Sunday, April 25, 2010

DiamondAura: Faker Than Fake

Recently, I started to get interested in jewelery. No, it is not because I am thinking about getting married. I will nip that rumor in the bud. It is because I am a scientist, and when I see a challenge like this, I can’t say no.

Most people have heard by now that gem-quality diamonds can now be created in a lab. Several years ago, there was much hype that the day of affordable high-quality diamonds was about to roll in, and that DeBeers was doing everything it could to fight it. The ad certainly goes out of the way to hype up its new lab process. And the diamonds are certainly cheaper than the real thing. So are these the hyped up, lab-created, gem-quality diamonds we have been waiting for? The ad seems designed to make you think so, but what are the Cold Hard Facts?

I was rather suspicious that these were actually real synthetic diamonds. The reason being, and jewelry companies do not want you to know this, is that synthetic jewelry is just as expensive as mined jewelry. Why shouldn’t it be? If it can’t be distinguished, who’s going to know the difference? Thus, even though rubies and sapphires have been made in labs for the past hundred years, they are still rare and valuable. And even though, Kino no longer has to risk life and limb, cultured pearls are still out of you price range. It is simply more economical to maintain the monopoly and sell to the rich, than to flood the market and sell to the poor. The rarity is now artificially generated, but it is still there. I would not be surprised to learn that DeBeers now makes many of its diamonds in a lab, and just hides that fact. Since these diamonds are way cheaper than real diamonds, it seemed likely to me that they were fake. But could I prove it?

The first way to distinguish real diamonds from fakes is the tried and true flame test. Contrary to what you may have heard, diamonds are not forever. They are actually unstable with regards to oxidation, or in layman’s terms, they burn. Fake diamonds, on the other hand, are pretty much forever. So one way to tell the difference between a real diamond and a fake is to heat it. The diamond will disappear in a puff of smoke, and the fake will be unharmed. Now I was sorely tempted to actually do this, but two things dissuaded me. 1) Diamonds don’t burn easily in only 20% oxygen. So in order to do the experiment properly, I would need to get the DiamondAura quite hot, possibly by way of using an oxidizer and something like a thermite reaction. This would make exercising that money-back guarantee rather awkward, once I blew the setting, but not the DiamondAura, to hell. 2) To properly conduct the experiment, I would need a control, and blowing up my mother’s engagement ring, struck me as a rather bad idea. Actually, if any relatives happen to read this, this whole paragraph was just a joke. I never even considered doing this. In fact, Mommy, just ignore that I ever wrote it.

So flame tests were out. How about hardness? Diamonds are well-famed for their ability to scratch glass. These DiamondAura are prominently advertised to do the same. Does that make them legit? Not really. Many things scratch glass, including sand and cubic zirconia, so no proof there. A better test would be to see if it could scratch a ruby or another diamond, but again, destroying another gemstone was out.

So is there a non-destructive way to tell? There actually is, and if any readers actually have any DiamondAura stuff, I urge you to try this. True diamond conducts heat incredibly well, better than metal even. A real diamond will generally feel cold to the touch, unless it is hotter than your body, in which case it will burn like crazy. Using a playground slide made of diamond would be a bad idea. So if you touch a diamond with your finger, and then touch the other end to an ice cube, the cube will melt appreciably. If you do the same with a fake, it won’t*. Something called the thermister test works on the same principle, but is more accurate. And unlike the first two tests, this one won’t destroy the DiamondAura or the control. SO, I could technically order a DiamondAura object, test it, and send it back within 30 days for the rebate. By all rights, I should have done that before writing this post. But the whole idea of spending hundreds of dollars, even temporarily, did not strike me as a good one.

Therefore, I decided to search the internet literature on DiamondAura to see if I could avoid testing things myself. Unfortunately, no one else did the test, either. But I found the smoking gun in one of DiamondAura’s own ads. (Click "Description") “We will not bore you with the incredible details of the scientific process, but will only say that it involves the use of rare minerals heated to an incredibly high temperature of nearly 5000˚F.” Did you catch it? Read it more slowly. “the… use… of… rare… minerals… heated…to… an” As anyone who has even used a pencil can attest, carbon is NOT rare. But Zirconium metal is, or is somewhat rarish anyway. So that was one clue. The other clue was that much touted shininess, the fact that it outdoes nature. This is do to something called fire, which is the ability of the material to act like a prism, turning white light into many colors. If DiamondAura were actual diamond, it should be as fiery as normal diamond. But it isn’t. The ad specifically tells you it outdoes diamond. Want to know what else outdoes diamond? Yep, Cubic Zirconia. So this is a blatant attempt to mislead. And now, you know the Cold Hard Facts. This just makes me wonder about the “some jewelers,” who fell for it. Perhaps they were paid?

*Technically, this test could fail if the materiel of DiamondAura is something called Silicon Carbide or synthetic Moissanite, which is almost as thermally conducting as real diamond, enough to fool an amateur. But luckily, it still fails the next paragraph. Moissanite is even more fiery than Cubic Zirconium. Enough, that the naked eye can tell the difference without much trouble.