Technically speaking, anyone can mine diamonds. But Robert Linares and his son Bryant can grow them. In a process known as "chemical vapor deposition," the Linareses spray heated carbon gas over diamond chips; under extreme pressure, the carbon atoms settle on the chips and conform to the structure, building on it. Wait a week or two, open the lid, and voilÌÎÌÝ, a fistful of diamonds of a size and quality almost impossible to find in nature.
"People freaked out," concedes Bryant, Apollo Diamond's CEO. "The first reaction was a lot of hostility and fear." The $7 billion De Beers cartel, for example, was not charmed, and the two leading industry groups wouldn't even look at the stones. Apollo's diamonds, after all, are the real thing, and 1-carat stones will begin appearing this year for as little as one-third their previous cost. By 2016, Apollo believes half of the world's jewelry diamonds will be lab-grown. But Robert and Bryant, an engineer and an IT entrepreneur, respectively, aren't in this to make your anniversary easier. Because diamond has a much higher melting point than silicon, Apollo's stones could be used to make much smaller, faster processors than are currently available. "This material is like an operating system that people haven't had an opportunity to work with yet," Bryant says. As businesses go, this one rocks.
Yes, They're Real
By the end of 2007, Apollo aims to be producing flawless 1-inch-by-1-inch diamond cubes that could drive research in areas such as neurological implants (diamonds are bio inert), high-density holographic storage (with many times the capacity of Blu-Ray or HD-DVD), and precise, efficient optical switches in Internet routers. Within 10 years, the company plans to be growing diamond wafers the size of DVDs for use as semiconductors.