Leonardo DiCaprio on board with lab-made diamonds

newspaperThe name Leonardo DiCaprio is essentially synonymous with Hollywood royalty, having been a major actor since the 1990s, but he’s been dedicating his time to other things in recent years: namely, the environment, sustainability, and social causes. As part of this, he’s invested in new technology that seeks to change the way we view diamonds.

A Silicon Valley startup based in Santa Clara is selling a new idea, which are diamonds made in a lab using a plasma reactor. The result? Jewelry-grade products, according to the company.

In the natural world, diamonds are made from pure carbon that forms under extreme pressures and temperatures below the earth’s surface. Diamonds are typically formed at depths of around 100 km, and it’s a process that takes billions of years, thus their rarity, their value, and the vast differences you’ll find in characteristics such as clarity.

This new startup, the Diamond Foundry, has instead created a process by which stones are grown atom-by-atom in a plasma reactor, with temperatures that become as hot as the sun. It all starts with an initial piece of what they call a “mother diamond,” and the entire process takes only a month. Quite a bit shorter than the billions of years it would take to form natural diamonds.

The reason this startup has focused its efforts on creating manmade diamonds?

The industry is often associated with controversies, because of links to blood diamonds. In countries like Congo and Liberia, natural resources including diamonds are mined, and then the money is used by warlords to fund civil wars. Additionally, the process for mining these diamonds is also considered inhumane.

At the same time, not all diamonds are associated with this type of scenario, and the industry is regulated by the Kimberley Process. According to the Kimberley Process, only about 0.1% of the world’s production of diamonds currently comes from these conflict-based situations.

Regardless, the Diamond Foundry hopes their unique manmade products will provide consumers with complete peace of mind that they’re purchasing a sustainable product that hasn’t been produced or mined in any ethically-poor situations.

The diamonds were launched in November 2015, and the company raised more than $100 million in capital from a pool of 12 billionaires including the founder of Twitter, Evan Williams. Leonardo DiCaprio is also an investor, and he heard about the company and then approached them about investment opportunities.

DiCaprio is no stranger to the potential conflicts surrounding diamonds, as he starred in 2007’s “Blood Diamond” movie, which explored the topic.

Diamond Foundry says that even though there are other producers of synthetic diamonds, their approach is different because it comes three essential elements: environmentally-sound energy usage, high-quality stones and what they call “bespoke cuts.”

The company hopes that what will allow it to thrive is its ability to use high temperatures to produce top-quality diamonds, rather than high pressure.

Right now the startup is producing about 1,000 carats a month, and production facility expansions are planned for San Francisco and London. According to the company, the synthetic diamonds will have a price point similar to natural diamonds, and they are certified by the Gemological Institute of America. Despite the lab process used to make them, the company says they’re as real as the diamonds that would be mined from the ground, but only time will tell if it’s a model that will resonate with a diamond-loving public.

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