Myths and legends

Who received the artificial diamond and when?

From time immemorial, people have sought to find an alternative to expensive but attractive stones – natural diamonds. And it’s not just about their use in the jewelry business. Diamond has rare qualities – hardness and thermal conductivity, which allows it to be used for mechanical processing of hard materials and precious stones, as well as in the production of industrial drills and cutting tools. The first experience in the synthesis of artificial diamond belongs to the French scientist Henri Moissan, who in 1893 obtained the first diamonds by crystallization from a solution in an iron melt. Unfortunately, the size of the resulting crystals was negligibly small. In honor of Moissan, an analogue of natural diamond, moissanite, was named, which, along with cubic zirconia, served as a cheaper substitute for natural stones until humanity learned to make artificial diamonds. Synthetic diamonds for industry appeared only in the middle of the 1963th century. As it became known later, the first stones suitable for technical purposes were produced by the Swedish electrical engineering company Asea in XNUMX. At the same time, the very fact of obtaining and producing diamonds was kept secret. The secret was made public only several decades later in a dispute for primacy with another US company. Now the areas of application of diamond are cutting and processing tools in the form of diamond discs, tool inserts with diamond tips, diamond cups for grinding and polishing. Diamonds are used in microelectronics, power and microwave electronics, photonics, laser technology, and ionizing radiation detectors.

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At the same time, there are two main technologies for the synthesis of artificial diamonds: High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) technology, when stones are created at very high temperatures and pressure, and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) technology, in which layer-by-layer molecular synthesis of diamond occurs from a mixture of gases methane and hydrogen under vacuum and microwave conditions. The latest technology is best suited for producing pure bulk diamonds and diamond wafers with clearly defined parameters. By controlling the synthesis recipe, this method can produce optical diamond plates with a given level of light transmission, heat-removing plates for electronics and lasers with the required thermal conductivity, and jewelry raw materials in the form of cubes with a specific color. One of the new areas of application of artificial diamonds is the space industry. Yes, startup CVD.Spark (part of the Technospark group of companies) recently produced optical diamond plates for the windows of a space instrument as part of the Moscow Aviation Institute’s “Sun-Terahertz” project, which was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) to study solar radiation. In general, the advantage of CVD diamond manufacturing technology over HPHT is that the former can be used to produce large-area diamond plates.

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In addition, CVD-Spark diamonds are used in cases where there is a need to remove a large amount of heat from a small fuel element (microcircuit, microwave or power transistor, semiconductor or disk laser). In such cases, it is not copper (the most common material for heat sinks) that is used, but diamond, because its thermal conductivity is six times greater than that of copper. Diamond coating also finds its application in consumer electronics, computers, phones – now in some flagship smartphone models, diamond coating is applied to the back cover or to the processor itself so that heat is most effectively removed from the processor and dissipated on the cover.

In medicine, diamond scalpels with diamond coating are used – during operations using them, fewer scars are formed after tissue healing.

Artificial diamonds made using CVD technology are also used as a detector of ionizing radiation in radiation therapy machines, the so-called proton knives. When it is possible, through the use of elementary particles, protons, to focus radiation at a certain depth of human organs and carry out operations or research with very high resolution. When irradiated with protons, it is possible to influence cancer cells with high precision without damaging the cells of healthy tissues, which is why radiation therapy has now begun to spread widely in the treatment of cancer.

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However, in such devices it is necessary to very accurately record the radiation doses that patients receive. Nowadays, the silicon radiation detectors used in these devices, which have a short service life, are being replaced by diamond detectors. In them, the diamond plate plays the role of a solid-state ionization chamber; under the influence of radiation, a very small electric current appears in the plate (electroluminescence), which is converted by the device into the amount of radiation. The electroluminescence and detector properties of diamond are also used to determine the level of radiation activity in spent nuclear fuel pools at nuclear power plants, in particle accelerators to determine the position in space and the number of streams of high-energy particles.

Diamonds out of thin air

The technology for producing diamonds from a mixture of CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) gases has been developing relatively recently – since the 1980s. Its rapid growth began in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as the market began to demand some artificial materials that had previously been replaced by natural ones. The fact is that artificial diamonds are about 10 times cheaper than natural ones, and can be synthesized in large sizes and with specified properties. In addition, artificial diamonds have a number of advantages over natural ones. Thus, in the jewelry industry, for the manufacture of necklaces and bracelets, it is often necessary to select a number of stones of approximately the same size and color. Making jewelry from natural stones, each of which is individual, is very difficult. But it is quite possible to synthesize a number of identical diamonds artificially in just 2-3 weeks.

