream material. It can make computers run at speeds that would melt the innards of today's computers. Manufactured diamonds could help make lasers of extreme power. The material could allow a cellphone to fit into a watch and iPods to store 10,000 movies, not just 10,000 songs. Diamonds could mean frictionless medical replacement joints. Or coatings — perhaps for cars — that never scratch or wear out.

    Scientists have known about the possibilities for years. But they've been held back because mined diamonds are too expensive and too rare. And they're hard to form into wafers and shapes that would be most useful in products.

    Manufacturing changes that. It's like the difference between having to wait for lightning to start a fire vs. knowing how to start it by hand.

    "I'm just so completely awed by this technology," says Sonia Arrisonof tech analysis group Pacific Research Institute. "Basically, anything that relies on computing power will accelerate."

    Arno Penzias, a venture capitalist and Nobel Prize winner for physics, says, "This diamond-fabrication story marks a high-profile milestone on an amazing scientific journey."

    "We can't begin to see all the things that can happen because single diamond crystals can be made," says Apollo co-founder Robert Linares, elegant and slim in a golf shirt, slacks and loafers as he sits at the two plastic folding tables that make up Apollo's low-budget conference room. "We are only at the beginning."

    Linares has worked on the technology for 15 years, much of that time in his garage. From the start, he did this because of the promise of diamonds in technology. Linares wasn't trying to make gems. In fact, he didn't think he could.

    Then he had a happy accident. Well, actually, time will tell whether the accident was a happy one.

    Two different paths to diamonds

    In 1955, General Electric figured out how to use room-size machines to put carbon under extremely high pressure and make diamond dust and chips. The diamond material wasn't pure or big enough for gems or digital technology. But it had industrial uses, such as diamond-tipped saws. Such saws made it possible, for instance, to cut granite into countertops.

    In the ensuing decades, companies and inventors tried to make bigger, better diamonds. But they didn't get far. By the 1990s, researchers were focused on two different paths to diamonds.

    One was brute force. Some Russians became pretty good at it, and their machines were eventually brought to Florida by Gemesis. That company now crushes carbon under 58,000 atmospheres of pressure at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, until the stuff crystallizes into yellowish diamonds. The stones are attractive for jewelry but not pure enough for digital technology. Gemesis sells its gems through retailers at around $5,000 per carat. A mined yellow diamond can cost four times more.

    The other process is called chemical vapor deposition, or CVD. It's more subtle. It uses a combination of carbon gases, temperature and pressure that, Linares says, re-creates conditions present at the beginning of the universe. Atoms from the vapor land on a tiny diamond chip placed in the chamber. Then the vapor particles take on the structure of that diamond — growing the diamond, atom by atom, into a much bigger diamond.

    By Geoff Forester for USA TODAY
    One of Apollo's made diamonds.

    CVD can make diamonds that are clear and utterly pure. It's also a way to make diamond wafers, much like silicon wafers for computer chips. The CVD process can be tweaked by putting in enough boron to allow the diamond to conduct a current. That turns the diamond into a semiconductor.

    A handful of companies and scientists, including Sumitomo in Japan and the global diamond powerhouse De Beers, have chased CVD. But by most accounts, Linares is out front.

    After receiving his doctorate in materials science from Rutgers University, Linares joined Bell Labs and worked on crystals that would be crucial in telecommunications. In the 1980s, he started Spectrum Technology to make single-crystal Gallium Arsenide chips, one of the key components in cellphones. Spectrum became the material's biggest U.S. supplier, and Linares eventually sold the company to NERCO Advanced Materials.

    He then dropped out of business, putting his time and money into his pet project: making CVD diamonds for cutting tools and electronics. "Gemstones were the furthest thing from my mind," Linares says.

    Breakthrough in a garage workshop

    Linares built machines in his garage, superheating carbon in suburban Boston while his neighbors went about their lives. He got the CVD process to work, at first making tiny diamond chips. He formed Apollo and started down the path to industrial diamonds. Then Linares inadvertently left a diamond piece in a beaker of acid over a weekend. The acid cleaned up excess carbon — essentially coal — that had stayed on the diamond.

    "When I came in Monday, I couldn't see the (stone) in the beaker," Linares says. The diamond was colorless and pure. "That's when I realized we could do gemstones."
    How diamonds are made

    Apollo Diamond is making real diamonds through a process called chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Here is an explanation of the process:

    (1) A slice of diamond is placed flat inside a chamber. Hydrogen and hydrocarbon gases are injected and heated to thousands of degrees at the right pressure.
    (2) Carbon atoms land on the diamond slice and replicate the crystal’s structure, the way a drop of water merges seamlessly into a pool of water. The diamond grows thicker and taller. Growing a 5 carat diamond can take a week.
    (3) The top can be sliced off and cut into gems. Or the diamond can be cut into thin wafers for computer chips or other uses. Part of the slice is returned to the chamber to make the next diamond.

    “We basically grow our own raw material,†says Apollo president Bryant Linares.

    Source: Apollo Diamond

    For Apollo, there are lots of good things about making gems. Diamond jewelry will be a $60 billion global market this year, and it's growing fast. If Apollo can snag just 1%, the company would become a $600 million rocket.

    Also, gems could become a source of revenue quickly. While the military and companies are working on tech inventions that use diamonds, a real market for diamond technology might be a decade away. By selling gems, Apollo can make money now to fund the research for forthcoming diamond tech products.

