1990: Diamond Branding Technology Will Play Active Role in Diamond Industry
A DRB Exclusive – March 1999
In an exclusive interview with The Diamond Registry Bulletin, Garry Nevins, of Norsam Technologies, Inc., explained the focused ion-beam technology that can be used for diamond inscription or branding and the ease with which it could be used. While The DRB has not yet seen a diamond on which the technology has been used, the concept and its uses may prove revolutionary in the trade.
Is This Analogous to De Beers Branding?
Is this the same technology that De Beers will be using on their diamonds? Nevins replied, “It’s a mystery how De Beers has done this, for most people, but we believe they’re doing it is just like we are. We think it’s very comparable, but everything we’ve developed we’ve done on our own and with patents and in conjunction with Los Alamos National Lab. De Beers has done theirs on their own.” Mr. Nevins said, “We have been in contact with De Beers and would like very much to discuss the situation with them.” De Beers, however, is remaining quiet on the subject and has not yet responded. For those considering co-opting the information directly from this article, Nevins laughed, “We’re taking a machine that already exists and we have modified the machine extensively with patented formulas for this work. The machine sells for half million dollars, but even by purchasing one it won’t do you any good.”
How Does it Work?
Mr. Nevins’ description of the process was succinct but very technical, “The focused ion-beam workstation directs a beam of gallium-ions onto a diamond substrate.” The beam then performs the opposite process of some of the large industrial companies, converting the dense structure of diamond carbon to a less dense form of ordinary carbon or graphite. The result of this change in density is the creation of greater volume or a “puffy, raised lettering effect,” to use Nevins words, at the surface of the stone where the high-energy ions have come into contact with the carbon. The ion-beam is not a laser or chemical deposit technique that, creates a hole using a high temperature, but rather a structural change to the surface of the stone delivered by a much narrower beam than a laser at a submicron or exceptionally precise level. The most striking difference between laser and gallium-ion beam technology is that, while a laser burns a hole the ion beam does not. This raises questions for the industry.
Uses for the Ion-Beam
Norsam has offered several possibilities for the use of this new technique to a wide variety of industries and is presently executing a number of these. Because it is an automated process using computerized designs, virtually anything could be inscribed, on a diamond or other hard surface: a Millennium-message, a three-dimensional logo, line drawings, typography, even logos outlined in gold or platinum. A particularly interesting example offered by Mr. Nevins was the engraving of a sacred religious text upon a gem or other piece of jewelry used in either a religious icon or as a personal wear. As well, there are innumerable applications for the technology in the computer industry.
How Small is Small?
Techtronics, a manufacturer of extremely high-end printers, has already approached Norsam for the possible use of the beam in producing their products; Nevins said several semi-conductor companies have shown interest in the process and there has already been some work done on correcting computer chips by simply erasing faulty circuitry with the extraordinary precision of the beam, analogous to correcting a flaw in a diamond. In terms of size, the computer industry standard is less than one micron wide, that is less than the width of a human hair – 0.18 micron or 180 nanometers – Norsam can direct a beam of 7 nanometers. As an example of what is now possible in the world of this technology, Norsam has signed with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) to transcribe their vast genealogical database. For that project, Norsam will use nickel plated diskettes of 2 inches in diameter. After Norsam is finished with them, each diskette will hold 80 gigabytes of information or 17,800 pages of words. In short, Norsam can inscribe at 10X, 400X and higher and anything in between.
“Correcting” Flawed Diamonds?
Another, and possibly even more controversial use for the ion-beam is the “erasure” of flaws in diamonds. Using the same technology and process as for correcting computer chips, the ion-beam can be used to remove black specks in diamonds without leaving the tunnels that laser use does. Norsam has already tested the process on actual diamonds and can remove the tiny inclusions that laser technology never could. Because the ion-beam does not burn it’s way to the inclusion, no “pathway” is left and the area where the inclusion was is, in the same way a branded area is, puffy and therefore not a hole. Once again, the work is so small that it is not visible to either the naked eye or the 10x loupe, but will that be small enough?
Special equipment is necessary to view smaller work Nevins says, “We have a special reader to view the results of all this.” However, Norsam is not in the jewelry business per se, “We have limited time and don’t want to become a big diamond correction fab[ricator] ourselves. But when we start with the higher end [of diamond qualities] there might be volume involved and there might be some interest in outsourcing,” said Nevins.
Is It Flawless According to the FTC?
FTC Regulations, Title 16; Section 23.26: “It shall be regarded as unfair or deceptive to use the term “flawless” as a quality description of any gemstone that discloses blemishes, inclusions, or clarity faults of any sort when examined under a corrected magnifier at 10-power with adequate illumination, by a person skilled in gemstone grading.”
And therein lies the crux of the issue for the trade: even by the stricter American FTC regulation above and the European standard of 2 microns, the “corrected” stone would be considered flawless due to the invisibility of the “correction” under the 10x loupe. Far beyond the question of why anyone would want something inscribed with a logo or text too small ever to be seen, is the question of the quality of the gem. But will the definitions of flawless change for those gems inscribed or even “corrected” for inclusions to a higher, possibly much higher, power?
The question of whether or not De Beers is branding still stands. Meanwhile, Norsam is marching into the branding future. The company now has the capability to provide samples of their work with the ion-beam, including samples of inscribed diamonds, and is actively pursuing a role in the diamond industry to provide the hardware needed for this type of inscription, the skilled personnel required and reasonably priced services for using both. With the advent of Norsam on the scene, the branding plot has certainly thickened.