It is a well-known fact that diamonds are made out of carbon, one of the most common substances on earth. It is also known that diamonds are fairly rare, though this may be simply the cause of an artificial shortage created by the De Beers cartel. However, diamonds of any grade -- whether for jewelry or industrial use, were difficult to get ahold of, especially during World War II, when they were badly needed for the war effort.

And so it was that the Diamond Race began, though it was too late to help with World War Two. This was not unlike the Space Race or the Arms Race in that it was top secret and condoned by the government, but it was not directly led by governmental agencies. Instead, General Electric really led the effort, starting in the 1950's, with independent scientists, researchers, and universities not far behind.

However, when you’ve got a large corporation competing against independent scientists with less funding, it’s pretty clear who’s going to win out. GE assembled an elite team of physicists, chemists, and engineers and set them to work on creating synthetic diamonds and nothing else.

There was false alarm that involved one member of the team claiming he had invented a machine that would synthesize diamonds, but his results were never repeated. Upon further examination, it was proved that his diamonds were natural, to boot. Nevertheless, kind of like the Cold Fusion scandal, a lot of the media was taken in and you still find books with the wrong name.

It was H. Tracy Hall (my grandfather) who eventually created the half-belt apparatus, a machine that would create High Pressures and High Temperatures to the degree needed to squeeze and press carbon into a new molecular arrangement otherwise known as diamond. There are some chemical aspects to it, as well, but those are beyond my powers to explain. GE erroneously claimed that it was a team effort (thus disqualifying my Grandfather from the Nobel Prize, which he may very well have received after the Government secrecy order was removed) and subsequently lost him as an employee. They still, of course, make millions off his inventions.

Howard Tracy Hall later went on to create the Tetrahedral Press and the Cubic Anvil press, which is still the preferred machine for use in scientific research. He still lives in Provo, Utah, puttering around with various things, though his inventing days are mostly over. His website can be found at

Anything carbon-rich can be put into one of the synthesizing machines, including Peanut Butter. It doesn’t turn out very high-quality diamonds, but they’re green, due to the amount of nitrogen in the substance. Very Cool.

The diamonds that come out of the presses are not gem-quality, but are used for industrial purposes. The prices of drills, diamond dust, grinders, and other things requiring the hardness of diamonds have all dropped substantially because of this invention.

You can find out more about the race to create synthetic diamonds in the book The Diamond Makers, by Robert M. Hazen. The New Alchemists was a book I once had that entailed both the making of diamonds and the use of whole diamonds in further High Pressure High Temperature research, but I can’t find it on Amazon ... don’t buy the other book entitiled The New Alchemists, it’s about corporate strategy and junk like that.

Point of clarification: I've seen that this has been soft-linked to lab-created stones, wherein it explains that synthetic rocks are fake and lab-created stones are real. So the title of my write-up is a bit misleading. However, my grandfather has always referred to his diamonds as synthetic (or on occasion, man-made) and that is how I'm used to thinking of them. The diamonds created in the belt apparatus are REAL -- they are chemically identical to natural diamonds (except when you make them with peanut butter), and are just as hard etc. They are not cubic zirconia. Just in case I confused anybody.

Gem Quality Synthetic Diamonds

Recently, new methods for the creation of synthetic stones have been developed. Both of these methods can grow large, flawless, gem quality stones. This development is shaking the earth in Antwerp, Belgium (where most diamond trades are handled), and is greatly feared by the De Beers diamond cartel. The stones produced are actual diamonds, nearly identical to their mined counterparts, and visually indistinguisable from natural gems.

There are two methods for producing gem quality stones. One, created in Russia an developed by a Florida based company called Gemesis, uses high pressures and temperatures to convert carbon in graphite to diamond. The diamonds produced from this method are slightly contaminated by the metal solvents they are grown in, and can be detected using infrared spectroscopy. However, apart from this they are identical to natural diamonds, can be grown in large sizes (3 carat and up), and are cheap to manufacture. Upon visual examination of such a stone, diamond experts have declared them to be rare yellow diamonds and priced them at $10,000-$15,000 before they were informed they were created in a lab.

The yellow color comes from the manufacturing process, but can be removed by longer processing.

Gemesis creates their diamonds in this way:

First, metal solvents and graphite are placed in a ceramic growth chamber. A diamond seed is inserted as well. The chamber is placed in a compression sphere. Oil is forced into the top layer of the sphere, pushing up against steel anvils. The anvils increase the pressure. Electric current is run through the chamber to create heat, up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The graphite in the chamber atomizes, and the free carbon is drawn to a cooler end of the chamber, where it freezes onto the diamond seed. After three days, the ceramic chamber is removed and smashed to reveal the diamond, which can then be cut and polished.

The second method, pioneered by Apollo Diamond, Inc. of Boston, uses a carbon plasma to grow their diamonds via chemical vapor deposition (CVD). These diamonds are virtually flawless, and so far indistinguishable by any method from mined diamonds. Diamond experts believe they might be able to exploit their perfectness, however, as these diamonds actually have fewer flaws than any natural stone. Apollo Diamond's stones can be colored or uncolored as well.

Apollo Diamond creates their diamonds in this way:

Diamond wafers are put in a chamber on a pedestral. The pressure is reduced to one tenth of an atmosphere. Hydrogen and methane gases are injected into the chamber and heated with a microwave beam. At high temperatures (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) a plasma forms when the electrons leave their atomic nuclei. The plasma "rains" onto the diamond wafer, depositing carbon. Minibricks of diamond are formed at the rate of half a millimeter a day. These bricks can be cut into gemstones, or used in making semiconductors. These wafers are one inch square, and are expected to reach four inches in five years. The price to manufacture one carat of CVD diamond is $5.

Beyond producing quality gemstones for much lower prices than mined ones, these diamonds are very exciting for their use as semiconductors. Currently, the heat produced by processors limit their speed, as high temperatures melt chips. However, diamonds are amazing conductors of heat, almost ten times better than alumuminum. Researches at Apollo have been able to produce postive and negatively biased (p- and n-type) diamond layers by doping with boron, the first step in making useful semiconductors.

De Beers has taken action against these synthetic diamonds, recognizing them as a serious threat to their stranglehold on the diamond industry. Right now De Beers produces about half the natural diamonds in the world, and controls about two thirds of the diamond trade. Through successful advertising ("A Diamond is Forever") and tight restriction of the supply, they've vastly inflated the prices for the gems. A cheap, ready source of diamond is anathema to their empire.

They have fought back by instituting the Gem Defensive Programme, where they distribute, free of charge, the instruments that can differentiate between some man made diamonds (using older processes) and their natural counterpart. The DiamondSure and DiamondView instruments are given to various gemstone labs to help keep artificial diamonds from interefering with sales. But the new methods, especially chemical vapor deposition, produce stones identical to those found in mines. Currently all artificial diamonds sold in the US have to be called "synthetic", allowing purchasers a choice. Time will tell where the heart of the consumer lies.

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