Leonardo DiCaprio Wants You to Ditch Mined Diamonds—and Buy Ones Made in a Lab

A group of engineers say they've created a new kind of crystal in a San Francisco warehouse.
Diamonds created by Diamond Foundry. (Photo: Courtesy Diamond Foundry)
Nov 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Leonardo DiCaprio and the cofounders of Twitter and Facebook are investing their funds in a new kind of jewel they hope will not only dazzle buyers but also give new meaning to the term "conflict-free diamonds."

Unveiled on Wednesday, Diamond Foundry's luxury crystals were invented in a San Francisco warehouse using solar power technology, not excavated from the earth by miners. The company is led by R. Martin Roscheisen, the Austrian American entrepreneur whose company Nanosolar developed a low-cost technique for printing solar power.

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"As they started looking into it, it just became so quickly, so abundantly clear that the entire [diamond] industry is fraught," Stephen Haskell, the company's vice president of marketing, told TakePart. He noted a range of problems, from the "terrible environmental impact that comes with mining to the horrific history of human conflict, whether it's child labor or completely unethical labor practices."

Haskell said the synthetic stones posed a significant challenge for engineers until they realized the same technology used to harness the sun's energy could apply to growing crystals. They spent three years creating a plasma that they say contains the same atoms as the earth-extracted rocks—unlike more affordable diamond alternatives like cubic zirconia. The crystals from Diamond Foundry are priced slightly higher than most low-end diamonds, said Haskell.

Diamond Foundry jewelry. (Photo: Courtesy Diamond Foundry)

DiCaprio, the actor whose character gets tangled in the mining conflict in Sierra Leone in the 2006 film Blood Diamond, is an investor in the company, along with some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Zynga founder Mark Pincus. In a statement on Diamond Foundry's website, DiCaprio said he was proud to invest in a company that reduced "the human and environmental toll of the diamond industry" by bypassing the use of mining.
While natural diamond resources have been found in more than 35 countries, the majority of diamonds imported to the United States come from India and Southern Africa, including Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In Zimbabwe, guards employed by mining companies were found to have shot, beat, and unleashed attack dogs on workers in the diamond fields, according to a 2011 Human Rights Watch report that cited widespread labor abuses in the region.

The watchdog organization found similarly appalling conditions last year in the diamond mines in Sierra Leone, where Harvard University researchers traveled in 2009 and concluded child labor was rampant. The Western African country is still recovering from a civil war that resulted in some 70,000 deaths and 2.6 million displaced people when it ended in 2002, according to the United Nations.

"Will the industry change? We hope so," said Haskell, who believes Diamond Foundry could disrupt the $80 billion industry but is cautiously realistic about that goal. "The diamond industry isn't going to collapse overnight," he said.
Capricorn Investment Group, a sister company of TakePart and Participant Media, is an investor in Diamond Foundry.