Company history

Company history

Sir Ernest Oppenheimer set up the world’s first company to focus on the industrial uses of natural diamond.

Element Six traces its history back to 1946, when Sir Ernest Oppenheimer established the first company in the world to focus on the industrial uses of natural diamond, Industrial Distributors Ltd. The following year a dedicated research laboratory was set up in Johannesburg, South Africa as a key resource into understanding materials and the development of new applications relating to diamond.

In 1953, the world of supermaterials changed forever when the first synthesis of synthetic diamond was achieved by a high pressure, high temperature process. In 1960, these processes were commercialised and production volume manufacturing of synthetic diamond started in South Africa in 1960 and in Ireland three years later.

In 1969, the company added an important new supermaterial, cubic boron nitride (CBN), which broadened the markets that could be served. The initial use of CBN was to grind hardened steel components. Over the next decade, there were further additions of CBN and synthetic diamond products, which made the company one of the world leaders in supermaterials.

In the late 1980s, the company added a second research facility to complement its South African laboratories. Then in 1989, another technological leap was achieved when the research group achieved synthetic diamond synthesis using a process called chemical vapour deposition or CVD. CVD diamond is now an important supermaterial with a growing application area.

In 2002, the company rebranded to Element Six, a bold reference to carbon, the sixth element of the periodic table. Since then, the company has embarked on a strong growth period which has included the acquisition of Barat Carbide, a leading company in tungsten carbide technology, as well as the launch of a dedicated venture fund to invest in innovation related to synthetic diamond.

The present and the future
Our impressive achievements over the last fifty years demonstrate both our position as an undisputed industry leader and our progressive approach to developing supermaterial solutions. Thanks to our constant focus on innovation, we have continued to introduce ground-breaking new technologies and products.

As the world’s leading supermaterial company, we are truly excited about using synthetic diamond’s unique combination of extreme properties to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Our proud heritage is built on unrivalled innovation, and with our continuous development of proprietary technology and product launches, it is clear that innovation-driven success will be our future too.

Detailed Element Six and synthetic diamond synthesis timeline

1946 - Industrial Distributors Ltd. was established by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer to concentrate on industrial uses of natural diamonds.

1947 - Foundation of Diamond Research Laboratory (DRL) in Johannesburg.

1953 - First successful synthetic diamond synthesis (ASEA - Sweden).

1954 - World diamond consumption estimated at 14 M carats - all natural.

1957 - Cubic boron nitride invented.

1958 - Diamond Research Laboratory (DRL) team synthesised synthetic diamond for the first time in South Africa.

1960 - Opening of Ultra High Pressure Units in Springs, South Africa.

1961 - Shannon plant established in Ireland - the company's first site outside of South Africa. Syn-RB launched, the first synthetic diamond abrasive for resin bond applications.

1962 - RDA launched.  Micron DA launched.

1966 - Synthetic saw grit product SDA (saw diamond abrasive) launched.

1967 - World diamond consumption estimated at 50 M carats.

1968 - The first clad product launched with RDA 55 N.

1969 - SDA100 launched.

1971 - The first large synthetic diamond crystals were grown at the Diamond Research Laboratory.

1972 - Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) launched commercially - Syndie.

1975 - Scandiamant, now Element Six AB, Robertsfors, Sweden, became a wholly-owned subsidiary. First CBN grit product launched commercially - ABN.

1976 - PCD blanks for drilling introduced - Syndrill CDA launched.

1978 - Sales by volume for synthetic diamond products exceed those for natural boart and drilling for the first time.

1980 - PCBN product launched commercially - Amborite (now AMB90). World diamond consumption estimated at 195 M carats.

1984 - Worldwide diamond consumption estimated at 250 M carats.

1985 - Introduction of the SDA Plus Series with the products SDA+, SDA85+ and SDA100+.  Brazeable Amborite launched commercially - Ambrazite.

1988 - Monodie 100 launched commercially.

1989 - CVD diamond films deposited for the first time at Element Six's UK facility.

1990 - World diamond consumption estimated at ~ 500 M carats.

1992 - Diafilm CVD diamond products commercially available.

1993 - Syndite PCD available in 70 millimetres diameter.

1994 - Premadia Series introduced featuring the Premadia Indicator System.

1996 - Two new saw grit series launched - SDB 1000 and DSN. ABN800 and 860 launched commercially.

1998 - Syndite PCD discs at 74 millimetres and Amborite AMB90 PCBN disk at 101.6 millimetres in diameter commercially available.

1999 - CVD diamond product range consisting of the product families Cvdite and Cvdress commercially available. Restructuring of PCBN product range under the Amborite brand.

2000 - World diamond consumption estimated at 1Bn carats.

2001 - Diamond Research Laboratory opened in its new location in Springs.

2002 - Rebranding of De Beers Industrial Diamonds to Element Six.

2003 - World diamond consumption estimated at 1.5 Bn carats. Amborite DBW85, Syndite CTM302 and Maxigrit launched. Expanded production facility officially opened in Springs.

2006 - Synthetic diamond factory opened in Suzhou, China. Single crystal CVD (chemical vapour deposition) diamond material available.

2007 - Acquisition of leading tungsten carbide manufacturer, Barat Carbide. Global synthetic diamond grit capacity estimated at 5 Bn carats.

2008 - Cyrus Jilla named as new CEO.

2009 - New monocrystal products launched for precision industries and wear parts applications.

2010 - Element Six single crystal synthetic diamond plays a key role in the international EQUIND research project to develop synthetic diamond-based quantum computer technology. Global synthetic diamond grit capacity estimated at 8 Bn carats.

2011 - Business development and customer service office opened in Shanghai. ABN900 cubic boron nitride high performance grinding product released. New administration centre opened for our Springs manufacturing facility.  

2012 – D Power PCD road pick launched.  First US synthetic diamond manufacturing facility opened, in Santa Clara, California. New quantum information record set using nano-engineered synthetic diamond in collaboration with Harvard University.

2013 - Walter Hühn appointed CEO.