Lab-Made Diamonds Just Like Natural Ones

ByABC News via via logo

Sept. 9, 2003 -- Two small companies say they are taking a quantum leap forward into a new diamond age.

Apollo Diamond Inc. in Massachusetts and Florida-based Gemesis Corp. each have produced a new type of lab-made diamond that is difficult, though not impossible, to distinguish from natural diamonds.

The companies say that their manmade gems — to be sold at lower prices than natural diamonds — will be labeled so that they will not be confused with natural diamonds. But experts say that retail jewelers would not be able to tell the difference on their own.

"No chance," said Mark Yakubov, a gemologist at the International Gemological Institute in New York.

A gem lab, equipped with special equipment to separate natural from synthetic diamonds, will be able to spot the synthetics whether they are marked or not, experts say.

Mine vs. Machine

Last year, $27.4 billion in diamond jewelry was sold in the United States alone, according to the Diamond Information Center.

Natural diamonds are mined from deep in the earth. They are formed of carbon that has been exposed to immense heat and pressure over billions of years. Synthetics have the same physical properties, but they are created in a laboratory.

The new manmade diamonds from Apollo Diamond are created in a few days by a machine in an industrial park near Boston through a process called chemical vapor deposition. Diamond crystal is formed when a plasma cloud of carbon is deposited onto diamond wafers. The wafer seeds grow into diamond mini-bricks, rough diamonds that are sliced into wafers, and cut and polished into diamonds.

Apollo estimates it will be able to sell the synthetic diamonds for 30 percent less than what natural diamonds go for.

At Gemesis, which is based in Sarasota, Fla., synthetic diamonds are created through a high-pressure, high-temperature technique that mimics the geologic conditions under which natural diamonds are formed.

In a capsule placed under high temperature and pressure, graphite — a form of carbon — breaks down into atoms and travels through a metal solvent to bond to a tiny diamond seed, crystallizing layer by layer. Three or four days later, the stone that is formed is then removed from the chamber and cut and polished into a synthetic diamond.

The two companies' products are bigger, better and brighter than their synthetic predecessors. Gemesis is already selling its fancy yellow synthetic diamonds through retail jewelers at a suggested retail price of $3,250 per carat, significantly less than the price of natural yellow diamonds. Neither company is selling colorless diamonds through stores yet.

‘They Are Real’

Though they do not come from the earth, these synthetic diamonds' properties are the same as those of diamonds that come from mines, said Apollo Chairman Robert Linares.

"They are real," said Linares. "They meet every measure of being diamond. From the aesthetic point of view, from the scientific point of view, they are diamonds and so therefore they have all the properties of diamond."

The new synthetic diamonds have created ripples throughout the jewelry industry.

"It has taken the art, if you will, of growing a diamond in a laboratory to a whole new level," said Antoinette Matlins, a gemologist and author of Diamonds —The Antoinette Matlins Buying Guide: How to Select, Buy, Care for Diamonds With Confidence and Knowledge. "And they have been able to do it in a manner that makes it economically feasible."

To see how good these new "cultured" diamonds are, Good Morning America visited the International Gemological Institute to conduct a test, using three diamonds labeled A, B and C. Two were natural, and the third — labeled C — was made by Apollo.

First, the lab technicians used a diamond tester, a typical tool that a retail jeweler would have on hand. The diamond tester beeped for each gem, indicating that they were all diamonds.

"If these are synthetic, they're excellent," said David Weinstein, executive director of International Gemological Institute.

A Red Flag

During the next set of tests, however, the lab-made diamond was spotted through the use of sophisticated equipment found only in diamond-grading labs. Special devices to detect synthetics can shine a light through a stone to analyze its refractory qualities or use ultraviolet light to reveal the crystal's internal structure.

The synthetic diamond raised a flag right away when a close inspection with a De Beers DiamondView revealed a red-colored "fluorescence" — undetectable to the eye or a jeweler's loupe — that is characteristic of a synthetic diamond exposed to high-energy ultraviolet radiation.

Both companies promise their diamonds will be properly labeled, but they do recognize the potential for fraud.

"I think their concern basically is they don't want this type of product to be represented as a natural stone, and that's a legitimate concern," said Carter Clarke, founder of Gemesis. "And we have that same concern."

Greg Hunter and Andrew Paparella produced this story for Good Morning America.

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