Scientists Just Found A Way To Seriously Change The Diamond Industry

Diply 17 Apr 2018

The jewelry industry is worth big bucks, with nearly a third of a trillion dollars in sales in the United States alone in 2016.

While jewelry can incorporate many different precious metals and gemstones, the jewel in the industry's crown (so to speak) has always been diamonds.

Now, some next-level tech could disrupt the whole system.

We're all conditioned to buy jewelry.

Pinterest | Pinterest

Besides the typical necklaces and bracelets you'll see at any jeweler, there's also a longstanding societal expectation that before getting married, a couple should invest in a flashy (and extremely expensive) diamond engagement ring.

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Diamonds are (messing the planet up) forever.

Wikimedia Commons | Stepanovas

Diamonds, which are frequently mined in impoverished countries in sub-Saharan Africa, draw big companies to these areas. But mining practices can be shady and unregulated. They can also bring conflict without doing much to increase wealth among the locals.

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Some regulations have been put in place.

Wikimedia Commons | Reise-Line

The Clean Diamond Trade Act, as well as voluntary standards put in place by big companies like De Beers, make the practice of diamond mining somewhat more ethical, but it's still an extremely problematic industry.

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What if we could just make our own diamonds?

Pixabay | gr8effect

It sounds impossible since real diamonds require tons of pressure (and many, many years) to form. Yes, there are lab-grown fake diamonds like cubic zirconia, but what if we could create actual diamonds?

Turns out we're not far away...

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The secret to ethical, sustainable diamonds is...microwaves?

A Dishware Store | A Dishware Store

Believe it. These aren't the same microwaves you use to reheat last night's lasagna, but the same basic technology is being used to create picture-perfect diamonds.

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It's all about chemical vapor deposition.

CVD Diamond | CVD Diamond

Let's call it CVD for short. This technique requires a tiny piece of diamond, called a carbon seed. When it's placed in a special microwave with carbon-heavy gas, magic happens.

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High heat is applied to the combination.

Wikimedia Commons | Tony Hisgett

Eventually, the carbon-heavy gas and carbon seed form a plasma ball (which presumably looks pretty cool). Inside the ball, the carbon atoms crystallize as the gas breaks down.

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These crystallized atoms start to adhere to the diamond fragment.

MDL Diamonds | MDL Diamonds

The small carbon seed attracts like-minded atoms and it grows — effectively turning a small diamond shard into a bigger diamond, simply by adding gas and heat.

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The process takes awhile.

CVD Diamond | CVD Diamond

It takes about 10 weeks to go from carbon seed to marketable diamond. But considering mined diamonds take literal eons to form, 10 weeks doesn't seem so bad.

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The microwave diamonds are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

GIA | GIA

Unlike other "fake" diamonds like cubic zirconia, the differences aren't really visually perceptible, and it typically takes a specialized machine to spot the difference.

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These diamonds are at the forefront of a big change in the industry.

Rio Grande's Blog | Rio Grande's Blog

In 2014, about 360,000 carats of lab-grown diamonds were created, versus 146 million carats of natural diamonds. But lab-grown diamonds are expected to grow in popularity.

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Diamonds are pretty. Now we just need to make them sustainable.

Reddit | Reddit

It seems that diamond-seeking millennials don't care much whether their diamonds come from the ground or from a lab, so it'll be interesting to see where this technology takes us.

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