February 14, 2007 3:19 PM PST

Synthetic diamonds still a rough cut

The day may come when the diamonds adorning red-carpet celebrities come from a factory in Florida rather than a mine in Liberia, but don't expect a huge paradigm shift just yet.

Synthetic-diamond makers received a boost in January when the Gemological Institute of America--the organization that invented the color, cut, clarity and carat diamond standards 50 years ago--began grading the quality of lab-grown diamonds.

"It gives validity to what investors and manufacturers of gems have been saying for a number of years," said Stephen Lux, CEO of Gemesis Diamond in Sarasota, Fla. "The alternative of lab-grown diamonds is a reality, and these diamonds are a nice value as compared to mined stones, which are becoming scarce."

It takes Gemesis four days to grow a diamond of an average 2.5 carats. The process begins by placing a microscopic diamond grain into a 4,000-pound machine about the size of a kitchen oven. Under hundreds of thousands of pounds of pressure and at temperatures as high as 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the nugget grows, one atom at a time. It uses about 20 kilowatt-hours per carat, said Reza Abbaschian, a materials scientist who helped the company develop its process.

Photos of synthetic diamonds

The Gemesis process mimics a diamond's development some hundred miles underground. Apollo Diamond, based near Boston, takes a different tack, imitating the way diamonds are made in space. Through chemical vapor deposition, Apollo's process pumps gas into a chamber that essentially rains carbon and forms a diamond nugget from a "seed" within two to four weeks.

For now, most cultivated diamonds come in colors, the natural counterparts of which are rare in nature and pricey in stores. Gemesis specializes in yellow diamonds that get their tint from a boost in nitrogen. Gemesis' Lux estimates the potential market for yellow diamonds alone to be in the tens of millions of dollars. He hopes to create more colorful and larger gems over the next five years.

Apollo Diamond produces colorless stones from a quarter carat to a half carat in size. The company spent the better part of a decade refining a method that already created the kind of thin diamond film that gives scalpels and industrial tools a stiff coating.

If you cultivate it, will they buy?
As far as aesthetics go, consumers shouldn't see any difference. Both mined and synthetic diamonds are chemically identical. Neither the naked eye, nor an ordinary microscope can detect the difference. Jewelers can tell with a loupe by reading a laser inscription required by the Federal Trade Commission. Otherwise, it takes high-tech equipment that analyzes the crystal structure of diamonds (like a proprietary machine De Beers has) to distinguish the difference.

Where some consumers may see a benefit to synthetic diamonds, however, is in the environmental and political arenas. Bryant Linares, CEO of diamond maker Apollo Diamond, anticipates that lab-grown gems will fill a niche in the jewelry market for shoppers wary of the ecological harms of mining, as well as the cost in human lives exacted by the illicit diamond trade in Africa. Mining removes several hundred tons of earth to extract one carat worth of diamond. Amnesty International estimates that 3.7 million people have died in Africa in conflicts involving the smuggling of diamonds to fund rebel armies.

And there is a cost benefit for consumers as well. After being polished, cut and set into jewelry, the synthetic stones cost about 15 percent less than comparable mined diamonds.

Indeed, Gemesis is seeing rapid growth. It adds a new diamond pressure-cooker to its collection of hundreds every few days. Having tripled diamond production since last summer, Lux plans to further expand its 10,000-square-foot operation later this year.

Several brick-and-mortar jewelry stores, as well as online merchants, carry Gemesis gems. But not everyone has taken a shine to the lab-made gems. Tiffany and other elite jewelers snub the diamond synthetics. And the jewelry industry continues to debate whether lab-grown diamonds deserve to be dubbed "cultured," like pearls.

Others say the ethical incentives are exaggerated. Only about 5 percent of people who watched the film Blood Diamond, which showed the ugly side of the mined-diamond trade, said they would change their buying habits to avoid so-called conflict diamonds, according to the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council.

