A new story from Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal


A story now about what happens when things go wrong. Not systemically wrong, not economy breaking wrong, just a glitch, but a glitch in an industry that requires breathtaking precision. High-tech manufacturing is what we're talking about here. Semiconductors, for instance, have tolerances measured in nanometers. Lasers require crystals of incredible chemical purity. Inevitably though, mistakes are made, and when that happens, one industry's trash becomes another industry's jewelry marketplace of supremacy has that story. At a mobile phone industry conference in Barcelona back in 2013, a representative of a New Hampshire based company called GT advanced technologies is giving a demonstration to a reporter. He picks up a chunk of concrete and scrapes it ferociously across the screen of his iPhone. And I'm going to start to scratch away, right? And when I clear that away, you'll see that there's no damage to the screen itself. GT 80 had agreed to make sapphires for Apple, which was considering replacing the gorilla glass on its screens with the much harder material. Bob Sanders is a reporter at the New Hampshire business review who covered GTAT for more than a decade. They need to produce really big ones, bigger than they ever done before at higher temperatures than ever before. Safire's weighing hundreds of pounds, much larger and much purer than what's found in nature. And he signed a contract to do this. Problem is that they couldn't. They hadn't made sapphires before. Just the furnaces used to make them. There were defects there were cracks and the enormous crystals called bools were useless. They piled up. They call them a pool, graveyard. The company went bankrupt, shareholders lost more than a $1 billion. Litigation ensued, the giant sapphires disappeared. We were asking around pretty actively to see if any of it had gotten out during the bankruptcy. Steven chaloner is cofounder of angry turtle jewelry based in Raleigh, North Carolina. We were lucky enough to find one from a surplus warehouse somewhere in Oregon, I think. We had it shipped to us freight. It weighed 500 pounds. We had to take it apart with a concrete saw and with sledgehammers to get out the few clean areas. But once it's trimmed up, it cuts absolutely beautiful stones. They glitter and shine and challenge themselves them on Etsy and Instagram now. Our business is centered around repurposing industrial materials, which are grown for science, medicine, and research, and we're using them as gemstones. They range from a few dollars to a few $1000 for a single stone. In his workshop, chaloner holds a pink ruby, larger than a golf ball, and slices through it with a diamond saw. The stones he cuts were originally intended for lasers, medical imaging machines, cell phones, even fusion reactors. This ruby was left over from the 1980s strategic defense initiative, also known as Star Wars. Sourcing this stuff is basically a full-time job. We have to do a lot of cold calls, send a lot of emails and find crystal growers or crystal processors or researchers who are willing to part with their scrap. They are not always willing. Sometimes scrap is re melted and recycled. Sometimes the crystal's composition is top secret. Some of the scientific crystals channel are manages to get his hands on, contain rare earth elements. Some of them change color. Some of them actually glow in the dark. I think my favorite is, lutetium aluminum garnet. It is used to detect invisible radiation. And it has an insane neon green color. It glows like nobody's business. One of those rough stones went to Eric bardawil owner of House of Silas to facet into a gem. So he sent it to me. I opened the box. It's just glowing. I texted him. What is this stuff is it safe? Are you going to kill me if I cut it? Marty will cut it, posted the video on TikTok. It got 1.2 million views. People went crazy. And then for the next month, I think all I did was sell Luang gemstones. They go for a few hundred to more than a thousand bucks. Bartolo thinks the popularity of these industrial stones is in part because of a shift in the diamond market. People are warming up to lab grown diamonds for wedding rings, and that spilled over into acceptance for synthetic colored stones, especially if they have a good backstory, like failed industrial products or fusion generator parts. We'll have to kind of see whether it fizzles out or what? So I have faith. For now, it's not just the crystals that are glowing, sales are bright too. In New York, I'm somebody Ben

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