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In industry, the advantages of artificial diamonds are even more significant: the fact is that natural stones have unwanted inclusions of other minerals. But stones obtained using CVD technology are distinguished by amazing purity. In addition, natural stones have a limited size, a few millimeters. If you need a crystal measuring 10 by 10 mm or a plate with a diameter of 25-50 mm, then such natural stones simply do not exist, but synthetic ones do. Even if some record-breaking natural stone is found, no one will cut it into plates to use in lasers, optics, electronics or detectors. Here only synthetic diamond will come to the rescue. In addition, established practice makes it possible to determine in advance what thermal conductivity and optical transmittance and detector sensitivity this artificial diamond plate will have. Also, at the stage of growth of synthetic diamonds, it is possible to dope them – introducing atoms of other chemical elements into the crystal lattice, obtaining from diamonds a material with semiconductor and quantum properties. Typically, for technical applications, large diamond plates are first synthesized – up to 2-3 mm thick and up to 100 mm in diameter. These large plates are then laser cut into many small pieces of varying shapes and sizes to suit specific applications. Then these plates are ground and polished to achieve the required level of roughness.

Price

Jewelry diamonds of natural origin are approximately 10 times more expensive than artificial ones. If we talk about diamond plates, then the price here is very individual depending on the size and the required processing (grinding and polishing can take as much time and cost as the synthesis of this plate itself). For example, a heat-removing diamond plate for lasers with a diameter of 20 mm and a thickness of about 2 mm, but with minimal processing, costs about 80-100 thousand rubles. A small optical part with a diameter of 10 mm and a thickness of 0,5 mm, but with double-sided polishing, can cost 100-150 thousand rubles. The price of jewelry diamonds is calculated depending on their size according to Rappoport’s tables, which are published weekly and determine the cost of diamonds when sold depending on its size, clarity and color. When sold individually, 1 carat of small to medium-sized synthetic diamond costs between $400 and $1000. But this price is very variable and depends on the state of the market.

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As the size of crystals increases, their cost per 1 carat increases manyfold. Thus, an artificial stone of 1,5-2 carats costs approximately from 1000 to 2000 dollars per carat.

“The business of producing synthetic diamonds is quite predictable: each synthesis lasts approximately 20-30 days, and 20 or more stones can be synthesized in a reactor at the same time.” CEO of CVD.Spark Alexey Kushchikov

In contrast, HPHT technology can only offer very limited diamond sizes, with a maximum diameter of 10 mm. Single-crystal diamonds using HPHT technology are synthesized much faster, but their disadvantage is that they may contain inclusions or changed color: technical crystals will turn out gray or yellow, which significantly reduces their cost.

Future of the market

The market for jewelry diamonds is established and will not increase in the near future. Its natural limitations are the depletion of natural diamond deposits. And the market for these stones for industry is just emerging. According to forecasts, it will develop over the next 3-5 years. The synthetic diamond market was valued at $2021 billion in 14,08 and is projected to grow at a rate of approximately 8% from 2022 to 2030 (Synthetic Diamonds Global Market Report 2022). Large industrial enterprises are now interested in laboratories such as CVD.Spark, which may require tens or hundreds of reactors for the production of diamond wafers to meet their needs.

Synthetic diamonds include a large share of diamond tools; this niche of 30-50% of the entire synthetic diamond market has been developing very noticeably in the last 5 years.

Natural diamonds continue to rise in price and are moving into the premium segment because their proven reserves are declining. And synthetic stones will occupy their niche in the mass market. TechnoSpark creates from scratch, grows and sells companies in a wide range of technological domains: logistics and in-line robotics, hydrogen energy, electrical energy storage systems, medical high-tech equipment, artificial diamonds, composites, optical coatings, genomics, industrial microbiology, thin-film integrated photovoltaics, additive technologies, flexible (plastic) electronics.

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A gem-quality diamond is one of nature’s most perfect creations. Just look at a pure diamond and you immediately understand: here it is, the Ideal! Man is proud and ambitious: he strives not only to copy the masterpieces of nature, but also to improve them.

A synthetic diamond is an absolute copy of a natural diamond, but without the disadvantages inherent in a natural mineral. To create technologies that make it possible to grow shining crystals in laboratory conditions, Humanity had to go a long way.

Yes, artificial diamonds are cheaper than their natural counterparts and have no investment value. However, hard labor is not used to extract them (have you seen the blockbuster “Blood Diamond”?), no damage is caused to nature, and jewelry with synthetic diamonds is available to a larger number of jewelry lovers.