And because the diamond industry has improved its practices at tracking the source of each stone through the Kimberley Process, shunning mined diamonds for human rights reasons is short-sighted, said Rob Bates, senior editor at Jewelers Circular Keystone magazine.

"When you're buying mined diamonds, you're helping communities in Africa," he said. "When you're buying them made from a machine, you're helping 20 guys in Florida."

Bates and others believe that lab-grown diamonds don't live up to their hype, and that it could take them a lifetime to pose a viable alternative to mined gems in jewelry.

"There are barely any out there, and those that are out there are mostly fancy, colored diamonds at high prices," he said. "We are not only not there yet; we are not even close to there."

Like Bates, other industry observers argue that the demand for man-made diamonds likely exceeds the supply. "I'd be surprised if there were more than 10,000 carats in single stones in existence," said Liz Chatelain, president of the marketing firm that runs the JCOC. "Ten years from now, when the technology is in place and there's a market around it, it might make a difference enough to really infiltrate the market."

Lab-grown diamonds may fill a niche, especially for shoppers seeking colored stones, but they won't likely replace mined diamonds in the most prized jewelry, said Chatelain. "If there's something that took 3 billion years and something that took three weeks to make, you're going to prize 3 billion."

That doesn't stop the diamond makers from dreaming. For now, only start-ups such as Gemesis and Apollo appear to be producing them for jewelry, though De Beers' Element 6 division has made industrial diamonds for decades. Diamond makers look forward to the expected surge in demand for diamonds from the developing world, particularly China and India. The relatively low cost of launching a synthetic diamond mine against the billion dollars it takes to carve a new mine from the ground could benefit companies like Gemesis and Apollo over the long term, experts say.

"Man-made diamonds will be with us in many different ways we can only begin to imagine right now that will materially affect everybody on the planet," said Apollo's Linares.

For instance, as microprocessors continue to become hotter, faster and smaller in accordance with Moore's Law, diamonds could substitute heat-sensitive silicon. The thermal conductivity, stiffness and transparency of diamonds also make them attractive for next-generation optics, digital data storage and in nanotech medical devices. And much further into the future, Linares imagines that diamond components could even clean up toxic waste and lead to ultra-efficient, compact solar panels.

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More extensive article here
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/diamond.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/diamond.html</a>
Posted by sbwinn (216 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More extensive article here
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/diamond.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/diamond.html</a>
Posted by sbwinn (216 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i little misleading
"When you're buying mined diamonds, you're helping communities in Africa," he said. "When you're buying them made from a machine, you're helping 20 guys in Florida."

what, is debeers a charitable organization now...i remember them being a money grubbing cartel with its boot heel on the entire diamond industry...and I'm sure all their employees are living in mansions and have free health care...who ever was quoted saying this needs a serious ethics lesson, or a tour of the kimberly mines full of "slaves"
Posted by epiccollision (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: a little misleading
Hi, I'm the person who made that comment, and I am happy to defend it. I have been critical of De Beers in the past but your information is a little out of date. The company now controls 40 to 50% of the market, which is a large amount, but not the boot-heel of the past. And yes, it is a quite profitable business, but businesses can make a contribution to a community too, and they generally are more effective than charity organizations in lifting a country's living standard in the long-term. My understanding is that their employees do get health care (I can double-check that), and while they don't live in mansions, then again, I don't either. My only point is I think it is wrong to think of lab-grown gems -- which by the way, are a perfectly legitimate product -- as more ethical than mined stones. There is a reason NGOs like Amnesty International as well as respected figures like Nelson Mandela have argued against a boycott of the mined diamond industry -- it's because if there was one, you'd be throwing millions of people out of work. And somehow I don't think all those people can get jobs working machines in Florida. Anyway, I'll be happy to discuss this further, or you can check out the blog I keep at jckonline.com. (JCK Voices)
Posted by Rob Bates (4 comments )
Link Flag
i little misleading
"When you're buying mined diamonds, you're helping communities in Africa," he said. "When you're buying them made from a machine, you're helping 20 guys in Florida."

