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24 September 2014
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The Diamond Makers
BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 27th January 2000

Rotating DiamondThere is something so special about diamonds, and they are so valuable, that people have always been prepared to go to the most extraordinary lengths to find them. But how would we feel about the uniqueness of diamonds if it was possible to make one in a laboratory, just like the real thing, down to the nearest atom? In the last few years there has been a scientific race to do exactly this: to manufacture the perfect gem diamond.

DiamondsToday the dream is close to becoming reality. Science has finally found a way to replicate in a few days something that nature has taken millions of years to produce - diamonds. These man-made diamonds are so close to the real thing, that they have the same atomic structure as natural diamonds. Even the most sophisticated machines are finding it hard to tell the difference. More importantly, these diamonds can be made and sold at a profit.

Synthetic diamond pressThis is the story of the race to produce man-made gem diamonds, from the first faltering steps 50 years ago, to today's 'New Alchemists' in Russia who are using the latest science and technology to produce perfect synthetic diamonds in an array of colours and sizes. And it is the story of how this leap in diamond-making technology has forced De Beers to develop ever-more sophisticated detection equipment, trying to spot the synthetics, while the physical distinction between real and man-made diamonds becomes more and more blurred.

Today there are alarm bells ringing at De Beers in Johannesburg. De Beers controls the world diamond trade. By buying up most of the world's uncut diamonds, the company can regulate supply to select dealers, increasing it in good years and reducing it in bad, to keep prices high. Every year 3 billion pounds worth of rough diamonds are distributed around the world for cutting and polishing.

The diamond market survives on public confidence. Already De Beers spends a fortune trying to detect synthetic gems, and teach wholesalers and graders what the molecular differences are. But imagine if these synthetics had exactly the same properties as real diamonds, each atom in place, every manufacturing flaw removed, leaving something indistinguishable from the real thing. They would be undetectable. What would a real diamond be then? To many, the difference would be purely psychological. And so what would happen to public confidence in the natural diamond market?

Man made diamondsAccording to the new alchemists, this is all just about to happen.

The story of the world's first synthetic diamond

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