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Diamonds are...forever?
August 13, 2003 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Mass-produced diamonds Two startups are threatening the De Beers diamond monopoly. They plan to use the money they make from their mass-produced diamonds to "reshape the computing industry". Interesting stuff.
posted by pizzasub (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting article, and a cool name, "Gemesis".

It's just a shame they won't use the money to repair the African countries DeBeers has raped for the past century.
posted by derbs at 6:29 AM on August 13, 2003


At least they might put DeBeers out of business. I'd MUCH rather buy a synthetic diamond.
posted by agregoli at 6:33 AM on August 13, 2003


This is a great article.
posted by machaus at 6:33 AM on August 13, 2003


Great article, read it last night in print... previous MeFi discussion re: DeBeers cartel (also discussed on Slashdot). I find it so fascinating the global control DeBeers has on the diamond industry - even so far as being able to control the emotional response newlyweds have to diamonds.
posted by ao4047 at 6:34 AM on August 13, 2003


This isn't fair to DeBeers!!! For years they have providing us with a fine quality product at reasonable prices, all the while encouraging economic growth in 3rd world nations. Obviously the only fair thing to do is create tarrifs on synthetic gems to 'level the playing field.'

See- I can SO think like a Republican! Now, where's my lobbying cash? You think my bid for Governor is going to pay for itself?
posted by Perigee at 6:35 AM on August 13, 2003


Several years ago, [DeBeers] set up what it calls the Gem Defensive Programme - a none too subtle campaign to warn jewelers and the public about the arrival of manufactured diamonds. At no charge, the company is supplying gem labs with sophisticated machines designed to help distinguish man-made from mined stones.

Doesn't matter. If the diamond semiconductors start getting produced and become commonplace the perceived value of any diamond will probably be destroyed, man-made or not.

Good riddance to bloodsoaked rubbish.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:41 AM on August 13, 2003


Gosh. If I were DeBeers, I'd buy one of these companies, pour money into it, and make sure it's working hard towards making chips out of diamonds.
posted by VulcanMike at 6:43 AM on August 13, 2003


Having just come back from Kimberley, the birthplace of DeBeers and where they have a major sorting center, a few months ago I asked my girlfriend's dad (who lives there) why they aren't mining for diamonds in Kimberley anymore?

His reply was that Kimberley was still rife with diamonds, but DeBeers have so many in their vaults (the one under their Kimberley Sorting Center is HUGE) it's not worth it to mine (although they do reprocess the mine dumps which is a helluva lot cheaper).

DeBeers still has plenty of diamonds, however they can't just release them all otherwise the price would plummet. Synthetic diamons won't put DeBeers out of business mainly due to the sheer number of diamonds DeBeers has stockpiled, however the can cut into their bottom line.
posted by PenDevil at 6:47 AM on August 13, 2003


De Beers will lose in a publicity war over how to view diamonds. Everyone will want the synthetic ones because they are better quality and didn't cost anyone's life to get hold of.
posted by walrus at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2003


Indeed this is great news. Let's hope they can market themselves well (both as a gem and a computer industry) so we can all benefit from the end of buying blood-diamonds.

The diamond industry is the perfect example of how a monopoly or near-monopoly can exploit an entire industry and several nations in the process.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2003


very interesting article indeed, cheers.
posted by johnnyboy at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2003


great article. thanks!
posted by dobbs at 7:42 AM on August 13, 2003


I'm certain DeBeers can spin this to their advantage by marketing "natural" diamonds. But honestly I've never understood the visual appeal of diamonds, most of which seem to be the white bread of the gem industry. And what is the point of a diamond ring with a chip that you can barely even see?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:26 AM on August 13, 2003


What Kirk said. Diamonds are appealing in the upper-class fashion culture. I haven't seen a surge of celebrities touting how great fake fur is, or fake leather. Maybe they'll sag in the industrial sector, but DeBeers can say "they're faux" just once and destroy any effect these things would have on the fashion world.