what, is debeers a charitable organization now...i remember them being a money grubbing cartel with its boot heel on the entire diamond industry...and I'm sure all their employees are living in mansions and have free health care...who ever was quoted saying this needs a serious ethics lesson, or a tour of the kimberly mines full of "slaves"
Posted by epiccollision (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: a little misleading
Hi, I'm the person who made that comment, and I am happy to defend it. I have been critical of De Beers in the past but your information is a little out of date. The company now controls 40 to 50% of the market, which is a large amount, but not the boot-heel of the past. And yes, it is a quite profitable business, but businesses can make a contribution to a community too, and they generally are more effective than charity organizations in lifting a country's living standard in the long-term. My understanding is that their employees do get health care (I can double-check that), and while they don't live in mansions, then again, I don't either. My only point is I think it is wrong to think of lab-grown gems -- which by the way, are a perfectly legitimate product -- as more ethical than mined stones. There is a reason NGOs like Amnesty International as well as respected figures like Nelson Mandela have argued against a boycott of the mined diamond industry -- it's because if there was one, you'd be throwing millions of people out of work. And somehow I don't think all those people can get jobs working machines in Florida. Anyway, I'll be happy to discuss this further, or you can check out the blog I keep at jckonline.com. (JCK Voices)
Posted by Rob Bates (4 comments )
Link Flag
DeBeers would like to thank the author
Anyone interested in this topic should spend an hour doing Google searches.

You'll find articles on both sides of the equation, and even some threads from discussion groups by jewelers.

You'll find articles supporting man-made diamonds, you'll find others against them (this one, for example, definitely leans a little against them), and everything in between.

Draw your own conclusions, but by no means should you draw them from this somewhat lopsided article alone.
Posted by johnxtampa (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DeBeers would like to thank the author
Anyone interested in this topic should spend an hour doing Google searches.

You'll find articles on both sides of the equation, and even some threads from discussion groups by jewelers.

You'll find articles supporting man-made diamonds, you'll find others against them (this one, for example, definitely leans a little against them), and everything in between.

Draw your own conclusions, but by no means should you draw them from this somewhat lopsided article alone.
Posted by johnxtampa (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Starbucks exploit coffee farmers.
So lets boycott Starbucks and drink coffee grew by local fat cats. That will help e poor exploited coffee farmers.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Starbucks exploit coffee farmers.
So lets boycott Starbucks and drink coffee grew by local fat cats. That will help e poor exploited coffee farmers.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I heart synthetic diamonds
Synthetic diamonds may not be as common as natural diamonds, but nevertheless they're everywhere. Do an eBay seach for "diamond", eliminating keywords "cubic zirconium" and "CZ" and arranging the results from least to most expensive, and you'll see what I mean.

I bought some synthetic diamond earrings this way and found that they are visually indistinguishable from natural diamonds. Personally, I feel better knowing that DeBeers didn't profit from my purchase.
Posted by byakko (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CZ is not the same
cubic zirconia is not the same as a synthetic diamond. Sythetic diamonds have the same chemical and structural properties as a diamond, CZ is not, they only look like diamonds but are not nearly as hard and don't ahve the same chemical properties
Posted by grossph (172 comments )
Link Flag
I heart synthetic diamonds
Synthetic diamonds may not be as common as natural diamonds, but nevertheless they're everywhere. Do an eBay seach for "diamond", eliminating keywords "cubic zirconium" and "CZ" and arranging the results from least to most expensive, and you'll see what I mean.

I bought some synthetic diamond earrings this way and found that they are visually indistinguishable from natural diamonds. Personally, I feel better knowing that DeBeers didn't profit from my purchase.
Posted by byakko (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CZ is not the same
cubic zirconia is not the same as a synthetic diamond. Sythetic diamonds have the same chemical and structural properties as a diamond, CZ is not, they only look like diamonds but are not nearly as hard and don't ahve the same chemical properties
Posted by grossph (172 comments )
Link Flag
Typo: Kilowatts is power, not energy
"It uses about 20 kilowatts of energy per carat." But kilowatts is a measure of power, not energy. Possibly the author meant 20 kilowatt-hours per carat?