    That solution, though, brings two huge problems. One is that Apollo doesn't know the gem business. Its employees are technologists. Aside from Linares, Apollo is run by his son, Bryant, an MBA who started and sold an information services company. Vice President Patrick Doering had been lead scientist at Spectrum.

    "We are not gemstone guys," Bryant Linares admits. They don't know consumer marketing or retailing. Bryant Linares notes that Apollo plans to split into a tech business run by the Linareses and a gem business run by a gem veteran they have yet to hire. For now, though, the gem business is a distraction with a steep learning curve.

    Apollo's other problem is De Beers, which doesn't like what Apollo is doing one bit. De Beers launched a public relations campaign and an education program for jewelers, all aimed at portraying mined diamonds as real and eternal — and CVD or Gemesis diamonds as fake and tacky.

    Both Apollo and Gemesis want to market their gems as "cultured diamonds," taking a cue from cultured pearls. De Beers is fighting that label. "It's misleading and unacceptable," says De Beers executive Simon Lawson. "It makes people think (manufacturing diamonds) is an organic process, and it's not."

    Even highly trained diamond experts find it almost impossible to tell a CVD diamond from a mined one. De Beers is determined to help by making machines that can detect the slightest difference in the way the two materials refract light.

    As part of that effort, De Beers stepped up its own CVD research "focused on producing state-of-the-art synthetic diamonds for testing on our equipment," Lawson says. Referring to CVD diamonds, he adds, "We don't see gemological applications fitting into it."

    So by getting into gems, little Apollo made a powerful, determined enemy.

    A long list of possibilities

    The tech side is an entirely different story. Just about every entity in technology can get excited about diamonds.

    The military's DARPA research arm has been pumping money into CVD projects. Companies such as Lucent are on the trail of holographic optical storage, which will use lasers to store data in 3D patterns, cramming huge amounts of information in tiny spaces. CVD diamonds would vault holographic storage ahead, helping bring about the 10,000-movie iPod.

    Tech company Textron is a big fan of Apollo. Textron has been working on super lasers that might become weapons or be used like a camera flash for spy satellites, so they could take photos from space at night.

    "Thermal management is a major challenge to increasing a laser's power," explains Textron scientist Yulin Wang. The diamond has the highest thermal conductivity of any material, which allows it to quickly move heat away from the laser's insides. Textron needs large, pure diamond pieces for its lasers and finally found them at Apollo.

    CVD diamonds can help solve one of the computer industry's biggest challenges. Companies such as Intel advance computer chip technology by squeezing microscopic wires closer together while making the chips run ever faster. But that's making the chips increasingly hotter. At some point this decade, the chips could run so hot they'd melt. But not if the chips were based on diamond wafers instead of silicon.

    "Using diamonds as semiconductors will continue Moore's Law," says Pacific Research's Arrison, referring to an observation about the continual increase in speed and power since chips were invented.

    The list of possibilities for man-made diamonds goes on. "By most measures, diamond is the biggest and best," says a research paper written about CVD by Paul May at the U.K.'s University of Bristol. It's the hardest material, it won't expand in heat, won't wear, is chemically inert and optically transparent, May says.

    "Once (manufactured) diamond is available, developers will find all kinds of other things to do with it," Robert Linares says.

    Manufactured diamonds will be like other inventions that were so profound because they made new things possible. Steel allowed engineers to dream of skyscrapers and suspension bridges. Transistors led to computers and pacemakers and so much else. So this may be the beginning of the diamond age of technology.

    Says Linares: "The genie is out of the bottle, and it can never be put back in."
     
  2. grumblegirl

    grumblegirl TRIBE Member

    this is so awesome.

    faster computers, massive storage space for ipods, a new hip, lasers, -and- debeers gets screwed*
    who could ask for anything more?




    *ironically - they screwed themselves, by manipulating the public with their 'diamonds are the only rock that matters' campaigns.
     
  3. stargurl*

    stargurl* TRIBE Member

    From Wired, way back in 2003 about Apollo and another company called Gemesis

    Issue 11.09 - September 2003

    The New Diamond Age


    Armed with inexpensive, mass-produced gems, two startups are launching an assault on the De Beers cartel.
    Next up: the computing industry.

    By Joshua Davis

    Aron Weingarten brings the yellow diamond up to the stainless steel jeweler's loupe he holds against his eye. We are in Antwerp, Belgium, in Weingarten's marbled and gilded living room on the edge of the city's gem district, the center of the diamond universe. Nearly 80 percent of the world's rough and polished diamonds move through the hands of Belgian gem traders like Weingarten, a dealer who wears the thick beard and black suit of the Hasidim.

    "This is very rare stone," he says, almost to himself, in thickly accented English. "Yellow diamonds of this color are very hard to find. It is probably worth 10, maybe 15 thousand dollars."

    "I have two more exactly like it in my pocket," I tell him.

    He puts the diamond down and looks at me seriously for the first time. I place the other two stones on the table. They are all the same color and size. To find three nearly identical yellow diamonds is like flipping a coin 10,000 times and never seeing tails.

    "These are cubic zirconium?" Weingarten says without much hope.

    "No, they're real," I tell him. "But they were made by a machine in Florida for less than a hundred dollars."

    Weingarten shifts uncomfortably in his chair and stares at the glittering gems on his dining room table. "Unless they can be detected," he says, "these stones will bankrupt the industry."

