(CNN) — A British entrepreneur claims to have created the world’s first diamonds “made entirely from the sky.”
Dale Vince, who is also founder of green energy provider Ecotricity, says his lab-grown diamonds are environmentally friendly because they are made using carbon drawn from the air.
Vince’s new venture, SkyDiamonds, said in a press release it was capable of creating the world’s first “zero impact diamond.”
The stones are made by specialized machines at a factory in Gloucestershire, England, transforming carbon into diamonds that are “physically and chemically identical to Earth-mined diamonds,” it said.
Synthetic diamonds are nothing new — scientists have been making them since the 1940s in a bid to find cheaper, ethical and environmentally friendly stones.
The only difference with lab-grown stones is that the intense heat and pressure required to form them, which usually happens deep underground over millions or billions of years, is simulated via a process called chemical vapor deposition — the same process used by SkyDiamonds, taking a matter of days.
Dr. Paul Coxon, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s department of materials, told CNN that a diamond was formed by carbon being treated with heat and pressure.
To the untrained eye, he said, a lab-made diamond might look the same as a natural diamond, except that because it was so pure and pristine it could appear almost too brilliant.
“We’ve had synthetic diamonds for a long time, he said. “Chemically they are almost indistinguishable, but they are almost a bit too good [looking].”
Whereas a natural diamond would take “millions and millions of years” to form with “a whole planet squashing down on the carbon,” he said, synthetic diamonds eradicate the need to wait — and the need to have people mine them.
“That’s why synthetic diamonds were such a breakthrough — as you could quick start [the process] and take all the materials, squash it at about 3,000 degrees, and leap forward several millions of years in time,” he added.
But while SkyDiamonds’ manufacturing process is not unique, Vince says the way he manufactures the gems is better for the environment, because the materials and energy used in the process are all sustainable — with carbon from the wind, water from rainwater and energy sourced from solar and wind power.
“Making diamonds from nothing more than the sky, from the air we breathe is a magical, evocative idea — it’s modern alchemy,” Vince said. “It’s industry fit for the 21st century. . . . Our new process puts back air that is cleaner than we take out — we have negative emissions,” he added.
Many people still associate diamond mining with exploitative environmental and labor practices surrounding conflict or “blood” diamonds. From 1989 to 2003, a series of civil wars in Africa were funded by the illegal trading of diamonds from unregulated mines that violated workers’ rights and sometimes used child labor.
The industry has been working to clean up its image with new standards, but synthetic diamonds are often seen as a way to avoid any doubt.
Lab-grown diamonds are much cheaper, and their popularity could contribute to a catastrophe for the industry. De Beers, the world’s largest diamond miner, posted an 87% drop in underlying 2019 earnings in February, according to Forbes, as the average price of its gems fell by 20%.
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