Most of us think of a diamond as an expensive gem that is used in jewelry; a gem that enhances the beauty of a lady's finger or her neckline. Not many can think of this brilliant piece as an essential part of machinery. The two aspects of this gem are so diverse in association and nature that one does not really associate the two uses with each other.
The diamond has certain very unique properties that enable it to be used in these various applications. It is the hardest substance on earth, has an extremely high thermal conductivity, is optically transparent and has high electrical resistance.
The hardness property of the diamond makes it amenable to be used as a cutting tool, especially for hard substances like marble, granite and hard wood. It is embedded in mechanical tools to enable the shaping of engine blocks and automotive components.
Once the process of developing synthetic diamonds was discovered, these synthetic diamonds were obviously the most preferred option for use in machinery. Other than the cost, there are other advantages of using synthetic diamonds in tools. The growth of the synthetic diamond can be monitored, controlled and the diamond can be shaped in the manner desired.
This is not the case with respect to natural diamonds where nature determines the shape, size and contours of the diamond based on various random natural events. Since the development of the synthetic diamond takes place in a laboratory, the level of impurities and mineral inclusions can be controlled. Due to these reasons and more the synthetic diamond today is sturdier as compared to the natural ones.
Another property that lends itself to use in mechanical work is that of thermal conductivity. The type IIa diamond can conduct up to 5 times more heat than the metal copper. The fact that it can absorb high levels of heat means that it can be used to reduce the friction in many engineering parts. Including the diamond as a 'heat sink' helps in extending the life of the machinery since it avoids wear and tear due to friction and heat. 'Slices' of synthetic diamonds are also be used for other industrial and surgical tools.
Much research is being done to use diamond chips instead of silicon chips in computers and it is being said that such computers would be 1000 times faster than the existing ones.
Even though the diamonds were being produced synthetically in the early 1990's, they had not made their appearance in the jewelry industry. Large synthetic diamonds could be used only by using a lot of energy and ultra-modern technology. Since the engineering and mechanical market needs were yet not being met completely by the synthetic diamond supply, the proliferation of the synthetic diamond in the jewelry industry was abated.
Another reason why the synthetic diamonds did not make their way into the studded necklaces was the fact that most of the synthetic diamonds being produced were still yellow or brownish in color.
The development and growth process of large diamonds required for the tools industry itself took too long. In 1990, De Beers claimed to have produced the largest synthetic diamond; a yellowish brown piece that was about 14.20 carats. This diamond alone took 500 hours to grow. Three years later they reported having produced a 34.80 carat crystal that took 600 hours to grow. Another few years and De Beers claimed that it was possible to produce 30 carat crystals in lesser time. But now one can find synthetic diamonds in many fancy colours and in white colorless shades too.
Even though there were great obstacles in perfecting the art of making gem quality synthetic diamonds, some companies forged ahead and continued to research the process. The challenge that they faced was that they could not keep nitrogen out of the process of production, the gas that gave the diamonds the yellow color.
GE was the first company to produce an almost colorless synthetic diamond by eliminating nitrogen from the process. This was done by using a metal flux, a substance that melts and dissolves other material in it. Special compounds were added to the metal flux to keep the nitrogen from entering the process chambers. Even though De Beers had also discovered the art of making synthetic colorless diamonds, neither company released their experiments and the colorless gems that came from them into the market. However, a Thai-Russian joint venture in Thailand distributed synthetic colorless diamonds into the market.
Since the jewelry market does not require large pieces, these colorless synthetics are faster to grow, produce and sell in the market. Though the synthetic diamonds gives a larger audience to the jewelry designers, they increase the possibility of being swindled, fraud and non-disclosure. As the production process is perfected and better quality colorless synthetics are produced and marketed each year, the challenge for the professionals in the jewelry industry becomes harder.
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