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Synthetic Diamonds Processes

How are synthetic diamonds created and what they're used for?

Carbon is one of elements that can exist in different forms, due to its combining capacity. Such elements are known as allotropes. Well known forms of carbon are diamonds and graphite.

As an allotrope of carbon, diamond's hardness makes it useful for many industrial applications, while its high dispersion of light make it perfect for jewelry.

There are number of meanings for the word 'diamond', but one of them comes from Greek, meaning "impossible to tame".

An illustration of diamonds of many sizes
Natural diamonds high dispersion of light make them perfect
to be used for jewelry.

Synthetic vs Natural Diamonds

There is something so special about diamonds, being so rare, valuable and even mystical, that people have been trying to make artifical diamonds for a long time. But it's only with the modern technology that became possible.

Synthetic diamonds were first produced in 1953, in Stockholm, Sweden by ASEA, Sweden's major electrical manufacturing company. Pressure was maintained within a device at an estimated 83,000 atmospheres for an hour to produce these synthetic diamonds.

It now seems that it is possible to make diamonds in a laboratory so perfect down to the same atomic structure as natural diamonds that's causing concern by the major diamond consortiums. More so, these diamonds can be made and sold at a profit, making them viable to produce.

But, ironically, one of the problems with synthetic or artificial diamonds is that they're too perfect. This looses certain mistique that natural diamonds only have.

So, while synthetic diamonds are as good as the real thing, if not even better, they lack certain dimension that only those who appreciate the real value can understand. But, everything in life changes, so who known what future holds.

It's almost certain that these artificial diamonds, apart from their industrial use, will gain some traction in their value with people, especially if producers come up with certain twists and tunrs to make those synthtic peices desirable and valuable items to be had.

Artificial Diamonds Producers

Apparently there are in Russia alone, there are 5 laboratories producing synthetic diamonds that have the same atomic structure as natural diamonds but with one difference, they are too perfect. They have the same characteristics as real diamonds, the same hardness, same conductivity, the same sparkle.

Not to be left behind, Chinese too have started producing man-made gems, mastering their production en masse fairly quickly. For almost 10 years China has been producing 10 billion carats annually.

Most of that has gone into industrial use for abrasives to aeronautics, electronic chips and oil rigs. But they also started to produce gem grade diamonds, amounting 2-3 million carats per year. Half of these go to jewelry.

In a certain breakthrough, Australians have managed to produce lab diamonds on a room temperature only, using high-pressure process. Whatsmore, this takes only minutes to accomplish. In fact, they even managed to produce stones that are harder than diamonds, using this same process.

Although they had a policy against creating synthetic diamonds, DeBeers Group has also joined the rest, producing laboratory-grown diamonds. These are developed both for business and consumers, for jewelry, which has brought the cost of synthetic diamonds down.

An illustration of two diamond rings
Chinese have mastered their mass production of manmade gems,
using half of those produced for jewelry.

Processes Used to Produces Synthetic Diamonds

Initially, there were only two processes used to produce synthetic diamonds, discovered in the U.S., Sweden and former Soviet Union. Since then another two processes have been developed, making it four different methods of producing synthetic diamonds now in use:

  • cubic press system (high pressure, high temperature)
  • chemical process system (chemical vapor deposition)
  • detonation synthesis (carbon containing explosives)
  • ultrasound process (treating graphite)

Cubic press system

The oldest synthetic diamond producing process uses pressure, lots of it, high temperature, and carbon.

Since diamonds are pure carbon, people used cheap forms of carbon trying to produce diamonds in different ways, including furnace heating charcoal. While some methods were partially successful, they produced artificial diamonds that were easily distinguishable from natural diamonds.

Eventually, while the WWII raged on, General Electric (GE) developed diamond synthesis process using heating and high pressure to turn graphite into a synthetic diamond.

Chemical process system

The other process was developed by ASEA from Sweden. This process actually grows diamonds, layer by layer, as a chemical process. It's called Chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This made it more economical to produce synthetic diamonds, which was previously either too difficult to implement or too expensive to use.

The most important characteristic of CVD-produced diamond is the ability to control the properties of the diamond produced, as it's grown layer by layer.

Detonation synthesis

Known as 'detonation nanodiamonds' because of their size being measured in nanometres (one billionth of a meter), these artificial diamond nanocrystals are created by detonating carbon containing explosives. This results in creation of nano-size diamond crystals, seen only under a microscope. They're turned into powder that's used for polishing.

Ultrasound process

By suspending graphite in organic liquid, micro-sized diamond crystals are produced, using ultrasound. This is still a new process that's not fully optimized and at this stage doesn't have any industrial use.

Synthetic diamonds grouped
From their use in tools, to electronics, computers, lasers and even
semiconductors, synthetic diamonds have many industrial uses.

What are Synthetic Diamonds Used For?

There are many practical uses for diamonds in different industries. Hence the drive to produce synthetic diamonds, as natural diamonds are becoming more scarce and more expensive to unearth.

As we've seen above, the growing technological advances make it increasingly cheaper to produce artificial diamonds, ever more quickly, as processes improve and costs go down.

But even natural diamonds that are deemed not to be valuable to use for jewelry also find their way to industrial applications.

Here are some of the current industrial uses for diamonds:

  • Hard diamonds are being used in machine tools, especially for non-ferrous alloys.
  • CVD-created, sheet diamonds have found applications in electronics.
  • Conductive diamond has been demonstrated as a useful electrode under many circumstances.
  • Although diamonds are nonconductive, by adding some other elements to it, diamonds are used as semiconductors.
  • Diamonds are also used in radiation detection devices.
  • Being sturdy, temperature resistant materials, diamonds can be used in computers to run them at speeds that would melt anything on the market today.
  • They can also replace rubies to make lasers of extreme power (remember Bond movies!?).

Diamonds can also be used as memory storage devices that could be so small to allow a smartphone to fit into a watch and an iPod to store 20,000 movies.

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