    Put pure carbon under enough heat and pressure - say, 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit and 50,000 atmospheres - and it will crystallize into the hardest material known. Those were the conditions that first forged diamonds deep in Earth's mantle 3.3 billion years ago. Replicating that environment in a lab isn't easy, but that hasn't kept dreamers from trying. Since the mid-19th century, dozens of these modern alchemists have been injured in accidents and explosions while attempting to manufacture diamonds.

    Recent decades have seen some modest successes. Starting in the 1950s, engineers managed to produce tiny crystals for industrial purposes - to coat saws, drill bits, and grinding wheels. But this summer, the first wave of gem-quality manufactured diamonds began to hit the market. They are grown in a warehouse in Florida by a roomful of Russian-designed machines spitting out 3-carat roughs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A second company, in Boston, has perfected a completely different process for making near-flawless diamonds and plans to begin marketing them by year's end. This sudden arrival of mass-produced gems threatens to alter the public's perception of diamonds - and to transform the $7 billion industry. More intriguing, it opens the door to the development of diamond-based semiconductors.

    Diamond, it turns out, is a geek's best friend. Not only is it the hardest substance known, it also has the highest thermal conductivity - tremendous heat can pass through it without causing damage. Today's speedy microprocessors run hot - at upwards of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, they can't go much faster without failing. Diamond microchips, on the other hand, could handle much higher temperatures, allowing them to run at speeds that would liquefy ordinary silicon. But manufacturers have been loath even to consider using the precious material, because it has never been possible to produce large diamond wafers affordably. With the arrival of Gemesis, the Florida-based company, and Apollo Diamond, in Boston, that is changing. Both startups plan to use the diamond jewelry business to finance their attempt to reshape the semiconducting world.

    But first things first. Before anyone reinvents the chip industry, they'll have to prove they can produce large volumes of cheap diamonds. Beyond Gemesis and Apollo, one company is convinced there's something real here: De Beers Diamond Trading Company. The London-based cartel has monopolized the diamond business for 115 years, forcing out rivals by ruthlessly controlling supply. But the sudden appearance of multicarat, gem-quality synthetics has sent De Beers scrambling. Several years ago, it set up what it calls the Gem Defensive Programme - a none too subtle campaign to warn jewelers and the public about the arrival of manufactured diamonds. At no charge, the company is supplying gem labs with sophisticated machines designed to help distinguish man-made from mined stones.

    In its long history, De Beers has survived African insurrection, shrugged off American antitrust litigation, sidestepped criticism that it exploits third world workers, and contended with Australian, Siberian, and Canadian diamond discoveries. The firm has a huge advertising budget and a stranglehold on diamond distribution channels. But there's one thing De Beers doesn't have: retired brigadier general Carter Clarke.

    Carter Clarke, 75, has been retired from the Army for nearly 30 years, but he never lost the air of command. When he walks into Gemesis - the company he founded in 1996 to make diamonds - the staff stands at attention to greet him. It just feels like the right thing to do. Particularly since "the General," as he's known, continually salutes them as if they were troops heading into battle. "I was in combat in Korea and 'Nam," he says after greeting me with a salute in the office lobby. "You better believe I can handle the diamond business."

    Clarke slaps me hard on the back, and we set off on a tour of his new 30,000-square-foot factory, located in an industrial park outside Sarasota, Florida. The building is slated to house diamond-growing machines, which look like metallic medicine balls on life support. Twenty-seven machines are now up and running. Gemesis expects to add eight more every month, eventually installing 250 in this warehouse.

    In other words, the General is preparing a first strike on the diamond business. "Right now, we only threaten the way De Beers wants the consumer to think of a diamond," he says, noting that his current monthly output doesn't even equal that of a small mine. "But imagine what happens when we fill this warehouse and then the one next door," he says with a grin. "Then I'll have myself a proper diamond mine."

    Clarke didn't set out to become a gem baron. He stumbled into this during a 1995 trip to Moscow. His company at the time - Security Tag Systems - had pioneered those clunky antitheft devices attached to clothes at retail stores. Following up on a report about a Russian antitheft technology, Clarke came across Yuriy Semenov, who was in charge of the High Tech Bureau, a government initiative to sell Soviet-era military research to Western investors. Semenov had a better idea for the General: "How would you like to grow diamonds?"

    A few hours later, Clarke was looking at a blueprint for an 8,000-pound machine that used hydraulics and electricity to focus increasing amounts of pressure and heat on the core of a sphere. The device, he was told, re-created the conditions 100 miles below Earth's surface, where diamonds form. Put a sliver of a diamond in the core, inject some carbon, and voilÃ_, a larger diamond will grow around the sliver.

    General Electric managed to do this in 1954 by using a 400-ton press to crush the hell out of carbon. GE's machine economically produced diamond dust for industrial uses, and by the early 1970s the company had even managed to manufacture stones as large as 2 carats. But that effort took so much time and electrical energy, it was more expensive than buying a mined diamond. The Russians claimed their machine was relatively cheap, took no more energy to run than a dozen lightbulbs, and would produce a 3-carat stone in a few days. And the General could have it for just $57,000.

    Clarke was skeptical. On the long flight back to the States he tried to forget about the offer and sleep, but the light creeping through his window shade kept him awake. If this thing really could make a diamond, he thought, $57,000 isn't that much money. "Hell," he mused, "what could be more fun than trying to make diamonds?" By the time the plane touched down in New York, he'd decided to give it a shot.

