Microwaved stones—no dirty mines or bloody conflicts—might be a girl’s next-best friend
The 2.62-carat diamond Calvin Mills bought his fiancée in November is a stunner. Pear-shaped and canary-yellow, the gem cost $22,000. A bargain. Mills, the chief executive officer of CMC Technology Consulting in Baton Rouge, La., says he could have spent tens of thousands more on a comparably sized diamond mined out of the earth, but his came from a lab.
“I got more diamond for less money,” says the former Southern University football player, who proposed last year at halftime during one of his alma mater’s games at the Superdome in New Orleans.
While man-made gems make up just a fraction of the $80 billion global diamond market, demand is increasing as buyers look for stones that are cheaper—and free of ethical taint. Human-rights groups, with help from Hollywood, have popularized the term “blood diamonds” to call attention to the role diamond mining has played in fueling conflicts in Africa.
Unlike imitation diamonds such as cubic zirconia, stones that are “grown” (the nascent industry’s preferred term) in labs have the same physical characteristics and chemical makeup as the real thing. They’re made from a carbon seed placed in a microwave chamber with methane or another carbon-containing gas and superheated into a glowing plasma ball.
That creates particles that crystallize into diamonds, a process that can take 10 weeks. The technology has progressed to the point that experts need a machine to tell synthesized gems apart from those extracted from mines or rivers.
Retailers including Wal-Mart Stores and Warren Buffett’s Helzberg Diamonds are beginning to stock the artificial gems. “To a modern young consumer, if they get a diamond from above the ground or in the ground, do they really care?” asks Chaim Even-Zohar, a principal at Tacy, an industry consulting firm in Ramat Gan, Israel.
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