The Bling Machine
Diamond Foundry is reinventing the fine-jewelry business
UNBEKNOWN TO MOST, scientists working in computer labs have been growing diamond shards for decades. But in 2013, solar entrepreneur R. Martin Roscheisen decided to apply the technology to a product far more glamorous—fne jewels. Diamond Foundry, a San Francisco–based company with $100 million
in venture capital, has taken aim at the $13 billion diamond
industry. With 100 employees split between its diamond lab in
Silicon Valley and its design studio in downtown Los Angeles,
the startup manufactured 10,000 carats’ worth of diamonds
last year, while doubling its revenue every quarter. Roscheisen
explains how his company is cleaning up a dirty industry—while
designing some very chic jewelry. —LIZ WELCH
Recast your expertise
In 2010, I left Nanosolar, the solar company
I’d started in 2002. Our technology was
superb, but the Chinese beat us on pricing.
We had amassed an incredible group of
engineers, including Jeremy Scholz, who
co-founded Diamond Foundry with me and
is our CTO. We were looking for our next
project. I have a PhD in engineering from
Stanford, but my real passion is entrepreneurship. I’d been following the diamond-growing science for more than a decade.
In 2012, I began to study the technological
advancements being made for creating
gemstone-size, jewelry-grade white
diamonds. Those recent breakthroughs
meant a diamond could be grown in a
matter of weeks instead of years.
Diamonds made better business sense
than solar panels, which cost as much
to produce but are less proftable. We
knew our engineers could build the plasma
reactor necessary to implement the
science to grow jewelry-grade diamonds.
And we decided to focus on both diamonds
and jewelry, because we wanted to create
an integrated company whose product
goes directly to the consumer. So we hired
a leading diamond scientist, who had a
30-year career with a government lab, and
paired him with our engineering team.
Perfect the product
We thought the technology would be the
easy part, but it took three dozen engineers, three years, and tens of thousands
of plasma-reactor design simulations to
get it right. We invested tens of millions of
dollars before we produced one diamond.
It was worth it. Our plasma reactor is
our secret weapon. It produces a diamond
like mined diamonds, made of the same
crystal. Our technology is based on a variant
of chemical vapor deposition, which builds
the diamond lattice atom by atom in a
reactor that creates a plasma akin to the
outer core of the sun.
IN THE ROUGH
The Silicon Valley startup bars photographs
of its proprietary plasma reactor—“our
industry weapon”—but standard diamond
tools, like this micrometer gauge, are on
display in the company’s lab.
Photographs by IAN ALLEN