What’s “the only publicly traded company growing diamonds?”

Following some hints from a Wealth Daily article about synthetic diamonds

Some pitches are red-hot, oozing with promise and bursting with unclaimed millions… you can’t help but get sucked in. And that’s what I write about most of the time.

But part of the reason I started Stock Gumshoe nine years ago is that I just like solving puzzles. If you’re going to hint at something but not tell me the whole story, it’s going to drive me a little nuts — I’ll have to dig into it until I figure out what the heck you’re talking about.

And that’s what’s happening today — Jason Stutman doesn’t have a big hype-fest of an ad lined up to promise gazillions of dollars for folks who invest in his synthetic diamond company… but he does lay out the case for diamonds, drop some hints about a specific company, and leave us wanting more.

To be clear, he’s not using these hints to directly sell one of his newsletters, and it’s not clear whether he has recommended the stock to his readers or owns it personally.

But there are clues, so your Gumshoe is on ’em.

Stutman’s article from the free Wealth Daily is here if you want to see the whole thing, but here’s a little taste of his “case for diamonds”….

“At ~$65,000 per gram, diamond ranks as the third-most expensive material in the world….

“But diamond, of course, is more than just a pretty stone to admire. It is an incredibly unique super-material, with industrial applications unmatched by any other mineral on earth….

“This unique molecular structure of diamond allows for the following properties:

  • Optical: broadband spectral transparency
  • Thermal: highest thermal conductivity (of any known material)
  • Mechanical: hardest natural material
  • Electrical: high charge carrier mobility (it’s a world-class semiconductor)
  • Chemical: highest durability

“Together, these properties make diamonds suitable not only for jewelry and industrial machinery but also a wide range of other current and future applications. Diamonds can be used for transparent electrical contact, as electrodes for batteries, as lenses for laser systems, for water purification, and as a wear-resistant coating.”

There are a few examples given for the possible high value of diamonds for commercial use, including quantum computing and thin-film diamond semiconductors, and Stutman notes that, as you probably know, it’s now possible to make artificial diamonds that are difficult or impossible (depends who you ask) to identify by eye as different from “organic” diamonds.

Which is all well and good, there have been artificial diamonds for quite some time and synthetic diamond already supplies almost all of the industrial demand for diamond material — including the “high tech” stuff like research into quantum computers, diamond LEDs, thin film diamonds, etc. That’s been an evolution over the last 50-75 years, since the first commercial synthetic diamonds were created in the 1950s under high heat and pressure in a GE lab, so I’m sure the product has gotten better and cheaper in more or less a straight line from then to today… but still, what’s the part Stutman’s keeping from us?

“… the only publicly traded company growing diamonds for industrial and gemstone applications.

“As of today, this firm produces three- to five-carat rough gems (grown in just three to four weeks) that are finished into one- to two-carat stones. These stones are either polished for jewelry or sliced and shaped for industrial applications.

“The firm has strong intellectual protection, holding a total of 36 U.S. and international patents. It grows diamond crystals in a range of colors.

“Its colorless stones are used for jewelry and industrial applications (optical windows, laser scalpels, and electronics). Its pink stones are used for jewelry and precision milling and grinding.”

We’re also told that the company doubled its manufacturing capacity last year, and started marketing pink stones… and that they doubled their quarterly revenue year-over-year.

And…

“Of course, it will take many years before this small startup reaches the status of a gemstone giant like De Beers, but there is no doubt diamond growers like it are the future of the gemstone industry.”

So what is this little company Stutman’s not naming? Not a huge challenge for the Thinkolator, but sometimes it’s best to start off slow after a holiday weekend — the stock is Scio Diamond Technology (SCIO), a minuscule nanocap company (market cap just $15 million) that makes diamonds in South Carolina.

You should not go buy this stock.

I feel like I have to type those words before I go any further.

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That’s not necessarily because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the company (though there probably is), it’s because it’s a $15 million manufacturing & technology company and there’s no earthly reason why a company of this size should be publicly traded… except that institutional and venture investors don’t want to fund it and competitors are not interested in acquiring it at current prices. Which usually means that there’s nothing appealingly scalable about the business, though yes, I’m sure that there are occasional exceptions to the “companies this small don’t make appealing investments” mantra.

Most of the time, if a company this tiny makes it big it’s because of the rapid change in value of an asset or an invention. They’re bought out by a larger firm to get at their technology or their people, which tends to be what happens with tiny tech stocks with good ideas… or they discover or develop something unique (like a new molecule in biotech, or a new vein of gold in the ground) that makes them dramatically more valuable almost overnight without having to expand manufacturing facilities or hire hundreds of people.

Building a company up gradually from this kind of size by improving a manufacturing process and developing a market for your product is far, far more difficult than just snapping your fingers, discovering a new antibiotic or drilling a shockingly good mining prospect or releasing a devastatingly successful new search algorithm, and waiting for the cash offers to come in.

So that’s the preliminary warning that applies to any little company of similar ilk — but what’s going on specifically with Scio Diamond?

Well, it used to be a bit bigger — the market cap peaked around $100 million almost five years ago right after they started trading… so they’ve been around for a while, but have not yet hit commercial success. They reported their first revenue three years ago, and have neither consistently grown that revenue (it has bounced around quite a bit) nor ever generated a gross profit. (Gross profit, for those who don’t know, is the revenue minus the cost of goods — the cash coming in minus the cash they have to expend just to create the specific product that was sold… not counting advertising, administrative costs, selling costs, overhead, etc.)

Here’s now they describe themselves:

“Scio Diamond employs a patent-protected chemical vapor deposition process to produce high-quality, single-crystal near colorless and fancy-colored diamonds for the jewelry market in a controlled laboratory setting. Lab-grown diamonds are chemically, physically and optically identical to “earth-mined” diamonds. Scio’s technology offers the flexibility to produce lab-grown diamonds in size, color and quality combinations that are rare in earth-mined diamonds. Scio also delivers diamond materials for advanced industrial, medical and semiconductor applications.”

The company has been a management mess since going public, and it sounds like it was not all that pretty before that either, according to this account (the details of which I haven’t confirmed) — with lots of turnover on the board and in the executive suite.

The company’s description of its history starts with Apollo Diamond in Boston, founded by Robert Linares (a “pioneer in crystal growing and CVD techniques”) in 1990, but the skip to going public came because, in their timeline, Apollo shut down because they failed to commercialize the technology, and then the assets were acquired by a special purpose investment company called Krossbow, who renamed itself Scio and re-started that effort to commercialize the technology. That article is a c