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Leonardo DiCaprio is putting his money into a startup 'growing' real diamonds

Diamond Foundry has lured a lot of big-name investors.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond
Image: YouTube

DIAMOND FOUNDRY SPENT the last three years quietly working on an ambitious project.

The US startup, created by Nanosolar founder Martin Roscheisen, wanted to grow “real” diamonds in a lab. Unlike synthetic diamonds, these would be hatched from a sliver of a natural, mined diamond as the substrate.

After two years of experiments with failed diamond-growing reactors, Roscheisen’s Santa Clara-based team says it cracked the code. Now the company claims to be able to grow hundreds of diamonds that are up to nine carats in just two weeks in a lab.

The breakthrough was enough to convince ten billionaires and members of Silicon Valley tech royalty to invest.

Diamond Foundry has closed three rounds of financing from individuals including actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Twitter/Medium founder Evan Williams, SUN Microsystems founder Andreas Bechtolsheim, Facebook cofounder Andrew McCollum, and many others.

DiCaprio starred in the movie Blood Diamond and has since taken on some related activism against the industry, which has been heavily criticised for its negative environmental impact and child labour.

BLOOD DIAMOND SCREENING Source: Associated Press

Partners

The company says it has raised less than $100 million (€93 million) to date — which is significant considering the startup just publicly launched.

Roscheisen, the company’s CEO, was in the same PhD programme at Stanford as Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin. While Diamond Foundry is making the diamonds, it isn’t designing jewellery.

Instead, it has a marketplace with about 200 partnering designers who buy the crystals from Diamond Foundry, put them in their rings, bracelets, and necklaces, then sell them straight to consumers online. The designer purchases are currently the startup’s only source of income.

By buying diamonds through Diamond Foundry, the designers can avoid giving a cut of the money to traditional outlets like De Beers or Tiffany’s. That doesn’t mean Diamond Foundry is selling its jewels at a discount though.

Earns Tiffany Co Source: Associated Press

While synthetic diamonds tend to cost about 30% less than naturally made and mined diamonds, Diamond Foundry says its product will cost about the same, if not more, than market value.

But are Diamond Foundry and its science-fiction-sounding vision the real deal?

Here’s how the company explained it:

The startup says it is “culturing diamonds,” and asserts its process does not yield traditional synthetic diamonds but “100% pure diamonds” with the same molecular imperfections of the diamonds you’d find in the earth.

An investor in Diamond Foundry likened the process to growing a plant. You need a seed from another plant for a new one to grow.

In this case, a small slice of a natural diamond is used as the base, or “seed,” to grow new layers on top of the crystal until new diamonds are formed. Then that “seed” base is scraped off and reused to grow new diamonds.

These diamonds are grown in a very hot reactor that reaches about 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 4,500 degrees Celsius).

Diamonds are born from a fiery heat, so we set out to create a plasma of unprecedented energy density,” the company explains.

diamond1 Source: Diamond Foundry

A slice of diamond

The company says it discovered a plasma that allows atoms to attach themselves to the thin slice of earth-extracted diamond. The atoms then stack on top of that natural diamond, layer by layer, until a pure, jewellery-grade diamond is formed.

Hundreds of these diamonds can be formed at once in just a few weeks, the largest so far weighing nine carats.

The difference comes down to the quality of the diamonds Roscheisen’s lab produces and the process used to make them.

“There is a big difference in how the technology works,” a company spokesperson explains.

The difference is that we add atoms to natural diamonds, and in fact our process would not work without the natural diamond as a substrate. The synthetic diamonds in the market are made using high pressure without any substrate for growth.”

diamond2 The reactor Source: Diamond Foundry

In terms of quality, diamonds are rated by something called the GIA, which examines colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight. The GIA rates synthetic diamonds, but it uses fewer grading categories in terms of their colour and clarity.

Diamond Foundry, however, says its diamonds were rated by a GIA-trained gemologist who concluded they were “true jewellery white.”

Diamond Foundry says that because the industry is so large (roughly €28 billion), even if it’s producing hundreds of diamonds routinely in its lab, it won’t be able to make enough of them to seriously impact the overall price and demand for diamonds.

diamond-3 Source: Diamond Foundry

Another selling point for the startup is that consumers won’t have to worry about how their diamonds were made.

“[Ours] are pure diamond, just like industrially mined diamonds,” Diamond Foundry insists. “But ethically and morally pure as well.”

By Alyson Shontell for Business Insider

READ: This Irish graduate has come up with one of the world’s best new inventions >

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