Treatments and Synthetics

Imitations diamonds and faked improvements to natural stones date back thousands of years. Real synthetic diamonds were first developed by GE and ASEA in the 1950′s and industrial abrasive diamonds have been made this way ever since using High Pressure, High Temperature presses (HPHT). But colorless gem diamonds are more expensive to make, than to mine.

The big new development was not technology; it was the rise in popularity and prices of fancy yellow diamonds. The Florida based company, Gemesis, uses HPHT to make fancy yellows.

Natural colorless diamonds are far more expensive to make. A high tech MIT company, Apollo, was developing diamonds for computer chips and made a few stones with a vapor deposition method. Apollo and Gemesis both received great venture capitol fund raising publicity with this sensationalized but inaccurate Wired article. Apollo diamonds are too thin, and they are brown to grey. After production Apollo diamonds they need expensive HPHT processing to remove the color. Unfortunately, journalists often present sensational materials without consulting true experts.

Synthetics diamonds are not difficult to detect; gemologists have been doing such things since synthetic ruby and sapphire were first produced in 1892. For example in 1999 Lazar Kaplan and GE announced their new HPHT process that removed strong brown coloration from natural diamonds. They claimed the bleached diamonds were indistinguishable from Mother Nature’s and since gemologists would not be able to detect the process, they decided not to inform buyers the gems were treated! Within 3 months routine detection tests were developed that all major labs now use for all graded diamonds.

Please don’t get me wrong; there is a place for synthetic gems. Chain stores have developed a thriving ethical business in imitation, synthetic and treated gems. When Cubic Zirconia’s (CZ) first burst onto the market in the 1970′s the media pronounced death of the “hated” De Beers and the diamond industry, but woe betide any man who proposes marital union (or any other type) with a fake! Those who do not like the economic symbolism of diamonds may prefer a man made (or is that “human” made?) diamond.

Some people feel synthetic diamonds are a solution to the conflict diamond trade in West Africa and child labor in India. I disagree, but then I am against rich nation trade barriers because they hurt poor countries. Diamonds play a vital employment, revenue and development role in Africa, and they provide nearly 1 million well (relatively) paid jobs in India. Rich nation tariffs on cotton and sugar cause far greater suffering. Canada (in my opinion) should stop marketing its diamonds as “non-conflict” and divert their efforts into helping African nations market “development diamonds”. New Kimberley Process import/export laws are making diamond smuggling increasingly costly. Diamonds are smuggled to avoid mining and export taxes, but if we, as consumers, demanded to be sold tax paid diamonds mined and polished in poor nations, our dollars will stop illicit diamond trading and benefit the poor.

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