Soon you'll be able to purchase huge, perfect diamonds - cheap. In the past, we relied solely on Mother Nature to form diamonds from carbon under high pressure and temperature. No more.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institute of Washington have come up with a breakthrough way of growing diamonds in the lab. They deposit carbon atoms in a gas onto a surface to create the crystals. They do that with microwaves to "cook" their diamonds in a hydrogen plasma or ionized gas at high temperature (2200 °C) but at low pressure. Other synthetic diamond manufacturers use high pressure not low pressure conditions. The new process means diamonds of any size can be made providing the microwave chamber is large enough.

20 tonnes of natural diamonds are mined each year but 600 tonnes - 30 times more - have to be synthetically made to meet industrial demands. Therefore the ability to mass produce diamonds lowers costs. The lack of flaws is exceedingly important when diamonds are used as high quality windows in equipment where lasers have to go through properly.

For jewelry geeks like us, large stones are now affordable and no one would be the wiser as to the source. One of the scientists on the team said, "We once sent one of our lab-grown diamonds for jewelry identification, it wasn't told apart from natural ones." Indeed, this is but the latest development in synthetic gemstone manufacture with products so good even experts can be fooled. Although synthetic diamond manufacturers fully disclose their products, unscrupulous gem dealers may not.

Victoria Finlay, the author of Jewels: A Secret Historysaid that whilst researching for her book, "I had expected to find good anecdotes, but what I had not expected to find was an industry in crisis." A woman she met at a gem show told her, "I am a jewelry appraiser and I'm scared."

The diamond industry, led by De Beers has responded with a "Gem Defensive Programme" to try and find ways to tell real and synthetic diamonds apart. There is much at stake for the natural diamond market. There is sophisticated equipment to identify HTHP (high temperature/high pressure) stones but it is too early to know if HTLP (high temperature/low pressure) synthetics can also be picked up this way.

The Beading Gem's Journal