(For comparison, in my last utility bill, PG&#38;E charged me from 11.4 to 22.9 cents for a single kilowatt hour of eletrical energy they delivered; the price depending on baseline and higher usage levels.)
Posted by Almadenmike (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Typo: Kilowatts is power, not energy
"It uses about 20 kilowatts of energy per carat." But kilowatts is a measure of power, not energy. Possibly the author meant 20 kilowatt-hours per carat?

(For comparison, in my last utility bill, PG&#38;E charged me from 11.4 to 22.9 cents for a single kilowatt hour of eletrical energy they delivered; the price depending on baseline and higher usage levels.)
Posted by Almadenmike (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Razor Blades & CPU's
What is really interesting to me is the prospect of creating new diamond-based products that haven't been practical until now. I'm wondering how long it will be before I can buy a razor that has a diamond blade, as an example. How many hundreds of dollars will the average guy spend in his lifetime replacing steel blades he shaves with? Who wouldn't pay a couple hundred bucks for a razor that will last the rest of your life and never need to be sharpened? Seems like that's the sort of product that these startups ought to be working on.
Posted by Yet Another Mark Johnson (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Razor Blades
Concerning razor blades, I think that it's a bit more complicated
than just finding a material that is very hard and strong. The
advanced ceramics company, Kyocera, makes very good ceramic
knives and other ceramic parts. I have one of their ceramic
knives that I bought in Japan. It has stayed sharp for years
without resharpening (in fact, ceramic knives can't be
resharpened). It turns out that they also investigated the idea of
making ceramic razor blades but they didn't work very well, not
because they didn't remain sharp but because they caused too
many knicks and cuts in the skin. I think that it had something
to do with the relative lack of flexibility of the blade with respect
to metal blades. Diamond, which is not a very flexible material,
is likely to have the same problem.
Posted by mofo111 (107 comments )
Link Flag
Razor Blades
I have 5 common schick type single blade disposable razors, that I have had and have been using for 5 years. those blades were treated to cryogenic tempering, no diamond coating needed. I paid less than $10 for the "set"

My Henckels knives are treated to same process from the factory, but not with the same good results as the razors, but kitchen knives take a lot more of a beating.

Diamonds in the pots and pans are a different story, in 1992 I had a friend in the Ukraine involved with a start up company that did plasma vapor depositing of diamonds, and sent me one of their first commercial products, a 12" skillet treated with this process. To this day I still have that skillet, and the non stick surface doesn't even show a scratch, works better than teflon, certainly lasts longer. A major manufacturer picked up the process, and has been selling the wares for a few years now.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Link Flag
Razor Blades & CPU's
What is really interesting to me is the prospect of creating new diamond-based products that haven't been practical until now. I'm wondering how long it will be before I can buy a razor that has a diamond blade, as an example. How many hundreds of dollars will the average guy spend in his lifetime replacing steel blades he shaves with? Who wouldn't pay a couple hundred bucks for a razor that will last the rest of your life and never need to be sharpened? Seems like that's the sort of product that these startups ought to be working on.
Posted by Yet Another Mark Johnson (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Razor Blades
Concerning razor blades, I think that it's a bit more complicated
than just finding a material that is very hard and strong. The
advanced ceramics company, Kyocera, makes very good ceramic
knives and other ceramic parts. I have one of their ceramic
knives that I bought in Japan. It has stayed sharp for years
without resharpening (in fact, ceramic knives can't be
resharpened). It turns out that they also investigated the idea of
making ceramic razor blades but they didn't work very well, not
because they didn't remain sharp but because they caused too
many knicks and cuts in the skin. I think that it had something
to do with the relative lack of flexibility of the blade with respect
to metal blades. Diamond, which is not a very flexible material,
is likely to have the same problem.
Posted by mofo111 (107 comments )
Link Flag
Razor Blades
I have 5 common schick type single blade disposable razors, that I have had and have been using for 5 years. those blades were treated to cryogenic tempering, no diamond coating needed. I paid less than $10 for the "set"

My Henckels knives are treated to same process from the factory, but not with the same good results as the razors, but kitchen knives take a lot more of a beating.

