By Mike Irwin / The Wenatchee World
WENATCHEE — The city’s industrial sector is set to sparkle.
A San Francisco company announced Friday it will transform a former fruit-packing warehouse into a diamond-making foundry, hire up to 96 employees and begin cultivating the gems by June of next year.
Diamond Foundry, which “grows” diamonds under intense heat and pressure, said it has leased from Stemilt Growers three acres and the warehouse, which was damaged in the 2015 Sleepy Hollow Fire and rebuilt. The 56,000-square-foot warehouse is located in an industrial district along North Miller Street.
Construction of the site has begun, said R. Martin Roscheisen, Diamond Foundry’s CEO. Wenatchee will be home to the company’s main foundry with the San Francisco plant focused on tool construction and technical issues. Hiring at the new facility could be underway in a few months with 40 employees needed initially and upward of 96 required as diamond making comes on line.
Roscheisen said the company — diamondfoundry.com — chose Wenatchee for its “hydropower source of energy, supportive community and capability to hire skilled staff.” He also said “the beauty of the Wenatchee Valley” will help in recruiting people to the area if needed.
Diamond Foundry’s commitment to Wenatchee “shows fabulous collaboration among some of our business and civic leaders, both individuals and organizations,” said Patrick Jones, executive director for the Port of Chelan County. The port, Stemilt Growers, the city of Wenatchee, the Chelan County PUD and the state Department of Commerce all had a role in bringing the foundry to Wenatchee, Jones said.
Founded in 2013, Diamond Foundry creates jewels “atom by atom” by mimicking the geologic processes that create natural diamonds, said the company’s website. In plasma “hot as the outer layer of the sun,” carbon atoms attach to the molecular crystal lattice of a tiny bit of natural diamond which then grows into a pure, jewelry-grade diamond.
It takes about two weeks to grow a one-carat diamond, said Roscheisen. The company now makes about 100,000 carats of diamonds a year, which are cut for sale to individuals and designers of high-fashion jewelry and clothing.
Diamond Foundry is on track to be profitable this year, Roscheisen said in a February interview. Each of the company’s diamonds is valued according to market prices set at diamond exchanges around the globe and are generally priced about the same as natural diamonds.
One of several high-profile investors, actor Leonardo DiCaprio has helped fund Diamond Foundry because, he said, the company “cultivates real diamonds in America without the human and environmental toll of mining.” DiCaprio starred in “Blood Diamond,” a film about diamonds mined in war zones for the profit of warlords. Diamond Foundry has estimated that up to 3 million slaves are currently digging for diamonds in Africa and India.
Roscheisen has estimated that in 20 years nearly all new diamonds will be man-made because the supply of natural diamonds will be exhausted. No new mines have been discovered, he said, in the last 25 years.
Roscheisen, 46, is a pioneer in solar panel technologies and has launched five startups, including a precursor to Facebook. He has a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University.
“Wenatchee is America at its best in many ways,” said Roscheisen. It’s “a place where community and pristine nature are paramount. We are looking forward to contributing to the greater Wenatchee community for a long time to come.”