How did synthetic diamonds come about?

Natural gem-quality diamonds are quite rare, and their extraction is a very expensive process. This leads to a very high price for these truly royal stones.

Diamonds are formed at enormous depths, under tremendous pressure, and then, during volcanic processes, are carried closer to the surface. They lie in giant kimberlite pipes, and to extract one diamond that is attractive from a jewelry point of view, you need to process hundreds of tons of rock.

The process of diamond formation stretches over hundreds of millions of years. Their reserves are gradually depleted, causing prices to rise steadily. That is why natural diamonds are of serious interest in terms of investment.

Attempts to create an artificial diamond have been made for a long time – already since the century before last, when the diamond formula was discovered. The enchanting stones turned out to be ordinary carbon, that is, close relatives of ordinary graphite and coal. And carbon acquired extraordinary hardness, transparency, brilliance and other features inherent in diamond thanks to a special cubic crystal lattice.

For a long time, the state of science and technology did not allow obtaining a diamond crystal under artificial conditions. Scientists periodically reported supposedly successful attempts to grow a diamond, but until the middle of the last century they were falsifications.

The palm in this regard belongs to the Swedish scientist Balzar von Platen – in 1953 he was the first to obtain a diamond under artificial conditions. And then the production technology was improved by American researchers.

The first artificial diamonds appeared on the market a few years later, scientists in other countries learned to grow diamonds in laboratories, but real success was still far away: synthetic minerals were not of high quality and could be used exclusively for technical purposes.

Over time, technology improved, and in 1970, Herbert Strong and Robert Wentorf from the American corporation General Electric finally managed to obtain gem-quality diamonds weighing up to one carat. But the technology they used turned out to be unprofitable: the cost of producing synthetic stones approaches the price of natural diamonds, or even exceeds it.

The largest gem-quality diamond known to date was grown in 2015. The purest diamond of 10,2 carats was cut from a blank of 32,26 carats. And its author was a company from St. Petersburg, New Diamond Technology.

Recently, information leaked to the press that Ukrainian scientists have surpassed Russian ones: they managed to obtain an artificial diamond weighing as much as 109 carats. Details of the technology have not yet been disclosed, so it is difficult to judge the veracity of this story.

At the moment, the leaders in the production of artificial diamonds are companies from the USA, Japan and Russia. And at the enterprises of the Celestial Empire, billions of carats of diamonds are riveted annually, but of very low quality, for technical needs.

Name of artificial diamonds

Remember: an artificial diamond is called. Yes, that’s what it’s called: an artificial or synthetic diamond or diamond. There may be some trade names, but a diamond remains that by definition.

An artificially grown diamond has the same characteristics as its natural counterpart: it consists of pure carbon, is uncompromisingly hard, transparent, virtually impervious to harsh chemicals, and so on. Moreover, it is devoid of flaws inherent in its natural counterpart (cracks, stains and other defects).

An artificial diamond is not an imitation or a fake, but a mineral of artificial origin. Even a jeweler who does not have spectrography equipment will not be able to distinguish it from a natural diamond, but what about the average person?

Man-made diamonds can also be certified, but they are assessed separately from their natural counterparts. In particular, the Russian 10-carat diamond was certified by the International Gemological Institute (IGI) in Hong Kong.

Ordinary people, and often sellers of some jewelry stores, often call all kinds of imitations artificial diamonds. But there is an abyss between the concepts of “synthetic diamond” and “imitation”!

Fianit

Chemically, cubic zirconia is cubic zirconium. Cubic zirconia is the development of Soviet scientists who tried to obtain a stone similar to diamond in optical properties, but much less expensive.

They succeeded, and now cubic zirconias are used both in the production of optical equipment and for the manufacture of budget jewelry. Outwardly, they are similar to diamonds, but do not have the same play of color, are much softer and can become cloudy over time. But they are very inexpensive!

Moissanite

Here is the highest quality and most expensive diamond substitute on the modern market. But here there is a confusion of concepts. Moissanite is a mineral of natural (most likely cosmic) origin. Its crystals are extremely small and are not used in the jewelry industry.

But the artificial analogue of moissanite, carborundum, is much more widespread. It is used as inserts in jewelry. Carborundum approaches diamond in hardness (9,5 on the Mohs scale) and is significantly superior to it in its ability to withstand heat. It sparkles even brighter than a diamond!