Diamonds in the pots and pans are a different story, in 1992 I had a friend in the Ukraine involved with a start up company that did plasma vapor depositing of diamonds, and sent me one of their first commercial products, a 12" skillet treated with this process. To this day I still have that skillet, and the non stick surface doesn't even show a scratch, works better than teflon, certainly lasts longer. A major manufacturer picked up the process, and has been selling the wares for a few years now.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Link Flag
WooHoo Bring on cheaper diamonds
It's total and complete BS the price of diamonds to begin with. Carbon is the second most abundant element in the universe behind hydrogen? ( I am not sure if that is still held as a true belief ) Diamonds ARE NOT RARE! There is no reason for the high price that exists on these things.

I welcome machine made diamonds that are more perfect than anything you can find in nature. I also hope that the guy trying to get a diamond mind going in Montana is successful. Screw DeBeers.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WooHoo Bring on cheaper diamonds
It's total and complete BS the price of diamonds to begin with. Carbon is the second most abundant element in the universe behind hydrogen? ( I am not sure if that is still held as a true belief ) Diamonds ARE NOT RARE! There is no reason for the high price that exists on these things.

I welcome machine made diamonds that are more perfect than anything you can find in nature. I also hope that the guy trying to get a diamond mind going in Montana is successful. Screw DeBeers.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Still responsible...
There is no shortage of diamonds in this world. The stockpiles could provide the world's demands for decades to come. So it is the diamond industry that is directly setting the supply and market price by what they release. That over-inflated value is what caused conflict diamonds and the problems in Africa. DeBeers and their industry is DIRECTLY responsible for this.

Ask anyone who has lived in an African diamond nation and also in America or another developed nation. They will tell you that they wished diamonds had never been discovered there. Diamonds did NOT help Africa. People like Nelson Mandela are just being realistic about which is the lesser poison at this point in time.

The same could be said for the oil industry. The difference is that right now the world could not function without oil. We could live just fine without diamonds on our fingers.

I think you'll be surprised in the near future about the demand for synthetic diamonds once people are educated about them. Ethics and morals aside I would still go for man-made being a big technology nerd.
Posted by jeffhughes1 (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Still responsible...
There is no shortage of diamonds in this world. The stockpiles could provide the world's demands for decades to come. So it is the diamond industry that is directly setting the supply and market price by what they release. That over-inflated value is what caused conflict diamonds and the problems in Africa. DeBeers and their industry is DIRECTLY responsible for this.

Ask anyone who has lived in an African diamond nation and also in America or another developed nation. They will tell you that they wished diamonds had never been discovered there. Diamonds did NOT help Africa. People like Nelson Mandela are just being realistic about which is the lesser poison at this point in time.

The same could be said for the oil industry. The difference is that right now the world could not function without oil. We could live just fine without diamonds on our fingers.

I think you'll be surprised in the near future about the demand for synthetic diamonds once people are educated about them. Ethics and morals aside I would still go for man-made being a big technology nerd.
Posted by jeffhughes1 (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what is it about diamonds
With regards to the overwhelming demand for diamonds, I am
trying to understand why otherwise intelligent, progressive women
who again and again buck society's expectations and traditions still
cherish diamonds, especially considering the turmoil and
exploitation that encompasses each precious stone. Also, what is
the purpose of wedding rings at all? Good quotes in this article.
Posted by wjzo (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Also, what is the purpose of wedding rings at all?"
"Also, what is the purpose of wedding rings at all?"

Wedding rings help keep single guys like me from making total idiots out of our selves by asking out married chicks.

