An ex-Army officer in Florida is using secret Soviet technology to create fake diamonds that are indistinguishable from “real” ones. Soon we’ll all be able to afford to wear masses of them?but when it’s no longer a status symbol, will we still want to?

Joshua Davis writes in Wired Magazine about Carter Clarke, who runs Gemesis in Sarasota, Florida, where he grows diamonds in a warehouse using Russian-designed machines. Diamond dealer Aron Weingarten of Antwerp, Belgium says, “Unless they can be detected, these stones will bankrupt the industry.”

In reaction, De Beers has set up what it calls the Gem Defensive Program to warn jewelers that the fakes are on the market. The problem is, there’s no way to tell the “fakes” from “real” diamonds. Clarke says, “Right now, we only threaten the way De Beers wants the consumer to think of a diamond. But imagine what happens when we fill this warehouse and then the one next door. Then I’ll have myself a proper diamond mine.”

Clarke discovered diamond-making technology during a 1995 trip to Moscow, when he met Yuriy Semenov, who was in charge of selling Soviet-era military research to Western investors. He asked Clarke, “How would you like to grow diamonds?”

He showed Clarke an 8,000-pound machine that used hydraulics and electricity to produce enough pressure and heat to recreate conditions 100 miles below Earth’s surface, where diamonds form naturally. If you put a diamond sliver in the machine and inject carbon (the raw material of diamonds), a larger diamond will grow around the sliver. General Electric built a diamond-making machine in 1954, but it took so much electrical energy that the resulting diamonds were more expensive than mined stones.

Clarke brought a machine back to Florida with him, but no one in the U.S. knew how to run it, so he imported a crew of Russians as well. When it comes to Florida, Nickolay Patrin, says, “I felt myself all the time in a sauna.” But the machine still wasn’t working right, so Clarke hired Iranian crystal expert Reza Abbaschian, who installed a computer control system.

When Clarke took some of his manufactured diamonds to a gem show in London, De Beers was tipped off and one of their executives, James Evans Lombe, met him there.”When I told him that we planned to set up a factory to mass-produce these, he turned white,” Clarke says. “They knew about the technology, but they thought it would stay in Russia and that nobody would get it working right. By the end of the conversation, his hands were shaking.”

Since there’s no way to tell the difference, De Beers pressured the Federal Trade Commission to force Gemesis to label its stones synthetic. Clarke decided to call them “cultured,” as in cultured pearls. He’s started out making yellow diamonds, which are extremely rare and expensive, and charges 10 to 50% less for them.

Gemesis has a marketing campaign that says their synthetics are superior to natural diamonds. “If you give a woman a choice between a 2-carat stone and a 1-carat stone and everything else is the same, including the price, what’s she gonna choose?” Clarke says. “Does she care if it’s synthetic or not? Is anybody at a party going to walk up to her and ask, ‘Is that synthetic?’ There’s no way in hell. So I’ll bite your ass if she chooses the smaller one.”

A diamond has always symbolized love, but is it possible to love someone who is worshipped by the public? And what’s he REALLY like? Learn about Amy Wallace’s secret affair with Carlos Castaneda on this week’s Dreamland.

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