By Ashley Bailey
, Wednesday, August 02, 2006 12:00 AM
There may soon come a day when your computer will have a sticker on it that says, "De Beers Inside," rather than "Intel Inside" - say, by 2010.
As microchips run faster, they get hotter. Conventional silicon chips burn out and then up once temperatures reach a certain point. To reach much higher speeds, future microchips will need to be able to conduct heat in ways that today's silicon components can't.
That's why diamonds have suddenly become the substance du jour in high-tech development labs all over the world. Diamond can take heat like no other substance.
The problem with developing diamond microchips is this: the cost of producing man-made, or lab-grown, diamond has always been prohibitive. But during the last decade, Russian scientists developed tabletop machines that could generate the heat and pressure needed to create man-made diamonds. Voila, synthetic diamonds costing as little as $100 in time, energy and materials could be manufactured in days and even hours, if all you wanted was melee.
In 1996, an ex-army general, Carter Clarke, started a company called Gemesis in Sarasota, Florida, that imported a dozen or so of these Russian diamond making machines and began growing synthetic gem fancy-yellow diamonds by the bushelful. Thankfully, they could be easily detected by trained gemologists.
But, as any reader of Wired Magazine knows, they can fool the seasoned eyes of dealers.
Now there is a second diamond growing company, Apollo Diamonds, based in Boston, producing white and yellow stones just as cheaply.
So the question is no longer if the jewelry market will be flooded with synthetic gem-quality diamonds but when.
And the answer is now. While developing a low-cost diamond microchip, diamond growers are offering gem-quality stones to jewelers as a revenue-producer. So far, few are nibbling. But that is bound to change.
Don't worry. Both companies put special microscopic inscriptions on stones revealing their maker's name as well as their lab origin. De Beers has developed special equipment for gemologists and jewelers to facilitate easy identification of the man-mades. So there is relatively little danger of rip-off.
And don't forget that Gemesis and Apollo are working on developing affordable diamond chips that can replace silicon ones. That's where the big money is.
Once they do, the threat of cheap synthetic diamonds will recede.
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