    Three months later, Clarke returned to Moscow. Bodyguards met him at the airport and took him to a warehouse outside the capital. In an unheated room in the middle of winter, he watched Nickolai Polushin - one of the original Siberian scientists - lift the top half of the machine's sphere. Polushin pulled out a small ceramic cube, smashed it with a hammer, and handed Clarke a small diamond. Everybody smiled. The General eventually ordered three machines and told Semenov to ship them to Florida.

    But there were two immediate problems. First, nobody in the US knew how to run them. Clarke solved that by moving a crew of Russians to Florida. ("I felt myself all the time in a sauna," remembers Nickolay Patrin, who now lives full-time in Sarasota.) The second and more fundamental obstacle was that the Russians themselves had not yet mastered the process. In fact, the machines did not reliably produce diamonds.

    The General and his newly minted Gemesis needed help. He turned to Iranian crystal expert Reza Abbaschian, head of the University of Florida's materials science department in Gainesville. Abbaschian agreed to try turning the Russians' hit-or-miss method into a rigorously controlled and more reliable technological process. With the aid of some graduate students, he ripped out the analog knobs and dials and installed a computer control system. They upgraded the power supply and methodically tracked the slightest variation in each diamond synthesis attempt. With more than 200 parameters to control, it was painstaking work, and by 1999 - three years after Gemesis was founded - the General needed another infusion of cash.

    Abbaschian's efforts had produced some very high-quality stones. So Clarke flew to London to show off a batch to potential investors. Rather than simply present them as a pile of loose diamonds, he went to a jeweler in Hatton Garden, the city's diamond district, and asked if a few of his stones could be set in rings. The jeweler agreed, and Clarke returned to his hotel room at Claridge's. The phone rang. It was De Beers.

    According to Clarke, a De Beers executive, James Evans Lombe, was tipped off about the synthetic diamonds within two hours of their arrival at the jeweler's. Lombe asked for a meeting with the General. The De Beers executive drove directly to Claridge's, and the two men sat down in the tearoom to the strains of a piano and violin duet.

    De Beers refuses to comment on the meeting - or about anything for this story - but Clarke says he simply placed his diamonds on the table. "When I told him that we planned to set up a factory to mass-produce these, he turned white," the General recalls. "They knew about the technology, but they thought it would stay in Russia and that nobody would get it working right. By the end of the conversation, his hands were shaking."

    But De Beers wasn't backing down. Throughout 2000, the cartel accelerated its Gem Defensive Programme, sending out its testing machines - dubbed DiamondSure and DiamondView - to the largest international gem labs. Traditionally, these labs analyzed and certified color, clarity, and size. Now they were being asked to distinguish between man-made and mined. The DiamondSure shines light through a stone and analyzes its refractory characteristics. If the gem comes up suspicious, it must be tested with the DiamondView, which uses ultraviolet light to reveal the crystal's internal structure. "Ideally the trade would like to have a simple instrument that could positively identify a diamond as natural or synthetic," De Beers scientists wrote in 1996, when the company unveiled plans to develop authentication devices. "Unfortunately, our research has led us to conclude that it is not feasible at this time to produce such an ideal instrument, inasmuch as synthetic diamonds are still diamonds physically and chemically."

    In the summer of 2001, Abbaschian told the General that they were finally ready to mass-produce diamonds. There was one last decision to make. Each machine was capable of generating a 3-carat yellow stone every three days (colorless takes longer). Given their scarcity, the price per carat was much higher for yellow diamonds - so much higher, in fact, that only the very wealthy could afford them. Plus, colored diamonds have gotten hot in recent years. (J. Lo's engagement ring? Pink diamond.) Clarke decided that he'd make the biggest splash by bringing yellows to Middle America. He'd compete on both price - charging 10 to 50 percent less than naturals - and style. And, if he succeeded with the yellow stones, he could transition into colorless.

    The diamond industry fought back. Early last year, De Beers began shipping improved, even more sensitive DiamondSure machines to labs around the world. Meanwhile, industry groups led by the Jewelers Vigilance Committee have pressured the Federal Trade Commission to force Gemesis to label its stones as synthetic.

    The tussle goes to the heart of the marketing problem for Gemesis or any maker of synthetic gems: How will consumers feel about them? The mystique of natural diamonds is anything but rational. Part of the allure is their high cost and supposed rarity. Yet diamonds are plentiful - De Beers maintains vast stockpiles and tightly controls supply.

    Clever marketing may bring buyers around to manufactured diamonds. After all, there's no chance that they are so-called blood diamonds - stones sold by African rebels to fund wars and revolutions. And they aren't under the thumb of an international cartel accused of buying off foreign governments, despoiling the environment, flouting antimonopoly laws, and exploiting mine workers.

    In fact, Gemesis is developing a marketing campaign that portrays synthetics as superior to naturals. The General came up with a proposal to brand the company's diamonds "cultured" - a deliberate echo of the designation given to the wildly successful (and more valuable than natural) cultured pearl. In an ambiguous April 2001 ruling, the Federal Trade Commission said that it was "unfair or deceptive" to call a man-made diamond a "diamond," but offered no opinion on the question of calling it a "cultured diamond."

