I wondered whether a diamond grown in a lab could carry the same emotional weight as the real thing, without the guilt. And really, if it was identical to a natural diamond down to every last atom, as Roscheisen swore it was, what does it even mean to be the real thing? ... A carbon atom has four electrons in the shell around its nucleus—four little guys just looking to bond with electrons of other atoms. If four of those electrons form single bonds with, say, four hydrogen atoms, you’ll get CH4, methane. If the carbon atoms bond with more carbon atoms in a layered, chicken-wire pattern, you’ll have graphite—just one of many forms of pure carbon. ... So when you think about it, diamonds are a life force in its mightiest form: The densest, hardest, strongest expression of carbon, the element underlying all of life on earth. ... As scientific knowledge goes, our understanding of the conditions that cause carbon to bond this way, or exactly how long it takes, is limited. That’s because it occurs over 100 miles inside the planet, at extreme temperatures and pressures. Many of the world’s diamonds were formed billions of years ago, and scientists don’t know exactly how those carbon atoms got down there inside the mantle to begin with.
American Grown, which has exclusive rights to buy diamonds from several undisclosed labs in the US, started selling synthetics (a scientific term loathed by the lab-grown industry, but routinely used in the greater jewelry world) a little over three years ago and now wholesales stones to some 250 stores around the country. ... Though lab-growns have been around for a while, it was only recently that the science of creating colorless, nearly flawless diamonds was finally perfected. ... With technology advancing, and with younger shoppers drawn to synthetic options, the question of whether or not lab-grown diamonds will invade the market is now a matter of when, not if. ... the stones first gained commercial popularity in India, where diamond trading began as early as the 4th century BC. During the Middle Ages, caravans that unearthed diamonds in India's rivers traded them with Western Europe, where they became coveted by the upper class. The world's diamond capital moved from India to Brazil in the 1700s, and then to South Africa, when a giant diamond mine was discovered in the city of Kimberley in 1866. In 1888, British businessman Cecil Rhodes established his mining company, De Beers, in the country, and effectively founded the diamond industry as we now know it. ... A century before this, however, scientists began their quest to make diamonds in a lab. Ignited by Antoine Lavoisier's discovery that diamonds were merely a crystalline form of carbon, the result of pressure deep within the earth, in the late 1700s, little progress was made for nearly 200 years. ... Then came General Electric. Physical chemist H.Tracy Hall joined its "Project Superpressure," and in 1954, after nearly four years of synthetic diamond experimentation, Hall lead his team to a breakthrough. They were able to create small diamonds after heating carbon to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit and applying extreme pressure with a heavy hydraulic press — a method referred to as high pressure and temperature, or HPHT.
Concerns over the devaluation of gold currency led the Roman emperor Diocletian to ban alchemy in the third century, and worries about counterfeiting and debased coinage also lay behind the condemnations of the art by Pope John XXII in 1317 and of King Henry IV of England in 1403. ... “Fake” diamonds are cheaper, and for industrial uses they have utterly eclipsed their natural counterparts. But at the luxury end of the market—gemstones for jewelry—artificial diamonds account for only 2 percent of global sales. How come? ... When it comes to luxury and exotic materials, the competition between fake and real is partly a technical, chemical affair: how to create a good imitation, and how to spot it. But, as artificial gold and diamonds show, there is a deeper level to it, which is about something very human and socially constructed: the concept and value of authenticity. ... Mixed up with the human code of privilege and power is an ancient belief in the moral authority of nature’s divine handywork. ... the narrative often insinuates an almost moral authority of the “real” over the “fake.”
In short, FPAQ—the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers—is OPEC. Formed in 1966, the federation was tasked with taking a business in which few could make a decent living—the price went north to south with the quality of the yield, which went north to south with the quality of the spring—and turning it into a respectable trade. This was accomplished in the classic way: quotas, rules. You control supply, you control price. You limit supply, you raise price. Because Quebec makes 72 percent of the world’s maple syrup, it’s been able to set the price. As of this writing, the commodity is valued at just over $1,300 a barrel, 26 times more expensive than crude. ... By making syrup production seem like a good business instead of just an eccentric survivalist hobby, it has brought a great increase in production, much of it in the U.S. Just like OPEC, which, with its near monopoly, spurred the search for new sources. With oil, it’s the deep deposits reached only by fracking. With syrup, it’s forests in Vermont, New Hampshire, and especially New York State, which, Canadians tell you with a shudder, has three times more maple trees than all of Quebec’s maple farms combined. The French province produces 72 percent of the world supply, but if the Americans ever make the push to self-sufficiency, French Canada is cooked. ... nearly 540,000 gallons of syrup had been stolen—12.5 percent of the Reserve—with a street value of $13.4 million.