Diamonds are a by-product of human suffering, and they sell well anyway because they exist in a market that thrives on the consumer simply not caring. If Vogue declared that freeze-dried human fetuses on a chain were the next big thing in fashion, The cast of Sex and the City would have been wearing their babies last season instead of taking time off to have them.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:37 AM on August 13, 2003


Except that there will be no way to tell the difference, XQUZYPHYR and Kirk. New manufacturing processes allow diamond "growers" to place defects that make the perfect artificial diamonds seem more natural. Besides a certificate of authenticity (very fancy), Diamonds will simply become passe', and the rich will move on to some other gemstone or semi-precious that can't be simulated. I predict the opal and tourquoise markets will benefit substantially.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:52 AM on August 13, 2003


There's nothing fake about the diamonds they're producing.
posted by NortonDC at 9:11 AM on August 13, 2003


Except that there will be no way to tell the difference, XQUZYPHYR and Kirk.

Is there a difference in the apperance of the uncut stones?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 AM on August 13, 2003


I don't care if my diamond engagement ring is debeers or not. In fact, if it's not, the happier I am. I hope they put those a-holes out of business. I hope it stops the killing in all the horrible African countries who are killing each other over diamonds.

If I were the CEO's of these companies, I'd get some serious bodyguard protection. Debeers has no morals and no problem will killing them all and blowing up their factories.
posted by aacheson at 9:33 AM on August 13, 2003


I don't think the fake fur/leather vs. genuine skins analogy is quite right. One is fake, and the other is real, and one can tell the difference quite easily. Faux fur and vinyl just became products in their own right. The natural vs. man-made diamond is comparable to the difference between a natural and a man-made lake - the man-made one is equally real. I can't see people shelling out for the "natural" stone when it's all but impossible to tell the difference.

When machine made lace first came out, people distinguished between in and the "real" handmade lace, but when they improved the machine-made stuff the lacemaking became obsolete. De Beer's days are numbered, no matter what they do.

If I had any "natural" diamond jewellery I'd be selling it FAST. I know a woman with a $10,000 diamond engagement ring who is going to be plenty pissed.
posted by orange swan at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2003


Am I the only one applauding the beginning of the end of the world's prime symbol of materialism? DeBeers' losing business is just the introduction to this story. I can't wait for the collapse of this entire twisted value system in which the relatively rare and shiny gets pointlessly elevated above the real. It's a dehumanizing throwback to primitive culture that should have been left behind along with theism and slavery. Oh, we haven't left those behind yet either have we? Oh well... I'm going back to bed.
posted by badstone at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2003


YES!
posted by Shane at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2003


Oops, I meant YES! to the idea of Diamonds becoming worthless and De Beers going out of business. NOT Yes, badstone, you're the only one applauding. I'm clapping too.
posted by Shane at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2003


Badstone, I'm with you and Shane on this, just didn't bother to state that in my post because I was taking up the point of the diamond industry's inevitable collapse. This is a good thing on any number of levels. Diamond mining is bad for the environment. And yeah, things like this will show some people just how worthless a lot of the material things they lust after really are.

That woman I know, the one with the $10K diamond engagement ring? She gets no sympathy from me. She did so much whining about how she and her fiance didn't have a house and how if they had kids she wouldn't be able to stay home with them the way she wanted. I would point out that she was wearing a year at home with kid(s) on her finger. She'd get very defensive and say, "SOME people have different priorities." Well, now she's going to find out just what her values are worth.
posted by orange swan at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2003


The relatively rare and shiny are still going to be elevated; after all a large part of the "purpose" of jewelry is to show off how rich/committed you are by spending money on expensive things of little use. Peacock feathers and all that.

Any bets on what might take over? Iridium/Rubidium jewelry?
posted by jaek at 11:00 AM on August 13, 2003


Maybe De Beers will buy out the new industry, the way the oil and auto industries have been buying out and burying the new/alternative technologies in their areas for ages now?
posted by Shane at 11:07 AM on August 13, 2003


Although the manufactured diamonds will undercut DeBeers, they won't undercut it by that much. After all they too are a business who have to maximise profit while minimising expenses. If they can undercut DeBeers while still maintaining relatively high prices, then they will do so.

