S'pore firm shines with lab-grown diamonds

S'pore firm shines with lab-grown diamonds

For their brilliance, diamonds are an object of adoration, but they are also known to have funded civil wars in African nations, resulting in what are labelled as conflict diamonds or blood diamonds.

Attempts to address the contentious issue have been made over the years, notably by growing top- quality diamonds in a laboratory.

A Singapore company has become one of the latest players in this niche industry.

Professor Devi Shanker Misra, chief technology officer at IIa (pronounced "2a") Technologies, has been growing top-grade diamonds in a lab, after eight years of research.

The cultured gems supposedly have the same composition, structure and physical properties as traditionally mined diamonds.

Earlier this month, IIa Technologies' sister company based in the United States, Pure Grown Diamonds, announced for sale a 3.04-carat brilliant-cut diamond at a price of US$23,012 (S$30,260) - about 30 per cent lower than the market price of mined diamonds.

The near colourless rock is currently on tour in the US and will be put up for sale on its website next month.

The technology behind lab-grown diamonds can be explained simply as "growing diamond from diamond".

IIa Technologies' method involves a patented process called Microwave Plasma Chemical Vapour Deposition (MPCVD), where a diamond seed placed in a "diamond-growing greenhouse" is exposed to a carbon-rich environment.

Diamond seeds are crystals of diamonds which can be either mined or grown in a lab.

The greenhouse is fed with methane and hydrogen gases before electromagnetic waves of very high frequency are applied.

A plasma or a "glowing ball of fire or energy", about 5cm in diameter, is then formed and the natural crystallisation process takes place as the carbon molecules deposit over the diamond seed.

It takes about six to 10 weeks to grow a diamond before it is cut and polished.

Diamonds produced by IIa Technologies for the luxury sector are certified by the International Gemological Institute as grade IIa, a quality found in only 2 per cent of mined diamonds.

Most of the mined diamonds are type Ia, which contain 3,000 parts per million (ppm), or 0.03 per cent, nitrogen impurities.

The IIa diamonds grown in Prof Misra's lab contain very minimal or almost no impurities, with nitrogen impurities making up less than 1 ppm.

This sets them apart from diamonds made from human ashes, for example, which contain impurities like calcium phosphorous found in bones.

Prof Misra, 59, who has a PhD in physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, became interested in growing quality diamonds about 20 years ago.

He helped set up IIa Technologies, located in Tukang Innovation Drive in Jurong, in 2005, after a chance meeting with the Mehtas - an Indian family which has been in the jewellery business for many generations.

Prof Misra met members of the Mehta family in 2001 and they shared their knowledge, industry experience and "financial capabilities". The Mehtas also invested in the business. Today, IIa Technologies is helmed by Mr Vishal Mehta, who is the chief executive.

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