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Faux diamonds sparking a gem war

Diamonds grown atom-by-atom in a Boston lab.

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SCOTT JAGOW: Guys, if you've ever bought diamonds for Valentine's Day or any other day, you know about the pressure. Not the pressure that makes the diamonds, the pressure of picking the right one without going into Chapter 7. There's a company near Boston that's offering an alternative: diamonds made in a lab. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports.


CURT NICKISCH: Normally with diamond rings, the rock is millions of years older than the setting. But Thalia Vitikos has a sort of ring reversal. Her band is from the 1920s. The diamond is from 2006.
THALIA VITIKOS: A baby diamond. One that's less than a year old. This diamond actually has a birth date!

On the 11th of July last year, her gem-quality stone came out of the lab of Apollo Diamond. CEO Bryant Linares says his company grows them in a sort of pressure cooker.

BRYANT LINARES: We start off with a thin sliver of real diamond, and we rain carbon atoms down on that chip of diamond to create the diamond crystal, growing it one atom at a time.

And in a few weeks, a diamond is born. It sells for 15 percent less than a mined one.

At Bostonian Jewelers, Alexandria Matossian says Apollo diamonds are changing that old gemstone maxim, you get what you pay for.

ALEXANDRIA MATOSSIAN: For the same amount of money you'll be able to get a larger stone. You'll get 15 percent more than what you pay for. That make sense?

It has for her buyers, who tend to have environmental or ethical concerns about the conventional industry. It got bad publicity recently from the movie Blood Diamond.

[ Danny Archer (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in Blood Diamond: In America it's bling-bling, but out here it's bling-bang.]

Still, the mined diamond industry is defending its crown jewels. It just asked the Federal Trade Commission to call this new breed of diamonds "synthetic," hoping to stigmatize the lab product.

Martin Rapaport writes on the diamond market.

MARTIN RAPAPORT: Jewelers are concerned because they're afraid that consumers will be confused and that the value of diamonds may be harmed. I think that concern is legitimate.

Even so, Rapaport says demand for the gemstone is booming, and lab-grown diamonds represent an opportunity.

RAPAPORT: If jewelers have showcases and they can put an additional product category in those showcases and sell them to consumers, why not do that?

Rapaport thinks diamonds from the Earth will always be more prized than those from the lab. Though consumer Thalia Vitikos considers her manufactured one no less sparkling.

VITIKOS: You know, I've seen lots of mined diamonds, in fact that's the only thing I've ever seen. And this diamond just stood up to all of them.

And if more of the market ends up standing where she is on the product, lab-grown diamonds might be just as forever.

In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.

JAGOW: Did you know the custom of giving tokens of love on February 14 started in England and France in the 14th Century? I think they opened the first Hallmark store soon after that. In Los Angeles, I'm Scott Jagow. Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.

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