Imitations diamonds and faked improvements to natural stones date back thousands of years. Real synthetic diamonds were first developed by ASEA and GE in the 1950's. Industrial abrasive diamonds have been made this way ever since using High Pressure, High Temperature presses (HPHT). But colorless gem diamonds are still more expensive to make, than to mine.
The big new development was not technology; it was the rise in popularity and prices of fancy yellow diamonds. The Florida based company, Gemesis , uses HPHT to make fancy yellows. Precious Metals policy is that we do not stock synthetic diamonds (or other gems) but we are happy to source Gemesis diamonds in fancy vivid yellows and even some blues and pinks. We have a good relationship with Gemesis.
Natural colorless diamonds are far more expensive to make. A high tech MIT company, Apollo , was developing diamonds for computer chips and made a few stones with a vapor deposition method. Apollo and Gemesis both received great venture capitol fund raising publicity with this sensationalized but inaccurate Wired article. Apollo diamonds are thin flat tabular crystals and they have only been able to produce small stones, and they are brown to grey. After production Apollo diamonds they need expensive HPHT processing to remove the undesirable colour. Unfortunately, journalists often present sensational materials without consulting true experts (No one has ever heard of the ‘expert' Aron Weingarten consulted in the Weird article. What the article fails to mention is that there are standard gem lab techniques and equipment to detect synthetic diamonds.
Gemology began as a science after the invention of synthetic gems. We have been identifying fakes regularly since synthetic ruby and sapphire were first produced in 1892. In 1999 Lazar Kaplan and GE announced their new HPHT process that removed strong brown coloration from large natural diamonds. They claimed the bleached diamonds were indistinguishable from Mother Nature's and since gemologists would not be able to detect the process, they decided not to inform buyers the gems were treated! Within 3 months several labs developed routine detection tests were developed that all major labs now use for all graded diamonds. One of the instruments that we use at Precious Metals cost only $200.
We sent 6 Argyle champagne diamonds to a HPHT processing lab in Prague in 2003. The result was some very attractive fluorescent yellow greenish diamonds that are very pretty novelty gems. At the time of writing this we still had 4 in stock.
So don't get me wrong; there is a place for treated and synthetic gems. Chain stores have developed a thriving ethical business in imitation, synthetic and treated gems. When Cubic Zirconia's (CZ) first burst onto the market in the 1970's the media pronounced death of the "hated" De Beers and the diamond industry, but woe betide any man who proposes to a girl with a fake! Some people do not like the economic symbolism of diamonds, they may prefer a man made (or is that "human" made?) diamond and we are happy to source one for them.
Other people feel synthetic diamonds are a solution to the conflict diamond trade in West Africa and child labor in India. I disagree, but then I am against rich nation trade barriers because they hurt poor countries. Diamonds play a vital employment, revenue and development role in Africa, and they provide nearly 1 million well (relatively) paid jobs in India. Rich nation tariffs on cotton and sugar cause far greater suffering. Canada (in my opinion) should stop marketing its diamonds as "non-conflict" and divert their efforts into helping African nations market "development diamonds" (although one of our regular cutters sources diamonds from Canada and we have that laser inscribed on the girdle). New Kimberley Process import/export laws are making diamond smuggling increasingly costly. Diamonds are smuggled to avoid mining and export taxes, but if we, as consumers, demanded to be sold tax paid diamonds mined and polished in poor nations, our dollars will stop illicit diamond trading and benefit the poor.