As I mentioned before DeBeers still has a crapload of diamonds in reserve. If the price does fall they can just release more diamonds onto the market to make up the income they want to. Or they could cut back completely on production to drive prices back up again. The amount of diamonds these people can produce is probably a fraction of what DeBeers has stored away.
posted by PenDevil at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2003


"It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week."

Yikes. I guess that makes the Hallmark cards I send out completely worthless.
posted by starscream at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2003


"I can't wait for the collapse of this entire twisted value system in which the relatively rare and shiny gets pointlessly elevated above the real. It's a dehumanizing throwback to primitive culture that should have been left behind along with theism and slavery."

Sorry man, but its never going to happen. Diamonds might fall out of favor, but something else will take its place. Its human nature to appreciate shiny things, flaunt symbols of status, and to take shelter in comforting ideas that we know intuitively not to be true. Diamonds (or the other afforementioned things) aren't the problem, people are.
posted by rosswald at 12:07 PM on August 13, 2003


Iridium/Rubidium jewelry?

<chem geek>Cool! Jewelry that spontaneously ignites!</chem geek> Sorry, that was uncalled for. I don't know; does plantinum sell very well? I suspect that one silvery metal looks much like another, particularly after a few years of wear and tarnish. To have a cachet, something must be distinctive, non?

All gemstones are going to be availiable in quantity in a few years or decades. DeBeers isn't going to be able to stop it. There are too many people too interested in the technology for it not to happen. Diamond is a really nifty material from an engineering standpoint. Sapphire and ruby, for example, are in wide use where optical purity and high hardness are important. Most scientific instruments these days depend on synthetic sapphire in some way or another.
posted by bonehead at 12:12 PM on August 13, 2003


As I mentioned before DeBeers still has a crapload of diamonds in reserve.

Absolutely. Diamonds are nowhere near rare; they are only rare on the market because De Beers hordes them.
posted by Shane at 12:16 PM on August 13, 2003


Diamonds, the new Rhinestones. Where's Liberace when we need him.
posted by IndigoSkye at 1:11 PM on August 13, 2003


"If Moore's law is going to be maintained, processors are going to get hotter and hotter," he tells me. "Eventually, silicon is just going to turn into a puddle. Diamond is the solution to that problem."

Tee hee. The thermal conductivity of diamond is about 16 times higher than silicon (*), but pumping 200W through a 1cm^2 by 1/2 mm silicon die only accounts for 7 degree C rise above ambient temperature. Microprocessors are hot because they use cheap packaging and heat sinks (a business necessity). A switch to diamond does little to change that.

Full disclosure: I work for DeBeers.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:47 PM on August 13, 2003


<chem geek>Cool! Jewelry that spontaneously ignites!</chem geek>

Arrgh. Of course I meant Iridium/Rhenium. And Iridium is a) damn heavy, b) virtually indestructible, and c) has very pretty salts, which you might be able to incorporate via an appropriate surface treatment.
posted by jaek at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2003


I just want to add another cheer for the potential of breaking the mass delusion that diamonds are of any inherent worth or rarity. woo hoo
posted by dipolemoment at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2003


What can replace the diamond?

I'd say just about anything. I've found that fine jewelry has a beauty that is unrelated to the stones that are used, and instead reflects the artist's ideas. A well-conceived and executed piece in tanzanite and gold will always be more beautiful and more interesting a poorly executed piece in diamond and platinum. I think that diamond pieces have a design that could be summarized with the phrase 'look at me, i'm a DIAMOND!', even when that diamond is a low-grade, off-color stone that barely sparkles.

With any luck, the birth of commonly available synthetic diamonds will force jewelers to actually create interesting pieces out of their diamonds, like they already have to do with the more interesting stones.
posted by mosch at 2:11 PM on August 13, 2003


As far as people being pissed about the devaluation of their engagement rings... are they planning on pawning them in a few years or something?

Besides, it's not like the devaluation of the diamond indicates a decrease in love.
posted by mosch at 2:15 PM on August 13, 2003


The dimond age is upon us?
Nanotubes for all! 'Carbon based life' could take on a whole new meaning!Warning: TimeCube style sheet in effect. Or something.
Whilst we are talking about 'blood' diamonds, lets not forget coltan.
'Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronics. The recent technology boom caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram at one point, as companies such as Nokia and Sony struggled to meet demand.'
posted by asok at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2003


If I owned diamonds, I would sell them now while the price is still high.
posted by stbalbach at 4:11 PM on August 13, 2003


Isn't the resale value of diamonds extremely poor?
posted by stchang at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2003


"It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week."

