What it's like to grow 100,000 carats of real diamonds in a lab

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What it's like to grow 100,000 carats of real diamonds in a lab

In Silicon Valley, where seemingly anything can be produced in a lab, so can diamonds.

Diamond Foundry recently opened a new diamond lab in South San Francisco that will produce 100,000 carats a year. By using technology to mimic the natural environment for diamond formation, the quality of lab-made gems has improved to the point that, to the naked eye, they are indistinguishable from mined diamonds.

Martin Roscheisen, the co-founder of Diamond Foundry, said the company has been doubling revenue every quarter as more traditional diamond retailers take notice of lab-grown diamonds.

"What we've seen is a real sea change in the industry since we started," Roscheisen said. "We now are seeing some of the largest jewelry manufacturers in the world approach us."

Diamond Foundry's new lab in San Francisco can produce 100,000 carats in a year.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC
Diamond Foundry's new lab in San Francisco can produce 100,000 carats in a year.

While it's still early, lab-made diamonds are taking aim at the $80 billion global mass diamond industry. Morgan Stanley projected in a report that the lab-made diamond industry could reach $1 billion in sales by 2020.

Tech investors and celebrities are betting on future growth. Diamond Foundry has raised at least $100 million from a large group of investors, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim and Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus.

Roscheisen says that sales are driven by eco-friendly, socially conscious, and tech savvy millennials worried about potentially buying blood diamonds, as well as the environmental impacts of traditional mining.

The Diamond Foundry uses plasma reactors and laser cutting to cultivate the diamonds.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC
The Diamond Foundry uses plasma reactors and laser cutting to cultivate the diamonds.

Neada Deters, a Los Angeles-based buyer of diamonds, seeks out lab-made gems. She said that while she enjoys the aesthetic appeal of diamonds, the most important feature to her is their origin.

"For me, it doesn't matter how luxury is perceived," Deters said. "It's really important that something is made in an ethical and sustainable way."