Synthetic Diamonds

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

They say diamonds are forever, perhaps because they take hundreds of millions of years to form underground. Until now. Scientists have worked out how to grow a real diamond in a laboratory in just a few days.These synthetic, or cultured, diamonds are identical to the real thing, but cost a fraction of the price, as one jeweler explained to a customer trying on a diamond ring, "If that were a natural yellow stone you're looking at about $21,000 to $25,000 whereas this is only $10,000."

This beautiful half carat diamond is, well, man-made. We took it to several big jewellers to have it valued. The results will stun you. At the Florida-based Gemesis company hundreds of machines are working around the clock producing synthetic diamonds. "Basically what we do create, or emulate, the process that occurs a hundred miles below the earth's surface," said Carter Clarke, Gemesis CEO.

The core is made of graphite carbon and a diamond seed. A tiny piece of natural diamond is put under extreme pressure, (850,000 pounds per square inch), and heated to 1,500 degrees. Pure carbon atoms bond to form a real diamond in just a few days."Structurally they're identical optically, chemically and physically they're identical to a mined diamond," said Gemesis scientist Clarke McEwen.

The result is stunning and cheap. This diamond is worth just over $1,000. We took it to four jewellery stores to be valued by experts, all members of the National Council of Jewellery Valuers, their figures valid for insuring the diamond... The lowest valuation was $3,100... Then $3,800... $4,150... And a stunning $4,330... Four times it's value. "We grow diamonds," said Bryant Linares, CEO of Apollo Diamonds.

The Apollo company made our diamond at their laboratory outside Boston. Their unique process produces large, clear diamonds."I think conventional wisdom would say that diamonds only come from the ground and that notion is just not true," Linares said.

"Some of the diamonds I've seen, the Gemesis, specifically the fancy colours, are very beautiful diamonds," said Roy Cohen from the Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia (DCLA) Cohen is just about the only person in the country who can tell the difference between a synthetic diamond and the real thing. Two special machines invented to spot the synthetic stones reveal their hidden structure; one that jewellers and valuers, let alone consumers, could never see.

"There are natural diamonds that have got red fluorescence but very, very rare and usually fancy colours so in a white diamond like this particular diamond to have that colour fluorescence is very, very unusual...synthetic," Cohen said. "It's a legitimate product, it just needs to be fully disclosed."

"Synthetic diamonds are here to stay and they are going to grow in demand and supply," said Ian Hadassan, CEO of the Jewellers Association of Australia. He's not surprised the valuers didn't pick our synthetic stone.

"I would encourage all consumers to start now requesting a diamond certificate with their diamond purchase, whether it's synthetic or not, they should be doing that," said Hadassan.

A traditionalist, Hadassan loves the mystery of the natural diamond but he accepts technology is breaking the spell."For those people who can't afford a natural diamond this does provide an option for people to get in... perhaps start off with a synthetic diamond and then as their income grows maybe change to a natural diamond later," he said.

"It's not the same type of romantic image that the diamond was grown in a laboratory, a factory a week ago, it's just not the same type of image," said Cohen.

So it doesn't have the natural diamond vibe? "That's correct, yeah... that is the only difference but you ask any woman that's a big difference." That's the point, how would she know? "She wouldn't."

When it comes to picking the perfect stone for that perfect someone the choice is difficult to deny, as Carter Clarke explains... "Let's say we made two stones, one comes out of the ground, one comes out of a machine. They're identical. But the one from nature is one carat and the one out of the machine is two and a half carats, but everything else is equal, price and everything, what do you think the consumer's going to buy?"

Story Links:

Jewellers Association of Australia

Diamond Buying Guide available at:

http://www.jaa.com.au/jaa/section.php?section=consumers

Phone: 1800 657 762

Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia (DCLA)

http://www.dcla.com.au/

Phone: (02)92612 2104

Apollo Synthetic Diamonds

http://www.apollodiamond.com/

Gemesis Cultured Diamonds

http://www.gemesis.com/