    So, for now, Clarke is sticking with cultured. But in the end, he insists, it won't really matter. "If you give a woman a choice between a 2-carat stone and a 1-carat stone and everything else is the same, including the price, what's she gonna choose?" he demands. "Does she care if it's synthetic or not? Is anybody at a party going to walk up to her and ask, 'Is that synthetic?' There's no way in hell. So I'll bite your ass if she chooses the smaller one."

    Wrong, says Jef Van Royen, a senior scientist at the Diamond High Council, the official representative of the diamond industry in Belgium. "If people really love each other, then they give each other the real stone," he says, during an interview at council headquarters on the Hoveniersstraat in Antwerp. "It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week." So goes the De Beers-backed line. And forget the cultured pearl comparison, Van Royen says. Man-made diamonds are more like synthetic emeralds, introduced in large quantities in the mid-'70s. At first, their price was very high, but then the gem labs discovered that the synthetics could be easily distinguished using a standard microscope. The price collapsed and is now less than 3 percent of naturals.

    Van Royen is confident the council's lab can pick out synthetic stones. To test him, I ask him to look at a half-carat light yellow Gemesis diamond. A jovial, bearded man prone to nervous laughter, Van Royen takes the rock and peers at it through a 10X jewelers' loupe. "It is very pretty," he admits, giggling. "But so is cubic zirconium." Although Van Royen's lab is outfitted with DiamondSure and DiamondView machines (the Diamond High Council works closely with the Gem Defensive Programme), he instead puts the gem into a more elaborate piece of equipment - a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer that registers the diffusion of light through crystal. Above the machine hangs a large printout that shows six sets of graphs. Van Royen points to one with a distinctive spike toward the right end of the horizontal axis. "If it is synthetic, it should look like this," he says. Sure enough, the machine displays a graph just like the one Van Royen indicated.

    But such high-end testing is far from the last word. Only a small percentage of larger diamonds are lab-certified - though the number seems to be growing as the industry becomes more aware of synthetics. Diamonds that are smaller than a fifth of a carat are almost never sent to labs, since the cost would eat up any profit made from them. These modest stones actually represent a significant portion of the market, since jewelry designers regularly use them to create sparkling fields of diamonds on watches, earrings, rings, and pendants. Almost all diamonds of this size are bought, processed, and sold by Indians based in Antwerp and Bombay.

    One such group - headed by the Choksi family - bought a $35,000 batch of preliminary Gemesis research stones last year and is currently selling them in India at a 10 to 20 percent profit. I met Sabin Choksi, one of the company's principals, at a jewelry convention in Las Vegas. He admitted that his customers don't know the stones are synthetic, but says they don't care one way or the other. In other words, Gemesis may be fully disclosing the nature of its stones, but already one of its wholesalers is not.

    In Antwerp, Van Royen tells me of another threat. There's a rumor of a new, experimental method for growing gem-quality diamonds. The process - chemical vapor deposition - has been used for more than a decade to cover relatively large surfaces with microscopic diamond crystals. The technique transforms carbon into a plasma, which then precipitates onto a substrate as diamond. The problem with the technology has always been that no one could figure out how to grow a single crystal using the method. At least until now, Van Royen says. Apollo Diamond, a shadowy company in Boston, is rumored to be sitting on a single-crystal breakthrough. If true, it represents a new challenge to the industry, since CVD diamonds could conceivably be grown in large bricks that, when cut and polished, would be indistinguishable from natural diamonds. "But nobody has seen them in Antwerp," Van Royen says. "So we don't even know if they are for real."

    I take a transparent 35-millimeter film canister from my pocket and put it on the table. Two small diamonds are cushioned on cotton balls inside. "Believe me," I say, "they're for real."

    Three days before traveling to Belgium, I had flown to Boston to meet Bryant Linares, president of Apollo Diamond. Linares has been secretive about his company and was suspicious about me. He checked to make sure I was really working for Wired by calling my editor, and he wouldn't say where his company was located other than to tell me to fly to Boston and wait for him at baggage claim.

    When I arrive, a preppy, square-jawed man approaches me.

    "I'm Bryant Linares," he says. "Follow me."

    We get in his blue Saab and begin driving. In a half hour, I realize I'm seeing the same scenery. I ask if we're driving in circles. "We're not taking the most direct route," he allows. For 45 minutes, he questions me about stories I'd written. Finally he seems to decide I'm not a De Beers spy. "You're OK," he says. "There's no need for a blindfold."

    We pull up at a suburban strip mall occupied by a fitness gym and a graphic design company. Linares leads the way into the graphics firm's reception area, which looks normal enough. But when he opens one of the interior doors, I catch a glimpse of a man dressed head to foot in Intel-style clean-room scrubs.

    "Welcome to Apollo Diamond," Linares says, waving me inside and quickly shutting the door. He hands me a bunny suit, including booties, goggles, and a hair cap, and leads me into a third room. Three men dressed in similar contaminant-control outfits stand around a cylindrical contraption that looks like a heavy-duty coffee urn outfitted with a bolt-on porthole. A preternatural purple-green glow emanates from the window.

    I peer through the glass. Four diamonds are growing beneath a shimmering green cloud. "It took me a long time to get to this point," says one of the men standing beside the machine. This is Robert Linares, Bryant's father. In the 1980s, he was a well-known researcher in advanced semiconductor materials. His company, Spectrum Technology, pioneered the commercialization of gallium arsenide wafers, the microchip substrate that succeeded silicon and allowed cell phones to become smaller and handle more bandwidth. Linares sold the company to PacifiCorp, a diversified utility, in 1985 and disappeared from the semiconducting world.

