Chemistry puts new sparkle in diamonds

Diamonds are getting bigger, more colorful and cheaper, thanks to chemistry. A favorite gem at Valentine’s Day is getting a makeover with synthetic diamond making processes, according to the Feb. 2 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

The diamond-making business has been around for years and although synthetic diamonds had many important uses, including saw blades, drill bits and exfoliants, they were tiny and not gem quality. Only recently has chemistry been able to grow large, gem quality stones at approximately one-third the price of mined diamonds, says C&EN.

Companies such as Gemesis in Florida and Apollo Diamond in Boston are now creating lab-grown diamonds that can be produced to more than a carat in size and are virtually indistinguishable from their mined counterparts, says the newsmagazine. They are chemically and physically true diamonds.

Synthetic diamond-makers start with a tiny diamond “seed” around which the new diamond grows. But that’s not chemistry’s only role in the diamond market. Even natural diamonds can be changed with chemistry, says the newsmagazine.

Colored diamonds, which are valuable and very rare, can be created by introducing carefully controlled elemental “impurities” into the stone, says C&EN. For instance, nitrogen produces a yellow stone. Infusing boron into the growing diamond produces a blue gem.

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