Leucosapphire

Leucosapphire is a colorless corundum, often called white sapphire. White sapphires are much cheaper than their blue counterparts and often act as “diamonds” in jewelry in the mid-price segment. They practically do not become cloudy, exhibit outstanding hardness and transparency – in short, a very high-quality and inexpensive imitation.

Synthesizing corundum is much simpler and cheaper than obtaining it from artificial sources, which is why jewelers often work with leucosapphires of artificial origin.

Corundums are a glorious family that includes not only sapphires, but also rubies. These stones are almost identical in properties and chemical composition, with the exception of additives that determine color.

Rutile

Rutile is one of the cheapest and lowest quality diamond analogues. Chemically, it is titanium oxide; physically, it is a natural cloudy brown crystal. It is of little use for jewelry purposes.

However, in the middle of the last century, they learned to make rutile artificially, giving it the appearance of a diamond. At that time, this was a breakthrough in the jewelry industry, and jewelry with “titanium” or “rainbow stone” filled store shelves. But artificial rutile is quite soft and prone to clouding.

Rhinestones

This group includes a variety of imitations of diamonds created on the basis of glass. It is difficult to confuse an ordinary piece of glass with a noble stone, but jeweler Georg Strass managed to get closer to the ideal, at least visually. He developed a technology for applying metal powder to the glass surface, which made it possible to obtain a spectacular “diamond” shine.

The price of rhinestones varies widely: from a penny for Chinese-made trinkets to very expensive ones for the famous Swarovski crystals. However, the highest quality rhinestone is not even close to a diamond, and it scratches almost like ordinary glass.

Swarovski rhinestones have a unique composition, which is why they are so highly valued in the world. More than a century ago, the maestro developed a technology for the production of artificial crystal, which to this day remains secret and unsurpassed.

What are artificial diamonds made from?

At the moment, several technologies for the production of artificial diamonds are known. However, some are very complex and expensive, while others do not produce high quality diamonds.

Most often, diamonds are made from diamonds obtained using the following technologies:

  • HPHT. HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) technology is classic and most widely used in production – graphite blanks are placed in a press and exposed to catalysts and high temperatures. Almost all technical diamonds and the lion’s share of jewelry diamonds are made using this technology.
  • CVD. During the chemical process, carbon is deposited from the gas mixture onto the seed, and high pressure is not used, which reduces the cost of the process. In this way, it is possible to obtain diamond films of a sufficiently large area. However, it is almost impossible to grow pure diamonds using this technology.
  • Micro explosion. During directed microexplosions of carbon explosives, diamond dust is obtained, which is subsequently cooled and cleaned of graphite in nitric acid. The resulting product is used primarily for the production of abrasive materials.
  • Exposure to ultrasound. A fairly promising and inexpensive technology that does not require special conditions. The graphite suspension is subjected to ultrasonic cavitation, resulting in diamond crystals. The theoretical calculations are ideal, production promises to be very inexpensive, but here’s the problem: so far, diamonds obtained in this way are not of high quality, and the cost of the process is approaching the gold standard, HPHT technology.

HPHT technology was considered exhausted until a miracle happened. That same largest St. Petersburg diamond was made using HPHT. So there is every chance that time-tested technology will reach a new level.

Not only traditional colorless diamonds are artificially synthesized, but also their colored counterparts. The addition of nitrogen gives the diamond a lemon yellow color, boron gives it a piercing blue color, and irradiation can turn it green or red.

Where are synthetic diamonds used?

As mentioned above, an artificial diamond differs from a real one only in origin: from all other points of view, these minerals are identical. This means that the scope of application of artificial diamonds is exactly the same as that of natural stone.

The vast majority of artificial diamonds are manufactured specifically for technical needs. They are used in the production of cutting tools and abrasives, electronics and optical instruments, medical equipment and drilling rigs.

The best specimens, distinguished by their purity and large enough size, are turned into diamonds and adorned with rings, bracelets, pendants, earrings, brooches and other jewelry.

Price of artificial diamonds

Contrary to popular belief, the price of a synthetic diamond is not that low (if we talk about gem-quality minerals). Today, the market price of a synthetic diamond is hardly half as much as the cost of a natural analogue with the corresponding characteristics.

For example, in the USA, traditional engagement rings with one-carat artificial diamonds are only a third cheaper than those with natural stones. And they are selling out!

Science does not stand still, the enlightened public is increasingly leaning towards synthetic diamonds – long live the trend towards environmental friendliness! So, technology is expected to improve and produce superior quality man-made diamonds at lower prices in the near future.

However, this is unlikely to make the royal natural stones cheaper, so diamond miners need not worry: the demand for natural diamonds will never go down to zero!

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