Diamonds: Because it's not love unless there's Africans being raped, mutillated, or killed.
posted by weston at 5:15 PM on August 13, 2003


I suspect that one silvery metal looks much like another, particularly after a few years of wear and tarnish.

My wedding ring (and my wife's too) is meteoric nickel-iron that's been acid-etched to show off the widmanstatten patterns and then gold-plated. But they can't plate it very thick, and so the plating is wearing off and it's turning grey... but it's still from outer space.

I wonder if meteoric jewelry would take off as a status symbol, since the widmanstatten patterns are apparently very hard to fake.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2003


Oh, yeah, and death to DeBeers and any other monopolists that are left.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2003


This was a fascinating article...and I can't wait to buy synthetic diamonds.
posted by dejah420 at 5:36 PM on August 13, 2003


I remember reading once that aluminum was briefly a very expensive metal, because it was so hard to find pure. Once a method for extracting it was developed, it became something we literally wrap leftovers in. Diamonds have a longer history, but no more inherent worth.

It would be great if this changed the way people thought of gemstones in general - if they valued creativity over price, or appreciated sincere gifts more than sparkly items other people told them they ought to value, but that may be hoping for too much. The engagement ring is a misogynist relic to start with - simple and personal wedding bands for the couple are all that's needed.

In any case, a very interesting story.
posted by mdn at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2003


I remember reading once that aluminum was briefly a very expensive metal, because it was so hard to find pure.

According to this, Napolean served guests on aluminum plates, since it was more precious than gold. The price of aluminum dropped 90% from 1854 to 1864, however, after Henri Deville improved the refining process (*).
posted by eddydamascene at 6:40 PM on August 13, 2003


Titanium rings is where it's at. These guys do gorgeous work.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:19 PM on August 13, 2003


I remember reading once that aluminum was briefly a very expensive metal, because it was so hard to find pure

The Washington Monument is topped with a small pyramid of aluminum, because of its value, rarity, and electrical conductivity -- it's also the lightning rod. It cost $225 in 1884.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:52 PM on August 13, 2003


FFF - I agree... I'm getting a titanium ring for my wedding ring. And from that exact site, as it happens. ;) Better still, there is someone on Ebay flogging them for £20 for simple bands. Why buy gold? Why buy diamonds either?

I buy things because they are wonderful things, not because of their 'worth'. Of course, being broke might come into it. ;)
posted by twine42 at 1:11 AM on August 14, 2003


Be careful with investing too much into titanium though. Due to the recent invention of a new extraction process, it soon could be as common as aluminum.

http://www.msm.cam.ac.uk/djf/FFC_Process.htm
posted by joquarky at 7:30 AM on August 14, 2003


My mom is a jeweler, and I know that at least in India, people don't shrug synthetic stones off as easily as they do here, if the synthetic/cultured stones are of better quality than the natural stones. So if the Apollo Diamond is indeed better than the natural diamonds, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to wear it. The taglines selling diamonds thus far have been "A diamond is forever" not "A diamond took forever to be made", and if the cultured diamonds are as good as they appear to be, I don't see why they wouldn't last forever like their natural brethren.
posted by riffola at 8:29 AM on August 14, 2003


"Am I the only one applauding the beginning of the end of the world's prime symbol of materialism? "

Wait--they can synthesize SUVs too?

I suspect that detailed pedigrees will begin to accompany real diamonds, like the provenance that comes with rare documents, and they will attempt to equate the cultured diamonds with cubic zirconia. By the way, why don't people just wear big cubic zirconium rings and fib?
posted by mecran01 at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2003


Detailed pedigrees already accompany some diamonds. Those from Canada, f'rinstance, have a polar bear (sorry, short flash intro) etched into them, plus fancy certificates. Nice thing about Canuck diamonds is that we have a good code of conduct. No child slavery up here!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2003


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