    It turns out he took the money and built a secret diamond research lab. "I knew diamonds were going to be the ultimate semiconductor at some point, but everybody thought it was impossible at the time," Linares says. "I had the freedom to do what I wanted after I sold my company, so I spent almost 15 years researching on my own."

    To grow single-crystal diamond using chemical vapor deposition, you must first divine the exact combination of temperature, gas composition, and pressure - a "sweet spot" that results in the formation of a single crystal. Otherwise, innumerable small diamond crystals will rain down. Hitting on the single-crystal sweet spot is like locating a single grain of sand on the beach. There's only one combination among millions. In 1996, Linares found it. This June, he finally received a US patent for the process, which already is producing flawless stones.

    By January, Apollo plans to start selling them on the jewelry market. But that's just the first step. Robert and Bryant Linares expect to use revenue from the gem trade to fund their company's semiconductor ambitions. Not surprisingly, the diamond industry is hostile to the idea, as the younger Linares discovered four years ago when he attended an industry conference in Prague. He was hoping to find out whether any other researchers - possibly De Beers scientists themselves - had discovered the sweet spot. During a break in the conference, a man approached Linares and told him to be careful. "He said that my father's research was a good way to get a bullet in the head," Linares recalls.

    The diamond industry is in fact even more concerned about gems made using chemical vapor deposition than it is about Gemesis stones, though Gemesis poses a more immediate threat. The promise of CVD is that it produces extremely pure crystal. Gemesis diamonds grow in a metal solvent, and tiny particles of those metals get caught in the diamond lattice as it grows. CVD diamond precipitates as nearly 100 percent pure diamond and therefore may not be discernible from naturals, no matter how advanced the detection equipment.

    But the greatest potential for CVD diamond lies in computing. If diamond is ever to be a practical material for semiconducting, it will need to be affordably grown in large wafers. (The silicon wafers Intel uses, for example, are 1 foot in diameter.) CVD growth is limited only by the size of the seed placed in the Apollo machine. Starting with a square, waferlike fragment, the Linares process will grow the diamond into a prismatic shape, with the top slightly wider than the base. For the past seven years - since Robert Linares first discovered the sweet spot - Apollo has been growing increasingly larger seeds by chopping off the top layer of growth and using that as the starting point for the next batch. At the moment, the company is producing 10-millimeter wafers but predicts it will reach an inch square by year's end and 4 inches in five years. The price per carat: about $5.

    Back at the Diamond High Council, I open the film canister and shake the Apollo stones onto the table. Van Royen tentatively picks one up with a pair of elongated tweezers and takes it to a microscope. "Unbelievable," he says slowly as he peers through the lens. "May I study it?" I agree to let him keep the gems overnight. When we meet the next morning in the lobby of the High Council, Van Royen looks tired. He admits to staying up almost all night scrutinizing the stones. "I think I can identify it," he says hopefully. "It's too perfect to be natural. Things in nature, they have flaws. The growth structure of this diamond is flawless."

    Van Royen reluctantly hands the diamonds back. "You have something that nobody else in Antwerp has." he says. "You should be careful - somebody might jump out of the shadows with a mask on." He leans in conspiratorially: "If you want to know how important these diamonds are, talk to Jim Butler with your Navy. He is the man."

    Jim Butler is the head of a project known as Code 6174 - the Navy's diamond research arm, which is housed in a guarded facility outside Washington, DC. A civilian scientist, Butler has been been researching CVD diamond and semiconducting for the military for 16 years, long enough to see plenty of failure in the field. But today, he's more optimistic than ever. There have been three long-standing roadblocks to diamond semiconducting - and each of them appears to be on the verge of falling. First, diamond is viewed as wildly expensive, due to the artificial scarcity that De Beers maintains with its lock on the market. Synthesized diamonds created outside of the cartel will greatly reduce that problem. Second, there has never been a steady and dependable supply of large, pure diamonds. You can't depend on mined diamonds, as there is no way to ensure that each stone will have the same electrical properties as the next. Apollo's CVD diamonds solve that.

    The third big challenge has been the most daunting for materials scientists: To form microchip circuits, positive and negative conductors are needed. Diamond is an inherent insulator - it doesn't conduct electricity. But both Gemesis and Apollo have been able to inject boron into the lattice, which creates a positive charge. Until now, though, no one had been able to manufacture a negatively charged, or n-type, diamond with sufficient conductivity. When I visit Butler in Washington, he can barely contain his glee. "There's been a major breakthrough," he tells me. In June, together with scientists from Israel and France, he announced a novel way of inverting boron's natural conductivity to form a boron-doped n-type diamond. "We now have a p-n junction," Butler says. "Which means that we have a diamond semiconductor that really works. I can now see an Intel diamond Pentium chip on the horizon."

    Still, Butler is frustrated with what he thinks of as myopia in the US computer business. "Europe and Japan have been investing in diamond semiconductor research," he says, citing the Japanese government's announcement in December that it would begin allocating $6 million a year to build a first-generation diamond chip. "Bob Linares has given the US the advantage, but nobody's paying any attention," he says. "If we're not careful, the Japanese or the Europeans are going to claim the diamond niche."

    Indeed, Intel's top materials executives weren't aware of the latest research breakthroughs when I spoke to them in June, although they certainly understood the potential for diamonds in computing. "Diamonds represent a seismic change in semiconductors," says Krishnamurthy Soumyanath, Intel's director of communications circuits research. "It takes us about 10 years to evaluate a new material. We have a lot of investment in silicon. We're not about to abandon that."

