Diamond Inscription Enters the Matrix

3Beams Technologies of Hillsboro, Ore., which recently introduced technology for placing bar codes and logo inscriptions on the table of a diamond, has come out with another option for diamond inscription services. CEO Jayant Neogi describes 3Beams’s new “symbol matrix” inscription as resembling “a scrambled checkerboard.” Neogi says the new technology not only can encode bar-code-like tracking information but also store color images, music, and even a small video clip-right on the table of a diamond. (See Up Front, JCK, January 2001, p. 31.)

A unique encoding scheme. This new encoded symbol matrix is designed to pack a lot of information into a very small space, says Neogi. The matrix “symbology”-little white and black squares within four larger squares-stores between one and 3,116 numeric or 2,335 alphanumeric characters. Data matrix symbols can be used to store information such as identification numbers (just like bar-codes) for tracking inventory, but they’re also capable of storing more item-specific data, eliminating the need to access a database to retrieve such information.

Because the symbol matrix can be inscribed at any size, large or small, the actual limits are dependent only upon the accuracy of the marking device (such as ion beam or laser) and the optics of the reading device (which can be as simple as a converted Palm Pilot). Consequently, these data matrix symbols can be far less obvious than a bar-code, because they can be hidden in other graphics or even a logo.

The high-density code matrix can be applied to or inscribed on a wide variety of flat or curved surfaces and can be read in any orientation. This makes the technology a strong candidate for marking rough diamond crystals as well as polished diamond girdles.

Matrices encode each data bit in cells of equal size: black cells for ones, white cells for zeros. Within a given symbol, all cells are the same size and shape. As a result, matrix readers don’t need to determine edge locations or ratios of light to dark spaces, as scanners do with bar codes, but only whether the center of a cell is dark or light. This means that print quality and contrast are much less critical than with standard bar codes or stacked bar codes. It also means that they can guarantee a fast and accurate read.

In the electronics, automotive, and pharmaceutical industries, the data matrix is quickly becoming the symbology of choice because it can store a large amount of data in a small space, it can be placed on any surface, and it can be read accurately, quickly, and reliably.

Just how small is small? If you’d like your symbol tiny, 3Beams can use focused ion beams to create a matrix anywhere from 50 nanometers to 1 millimeter in size. If you want to easily see the symbol, a laser beam can inscribe a matrix from 10 microns to a few inches in size. The time it takes to encode/inscribe diamonds with matrix symbols is measured in milliseconds.

What’s next? Preliminary testing for branding inside gemstones continues, according to Neogi, and a system with that capability may be available within months. Meanwhile, 3Beams has established branding labs in the United States for logos and barcodes and is opening a branding facility in India. The company is still moving forward with regard to “conflict diamonds,” rough branding, and tracking.

For more information about 3Beams and the company’s latest inscription technology, log onto its Web site at www.3Beams.com