Right now, odds are that one in every four diamonds on sale around the world is a blood diamond – mined in a war zone and sold to finance armed conflict and civil war. And for those wanting to steer clear of such a commodity, it’s becoming nearly impossible to figure out the difference between a clean and a dirty diamond.
Which is why the market for lab-made diamonds is slowly but surely growing, offering a cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and ethically sound option that looks just as pretty as its natural counterpart. “To a modern young consumer, if they get a diamond from above the ground or in the ground, do they really care?” Chaim Even-Zohar from Tacy, an Israel-based diamond consulting firm, points out to Bloomberg Businessweek. And nope, these artificial diamonds are nothing like those cheap, lab-grown imitation diamonds, such as cubic zirconia – they have the exact same physical structure and chemical composition as a diamond that’s been pulled out of the ground.
The process works by placing a tiny fragment of diamond (called a carbon seed) into a microwave along with varying amounts of a carbon-heavy gas – methane is most commonly used. The gas mixture is heated to very high temperatures in the microwave to produce a plasma ball, and inside this, the gas breaks down and the carbon atoms crystallise and accumulate on the diamond seed, causing it to grow.
The process can take up to 10 weeks to produce a marketable diamond, but it works so well, experts reportedly need a machine to tell the lab-grown gems apart from natural ones sourced from mines or riverbeds. So far, synthetic diamonds make up a tiny fraction of the US$80 billion global diamond market, with Bloomberg reporting that in 2014, an estimated 360,000 carats of lab-grown diamonds were manufactured, while about 146 million carats of natural diamonds were mined. Source: Here’s how to make perfect diamonds in the microwave