    But someday, that's exactly what chipmakers will be forced to do. Just ask Bernhardt Wuensch, an MIT professor of materials science. "If Moore's law is going to be maintained, processors are going to get hotter and hotter," he tells me. "Eventually, silicon is just going to turn into a puddle. Diamond is the solution to that problem."

    The JCK Show is one of the biggest events in the jewelry business. It draws every major diamond dealer in the US, most of whom buy their goods from De Beers. This year, for the first time, the General tried to get a booth. He was told that he'd applied too late. He suspected that the industry simply didn't want him there, but he took it gracefully and announced that Gemesis would unveil its stones at a smaller satellite convention down the street.

    I head to Las Vegas to check it out. The Gem and Lapidary Dealers Association Show is held in a large room at the back of the Mirage. Here - amid purveyors of quartz-encrusted, electric-powered water fountains ("Be amazed by their magic!"), Lithuanian amber salesmen, Nigerian tanzanite dealers, and Vegas-style cowboys in ostrich skin boots - is the Gemesis booth, which displays more than 1,000 carats of yellow diamonds. The show ends tonight, and JCK starts tomorrow morning, so the last few hours see a whirlwind of recently arrived JCK-bound buyers. Efraim Katz, a yarmulke-clad, heavily bearded gem wholesaler from Miami, literally jogs through the room but pauses in front of Gemesis.

    "Diamonds mined in Florida?" he asks a Gemesis rep. "I can't believe it. Give me your number - I will be calling."

    Kevin Castro, a jeweler in Cedar City, Utah, comes to a surprised halt. "These are awfully pretty," he says.

    I tell him that they are man-made and ask if that bothers him.

    "If you go into a florist and buy a beautiful orchid, it's not grown in some steamy hot jungle in Central America," he says. "It's grown in a hothouse somewhere in California. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a beautiful orchid."

    "Do you care that it's not from De Beers?" I ask.

    "De Beers?" he says. "Nobody cares if it's from De Beers. My clients just want a nice diamond."

    How to Make a Diamond

    The Gemesis Way:
    High pressure, high temperature. Crystal is created in a chamber that mimics geologic conditions.

    1. Place metal solvents and graphite in ceramic growth chamber. Insert diamond seed at bottom of chamber and put chamber in center of compression sphere.
    2. Force oil into top layer of sphere, creating pressure against steel anvils. Increasing pressure is transferred through anvils and onto growth chamber. Even with minimal pressure at surface, force at center reaches 58,000 atmospheres.
    3. Turn on juice. Current wired to one end of ceramic chamber raises temperature to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat and pressure cause graphite - pure carbon - to atomize. Freed carbon drawn to cooler end of chamber bonds to diamond seed, crystallizing layer by layer.
    4. Wait three days.
    5. Open machine. Smash growth chamber, pull out stone. Cut and polish to make sparkling diamond gem.

    The Apollo Way
    Chemical vapor deposition. Crystal is formed when a plasma cloud rains carbon onto diamond wafers.
    1. Place diamond wafers on pedestal. Depressurize chamber to one-tenth of an atmosphere.
    2. Inject hydrogen, natural gas (CH4) into chamber. Heat with microwave beam. At 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, electrons separate from nuclei, forming plasma.
    3. Let it rain. Freed carbon precipitates out of plasma cloud and is deposited on wafer seeds.
    4. Let it grow. Wafer seeds gradually become diamond minibricks, building up at half a millimeter a day.
    5. Open chamber and remove diamond brick. Slice into wafers for semiconductors or cut and polish to make gems.
     
  4. annec

    annec TRIBE Member

    diamonds are a way for the insecure to proclaim their "importance" to the world.

    Debeers won't ever see a dime from me. haha! Go Apollo!
     
  5. litespeed

    litespeed Well-Known TRIBEr

  6. gsnuff

    gsnuff TRIBE Promoter

    50% cynicism / 50% facetiousness

    Bah! It's not a *real* diamond unless it is bought and paid for with blood money that ends up paying for arms for an African warlord's goons. Nothing says "I want you to have my offspring and for us to (mostly) remain platonic" better than putting a bloody diamond on her left hand ring-finger.
     
  7. Michlerish

    Michlerish Well-Known TRIBEr

    can you guys post links to this info?
     
  8. Woody

    Woody TRIBE Member

  9. gsnuff

    gsnuff TRIBE Promoter

    all my news comes from kayne west..

    Song: Diamonds From Sierra Leone

    [Intro]
    Diamonds are forever
    They're all I need to please me
    They can't stimulate or tease me
    They won't leave in the night
    Have no fear that they might
    Desert me

    [Hook]
    "Diamonds are forever forever forever"
    Throw ya diamonds in the sky
    If you feel the vibe
    "Diamonds are forever forever forever"
    The ROC is still alive
    Everytime I rhyme
    "Forever and ever!"
    For ever ever? for ever ever? ever ever?
    Ever ever? ever ever? ever ever? ever ever?