Now we just make partial idiots out of our selves by asking out single chicks.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe this
They are precious stones, rare, the hardest natural substance known to mankind, and when cut/polished into a pattern become pretty. I'd rate their value for those reasons higher than why people spend fortunes on "collectables" (i.e. baseball cards, stamps, beanie babies...).
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
what is it about diamonds
With regards to the overwhelming demand for diamonds, I am
trying to understand why otherwise intelligent, progressive women
who again and again buck society's expectations and traditions still
cherish diamonds, especially considering the turmoil and
exploitation that encompasses each precious stone. Also, what is
the purpose of wedding rings at all? Good quotes in this article.
Posted by wjzo (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Also, what is the purpose of wedding rings at all?"
"Also, what is the purpose of wedding rings at all?"

Wedding rings help keep single guys like me from making total idiots out of our selves by asking out married chicks.

Now we just make partial idiots out of our selves by asking out single chicks.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe this
They are precious stones, rare, the hardest natural substance known to mankind, and when cut/polished into a pattern become pretty. I'd rate their value for those reasons higher than why people spend fortunes on "collectables" (i.e. baseball cards, stamps, beanie babies...).
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Global Warming
I wonder if artificial diamond making will ever become efficient enough to trap a large enough volume of carbon to slow down global warming?
Posted by felstar (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Global Warming
I wonder if artificial diamond making will ever become efficient enough to trap a large enough volume of carbon to slow down global warming?
Posted by felstar (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's just a rock.
Dear Rob Bates,
If diamond mines really "help the community", how come we're not hearing this feel-good story on the news? And how does this good that you're doing outweigh the millions that die because of the conflict diamonds? I'm sure that some conflict-free diamonds exist, but that doesn't discount the fact that the market is filled with lots of stones that aren't.

And what of those "20 guys in Florida"? What if they found a way to short circuit bloody rebels in Africa, champion human rights, and manage to fill their pockets at the same time? Not only are they solving world problems, but they're smart, too. I'd say that I want my money to go to them.

At the end of the day, it's just a shiny rock. It's just a stone that glitters. It's not life-giving and you can't take it with you to wherever you go after you die. So, if people have died over it, if it's funding unrighteous unrest, and if it's enslaving others, what is its real value?
Posted by ada trinity (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: It's Just a Rock
No one's denying conflict diamonds are a terrible thing.

Here is that feel-good story on the news:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/12/11/koinange.botswana/index.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/12/11/koinange.botswana/index.html</a>
Posted by Rob Bates (4 comments )
Link Flag
It's just a rock.
Dear Rob Bates,
If diamond mines really "help the community", how come we're not hearing this feel-good story on the news? And how does this good that you're doing outweigh the millions that die because of the conflict diamonds? I'm sure that some conflict-free diamonds exist, but that doesn't discount the fact that the market is filled with lots of stones that aren't.

And what of those "20 guys in Florida"? What if they found a way to short circuit bloody rebels in Africa, champion human rights, and manage to fill their pockets at the same time? Not only are they solving world problems, but they're smart, too. I'd say that I want my money to go to them.

At the end of the day, it's just a shiny rock. It's just a stone that glitters. It's not life-giving and you can't take it with you to wherever you go after you die. So, if people have died over it, if it's funding unrighteous unrest, and if it's enslaving others, what is its real value?
Posted by ada trinity (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: It's Just a Rock
No one's denying conflict diamonds are a terrible thing.

Here is that feel-good story on the news:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/12/11/koinange.botswana/index.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/12/11/koinange.botswana/index.html</a>
Posted by Rob Bates (4 comments )
Link Flag
Needless to say De Beers was not too happy about diamond making technology after spending gillions buying up natural sources decade upon decade. As luck would have it they came up with a response to the market threat. Instead of raving about color and clarity, turn those in to vices and turn imperfections in to virtues. AH HA! Natural diamonds are riddled with natural flaws! Perfect diamonds are, um, just this side of FAKE! Yeah, so I guess purified water is FAKE water? I don't think so.
Posted by rockardo (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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