Because: after Howell dropped out of Yale in 1967 (“the whole world was exploding at that point”) and met his future wife, Laurie, and moved to Berkeley and visited the first Peet’s Coffee, changing his conception of coffee shops forever; and after he then tasted a cup of lighter-roasted coffee made by the Bay Area Capricorn Coffees, which changed his conception of coffee further still; but before he moved to Boston and started his café company, the Coffee Connection, where he invented the Frappuccino and pushed light roasts and sourced single-origin beans when the whole world was drinking anonymous dark-roasted muck; and before he sold the whole kit and caboodle to Starbucks for $23 million in SBUX stock in ’94; and before ... He was, at the time, mostly preoccupied with the beauty and power of the psychedelic yarn paintings that the Huichol made as a part of their shamanic religious practices in those remote Mexican mountains. ... mostly they talk about his pragmatically mystical conviction that a higher truth of coffee exists, and that we can figure out how to get to it. ... These are boom times for fancy coffee. You can buy locally roasted bags of expensive Ethiopian varietals in small American towns, and every major city with a recently gentrified neighborhood is now home to at least one coffee bar serving pour-over made with single-origin beans and a small roaster setting up shop in a industrial brown zone near a canal.
De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond company, marked the opening of its Gahcho Kué mine in September. ... the aim of extracting more than 12,000 carats (2.4kg) of diamonds each day. Gahcho Kué is an astonishing endeavour, the biggest new mine in the world in over a decade. De Beers has no plans for another. ... The diamond business gained its sparkle around 1866, when a farmer’s son picked up a glistening pebble on the bank of the Orange river in South Africa. For most of the next 150 years, De Beers would dominate the global market. Success depended on manipulated supply and skilfully cultivated demand. ... Much has changed since then. De Beers can no longer control the market. Though it is the biggest producer by value, it accounts for only a third of global sales, down from 45% in 2007. It faces many uncertainties, from synthetic diamonds to changing relationships with polishers and cutters. Its loosening grip is reflected in increased volatility: its sales fell 34% in 2015, before bouncing back by 30% last year. Meanwhile the source of the demand that drives sales—the link between diamonds and love—looks weaker than it used to. ... But one forecast seems solid: there will be fewer new diamonds. ... diamonds’ principal value has nothing to do with science. ... They are a “Veblen good”, as items that gain their value solely from their ability to signal status are named, after Thorstein Veblen, an economist who wrote about the spending of the rich.
Whatever their aspirations, people keep right on gorging. Americans now eat a total of 76 pounds in various sugars every year, up 8% from 1970. ... That’s the problem for Big Food: It’s built on the stuff. Some 74% of packaged foods and beverages in the U.S. contain some form of sweetener ... the final factor that is pressing heavily on packaged food companies: the ever-more-ravenous appetite for “natural,” unprocessed products. ... Think of food companies’ plight this way: The finest scientists in industry have spent decades trying to find or invent a no-calorie sweetener that tastes and feels as good as the stuff extracted from pure cane. And now, after they largely failed to master that complex, arduous task, the level of difficulty is being raised even higher: This improbable concoction cannot appear to have been engineered by scientists. ... Most people in the business believe that a “systems approach”—a blending of ingredients rather than a single molecule—is the future of the natural-sweetener industry.
A skyrocketing interest in Amedeo Modigliani’s work is producing Picasso-level price tags, with major museum shows stoking the flame. Buyers are wary, though: the mystery surrounding one of the world’s most-faked artists has led to death threats, lawsuits, and hoaxes. ... Perhaps appropriately for one of the world’s most faked artists, there have even been fake fakes. Experts, meanwhile, are jockeying to be recognized as the ultimate authority on what should and should not be accepted as authentic. ... The stakes are high and are only getting higher. Modigliani prices, long dormant, have been climbing dramatically. Liu Yiqian, a former taxi driver who built a fortune in the stock market and has become one of China’s leading art collectors, paid $170.4 million in 2015 at Christie’s in New York for a Modigliani painting, Nu Couché (Reclining Nude). The previous record for a Modi-gliani was $70.7 million, paid at Sotheby’s in 2014 for a carved-stone head of a woman. The acceleration in the Modigliani market is said to have begun in 2010 at a Christie’s sale in Paris, where a Modigliani sculpture, expected to sell for between $5 million and $7 million, went for $52 million. ... Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.
Over the past 18 months, a five-year-old consortium of furniture manufacturers and design firms called BeOriginal Americas has been training US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers to distinguish real Eames, Starck, and Mies van der Rohe designs from fakes, among others. It’s working: According to CBP’s Intellectual Property Rights Seizure Statistics report (pdf, p.5), in 2016, customs officials confiscated 42 shipments of unauthorized replicas worth an estimated $4.2 million. ... But they’re up against a vast knock-off industry. Labeled with nice-sounding terms like “reproduction,”replica,” or “homage,” many designer chairs in offices, hotel lobbies, airports, restaurants and even big furniture stores are actually unauthorized copies. And while a knock-off Eames or Barcelona chair might seem like a harmless, budget-friendly addition to your living room, these illegal knockoffs threaten the economy and the environment, and erode the very meaning of design.