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Synthetic Diamond Update: The White Club

By Rob Bates, Senior Editor

Posted on April 20, 2012

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Gemesis’ decision to produce lab-created colorless diamonds and sell them over the Internet—at prices far more aggressive than some were expecting—may turn out to be a milestone moment for the synthetic sector. Partly as a result of Gemesis’ announcement, and partly because of improving technology, diamond producers are looking more and more into creating “white” gems.

“Their announcement has made other growers try and adjust their marketing,” says Tom Chatham of Chatham Created Gems. “The Russians are now moving their production to whites, and trying to be price-sensitive.” 

Certainly the other companies openly producing these stones—and Chatham says there is a lot going on under the radar—are increasingly talking about their colorless production. Eric Franklin, president of Greenville, S.C.–based D.NEA, which recently set up the world’s first created diamond retail store, says that’s where his focus is now. “We have 40 to 50 whites and a lot more coming,” he says. And Scio Diamond, which bought the former assets of Apollo Diamond, plans to produce mostly “light colorless” stones and “bubblegum pinks,” says company CEO Joseph Lancia. 

Not surprisingly, Gemesis’ announcement sparked articles predicting these gems will spell doom for the natural diamond sector (even though the company’s rollout has been rather low-key, at least compared with what we have seen in the past). But we are talking about extremely small numbers here, compared to the over 100 million carats of natural diamonds produced each year. By contrast, Gemesis only has 3,400 or so colorless diamonds for sale. 

We are also talking about small sizes. It remains quite challenging to produce colorless gems of significant caratage, particularly with the CVD method, which tends to grow things flat. The largest stone Gemesis currently lists is a 1.27 ct. princess. All in all, we are long way from the point where notable diamonds can be churned out by machines. (It seems counterintuitive that it’s harder to produce a big diamond in a lab than from a mine. But it’s so.) 

Still, no matter what happens with Gemesis’ little experiment—and CEO Stephen Lux tells me he is “exceptionally pleased” with the initial reaction—the lab-grown sector appears ready to embark on a new phase, after nearly two decades of delays. 

One final note: Scio raised eyebrows with a press release yesterday, which said the company has been issued a patent for a method of how to detect its diamonds:

U.S. Patent 12/463,152 - Issued March 13, 2012 - Detection of CVD Grown Diamond - Diamonds may be identified as grown by the use of chemical vapor deposition. One or more diamonds may be placed on a surface and exposed to short wavelength light. Diamonds that fluoresce red may be identified as grown by the use of chemical vapor deposition. 

But can a detection method be patented? When JCK tried to figure out what exactly is going on here, we didn’t get many answers.  

“We have known about orange reddish fluorescence for some time,” says Dr. Jim Shigley, GIA’s distinguished research fellow. “It is a pretty distinctive feature, easily seen in the Diamond View. From our point of view, this information has been known.”

Lancia counters that the that patent, and a few others Scio has been granted, will be used mostly in the company’s commercial and industrial applications, not on the gemstone side.

For the record, here is the patent in question, and here is the patent application.

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