Truths and Myths about Synthetic Diamonds(Γιώργος Σπυρομήλιος CDG, IMJVA)

Posted by superadmin 15/03/2022 0 Comment(s)


The mineral diamond is the one that was created 2.5 billion years ago in the upper mantle of the earth and has come to the surface through volcanic activity. The diamond stock is not renewed but to this day we discover deposits created during that period. On the contrary, synthetic diamond has been created in a laboratory, has the same chemical composition and physical properties as mineral diamond and the stocks of synthetic diamonds are unlimited as they are produced in laboratories with an unknown production volume per unit. Finally, imitation diamonds are stones that have nothing to do with the chemical composition and physical properties of the diamond but try to imitate it visually. Classic examples of imitations are cubic zirconia (zircon) and Moissanite.


Their composition


Synthetic diamonds are not a new product. Crystallization efforts began in 1797, when diamonds were discovered to contain mostly carbon. Since then, several attempts have been made that usually resulted, in the creation of diamond nanocrystals, which could not be exploited. It was also very difficult to confirm the success of the crystallization, as in all experiments mineral diamond was used as a seed.

Efforts were successful in 1953 by the Swedish power company ASEA, which managed to crystallize synthetic diamonds in the laboratory, but due to their small size could not be used in jewelry. Their effort was not announced until 1980 and so ASEA lost the lead to General Electric, which managed to create synthetic diamonds in a satisfactory size in 1970. The continuous efforts to create them, but also the advancement of technology led us to today, where thousands of companies around the world crystallize synthetic diamonds for industrial use, but also for use in the jewelry industry.

Regarding the technical part, there are two methods of crystallization of synthetic diamonds. This is the method of high pressure and high temperature (HPHT - High Pressure / High Temperature) and the method of chemical vapor deposition (CVD - Chemical Vapor Deposition).

More specifically, the HPHT method simulates the conditions of high pressure and high temperature at which the diamond crystallized in the bowels of the earth. A synthetic diamond "seed" is placed in carbon and exposed to high pressure and high temperature. The carbon then melts and begins to crystallize around the seed creating a larger synthetic diamond. Theoretically, the longer the process, the larger the synthetic diamond will be. There are of course several technical limitations to this. The largest weight synthetic diamonds available today have been created with this method.

The CVD method uses a synthetic diamond "skin" as a "seed". Usually this "seed" is another synthetic diamond created by the HPHT method. It is therefore placed in a chamber and heated to a relatively low temperature. Nitrogen-rich gases are then added to the chamber, the gases form a plasma around the "seed" and thus the resulting pure carbon crystallizes in levels on the surface of the seed-crystal. Synthetic diamonds with larger sizes, but also very small ones are usually obtained from the HPHT method, while for the other sizes the CVD method is used. For all larger synthetic diamonds (over 0.20ct) most gemological laboratories issue gemological reports describing the 4Cs (weight, purity, cut, tint) as well as mineral diamonds (some laboratories use the same criteria with different category names ), making it easy and straightforward to distinguish whether they are laboratory-developed diamonds, either by the color and title of the form or by the description inside it (Laboratory Grown Diamond).

The technology around synthetic diamonds has developed rapidly in recent years allowing hundreds of companies to produce larger quantities in much faster time, better quality than in the past, but also at a lower cost. Today the production of CVD synthetic diamonds is estimated to cost $ 300 - $ 500 per carat, compared to $ 4,000 per carat in 2008 (Source: Antwerp World Diamond Center). This created competition between the companies for the sale of laboratory and mineral diamonds, while both sides have presented their arguments in accordance with their interests.


Synthetic Diamonds and Jewelry


Several years ago laboratory diamonds had almost the same value as minerals and in some rare cases even greater. Today, as production increases and competition grows, the price of synthetic diamonds decreases. A key point in this was the creation of Light Box, a subsidiary of De Beers, one of the largest mineral diamond companies, which set new standards in the jewelry industry.

Light Box retailers have laboratory-developed diamonds at a much lower price than minerals. For $ 800 per carat you can buy earrings or pendants in silver or in low carat gold tied with lab diamonds. The carat weight of the stones offered by Light Box starts from 0.25ct and reaches 2.00ct remaining at the same price per carat. The company does not offer rings (single stone), aiming at the cheap daily gift and not at the replacement of the jewelry offered in the most important moments of the consumer's life. This move caused a sharp drop in the prices of synthetic diamonds, tied and loose, in wholesale and retail. However, several companies included jewelry with synthetic diamonds in their collection (Swarovski, Pandora, etc.). So the trend right now is for synthetic diamonds to be available in the most everyday jewelry. The most important thing for me is to be completely clear to the consumer what exactly he is buying, as is the case with jewelry tied with zirconium or synthetic ruby ​​for example.

This is about the use of diamonds in jewelry, because when it comes to the industrial use of diamonds, the winner is undoubtedly the synthetic diamonds. It is known that about 30% of mineral diamonds are used in jewelry and 70% in industry. Thin-film synthetic films are used in industry, from cell phones to medical equipment and car engines, reducing charging losses, cooling circuit boards, but also reducing engine wear while minimizing emissions.









Environmental Factors


In recent years there has been intense concern about the energy footprint that every human activity leaves on the planet. Considering the fact that synthetic and mineral diamonds leave their energy footprint, let us consider the claims of the mining companies, but also of the diamond production companies. Most, if not all, laboratory diamond companies describe their product as environmentally friendly, but few provide evidence to prove their point. That's why the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US advised them to be especially careful about their eco-friendly claims.

It is assumed that in order for a synthetic diamond to crystallize, as well as to extract a mineral, energy is required. However, how much energy is required for each case remains a mystery, as while there is some aggregate data from the mineral diamond industry, there is no corresponding data from the synthetic diamond industry collectively, only individual data from some companies. However, the main claim of synthetic diamond producers remains that they do not mine, so they automatically become environmentally friendly. At the same time, a survey conducted by the NDC (Natural Diamond Council), of which the 3 largest mining companies are members (De Beers, Alrosa, Rio Tinto), stated that, because synthetic companies are active in countries where the main Energy source comes from coal or natural gas, carbon dioxide emissions are 3 times higher than those of mineral diamonds (indicatively, 160 Kg for each carat of mineral diamond and 511 Kg for each carat of synthetic diamond). In fact both industries use huge amounts of iron (mining product), one in heavy mining machinery, the other in presses that crystallize synthetic diamonds.

In the first case we have a specific number of equipment, in the other an unknown number of companies producing synthetic diamonds, therefore an unknown number of presses.


Humanitarian Factors


Following the screening of "The Damned Diamond", the mineral diamond industry was accused of using immoral practices, as it was found that armed groups during the civil war in Sierra Leone were funded by the sale of mineral diamonds, a category that still prevails today. The diamond industry, in collaboration with the United Nations, set up in 2003 a body for the control and transparency of diamond sources called the "Kimberley Process", so that it is impossible to move diamonds from war zones, from mines involving children or any other immoral case. The civil war in Sierra Leone is over for almost 20 years, the Kimberley process seems to be yielding 99.9% success, so the issue of damn diamonds is probably considered over.

All of the above were used in favor of the synthetic diamond industry, emphasizing that their sources are legal and no form of violence is used in the closed production units. Considering that this is true, we do not know how ethical it is for one industry without any substantial advantage (obviously no violence is used anywhere) to try to dramatically reduce the production of the other, depriving it of basic vital factors (housing, food, care, education, etc.) in communities that make a living solely from their work in diamond mining.

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