    [Verse 1]
    Good Morning, this ain't Vietnam still
    People lose hands, legs, arms for real
    Little was known of Sierra Leone
    And how it connect to the diamonds we own
    When I speak of Diamonds in this song
    I ain't talkin bout the ones that be glown
    I'm talkin bout Rocafella, my home, my chain
    These ain't conflict diamonds,is they Jacob? don't lie to me mayne
    See, a part of me sayin' keep shinin',
    How? when I know of the blood diamonds
    Though it's thousands of miles away
    Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today
    Over here, its a drug trade, we die from drugs
    Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs
    The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses
    I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless
    'til I seen a picture of a shorty armless
    And here's the conflict
    It's in a black person's soul to rock that gold
    Spend ya whole life tryna get that ice
    On a polar rugby it look so nice
    How could somethin' so wrong make me feel so right, right?
    'fore I beat myself up like Ike
    You could still throw ya Rocafella diamond tonight, 'cause

    [Hook]

    [Verse 2]
    [Kanye From Original Song]
    People askin' me is I'm gon' give my chain back (uh)
    That'll be the same day I give the game back (uh)
    You know the next question dog 'yo, where Dame at?'(uh)
    This track the Indian dance to bring our reign back (whoo!)
    'wassup wit you a Jay man, are ya'll okay man?'

    [Jay-Z]
    Yep!
    I got it from her 'ye damn!
    The chain remians, the gang is in tact
    The name is mine, I'll take blame for that
    The pressure's on, but guess who ain't gon' crack? [laughs]
    Pardon me I had to laugh at that
    How could you falter when you're the rock of gibralter
    I had to get of the boat so I could walk on water
    This ain't no tour order, this is nothin to me
    Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week
    I do this in my sleep,
    I sold Kilos of coke, (so?) I'm guessin' I can sell CD's
    I'm not a buisness man I'm a buisness, man
    Let me handle my buisness, damn!
    Kanyeez you got me, Freeway and Foxy
    YG', Teairra Mari, Petey watch me
    Bleek could be one hit away his whole career
    As long as I'm alive, he's a millionaire
    And even if I die, he's in my will somewhere
    So he can just kick back and chill somewhere, oh yeah
    He don't even have to write rhymes
    The Dynasty like my money last three lifetimes
    Shirley Bassey was in the rear sayin exactly
    What I was sayin practically me whole carreer
    The diamond is forever, I been mindin' this forever
    Now the Louis Vuitton Don's timin' couldn't be better
    People lined up to see the Titanic sinkin'
    Instead we rose from the ash like a phoenix
    If you waitin' for the end, the dynasty signed
    And what seemed like forever is a mighty long time
    I'm young bitches [laughs]
    Goodnight!
     
  10. Rataxès

    Rataxès TRIBE Member

    DeBeers now finds themselves in an interesting situation. After years of preaching that you want the biggest, clearest, most perfect diamond, the manufactured stones offer all that at a fraction of DeBeers artificially high price. D'oh! Talk about hoisted by your own petard.

    I'm sure that they'll counter with some sort of 'Real love, real diamond.' pitch that some people will buy into, but I honestly believe that your average diamond whore would prefer to have a 4ct. 'cultured' diamond than a 2ct. mined stone. For the average person, size is the only characteristic that really stands out, and when she gets her engagement ring, she wants all her girlfriends to be jealous because it's sooooo big.
     
  11. X_Door

    X_Door TRIBE Member

    Whatever happened to Moissanite ? A few years back they were touted to be the closest thing to a mined diamond but they were created in a lab and sold at a fraction of the cost of a mined diamond. From what I recall, they even had a local distributor with an office in our "diamond district" on Dundas Square.
     
  12. bitchass

    bitchass TRIBE Member

    I believe it was in the Wired article (didn't have time to read it all again) that they said the best way to tell them apart was the manmade ones were "too perfect". Amazing.
     
  13. Old Stradlater

    Old Stradlater TRIBE Member


    You don;t know woemn. They are not gonna care when they know its a "cultured diamond" and its cheap/

    Might as well be cubic zirconia.

    This is worse than cloning.
     
  14. -Mercury-

    -Mercury- TRIBE Member

    you must hang out with some real fucked up bitches!
     
  15. Old Stradlater

    Old Stradlater TRIBE Member

    No, I don't. Nice girls wouldn't care. But "rataxes" made a difference to the diamond "whores" who would be impressed by the biggest rock. Those types of girls, the superficial ones, would not be impressed buy the huge rock knowing how cheap it was.

    get it?
     
  16. AshG

    AshG Member

    call me 21st centurian if you must, but try as i might, i just can't say i'm a fan of bride prices or dowries.
     
  17. grumblegirl

    grumblegirl TRIBE Member

    i hear ya.
    there's more idiocy of this ilk to comment on
    here
     
  18. Bass-Invader

    Bass-Invader TRIBE Member


    they will still serve many practical uses like cheaper drill bits, laser focusing lenses etc.

    In terms of engagement rings...well i think the whole 'point' as created by DeBeers was for the ring to symbolize a sacrifice, and as such needs to cost alot of money relative to the buyer's capacity to spend (which should go to DeBeers) to portend it's meaning. So yes, giving a much cheaper grown diamond will likely be unacceptable.

    I think that once diamond culturing goes mainstream that eventually we will either give up on diamond engagement rings, or exchange them for something else of value (sapphire engagement rings?). After all, DeBeers manufactured the idea once already, i'm sure they, or someone else will be able to do it again.
     
  19. kline

    kline TRIBE Member

    "diamonds... she'll pretty much have to."

    LoLerz... oh family guy, you have the best lines :D
     

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