Construction begins on synthetic diamond manufacturer in Gresham
Crews broke ground on the $94 million dollar Element Six facility in the Gresham Vista Business Park Tuesday, June 26.
Element Six's Global Operations Director Ken Sullivan and Head of Special Products Adam O'Grady joined Steve Coe, the general manager of Lightbox Jewelry, Keith Leavitt, the chief commercial officer of the Port of Portland and Shane Bemis, the mayor of Gresham to dig into Lot 7 at the park and officially begin work on the facility.
"Today marks an exciting new opportunity for Element Six and it showcases our relentless drive towards manufacturing excellence and product innovation," Sullivan said.
Element Six is headquartered in London and part of the De Beers Group. The 7.64 acres of property on Stark Street was purchased from the Port of Portland for $2.35 million.
O'Grady said the project — from finding a city, to finding available land, to signing contracts — began just a year ago and the plans were first announced four months ago.
"It's really astonishing to see how far we've come in the last 12 months," O'Grady said.
Sullivan said the company's search for facility space had three requirements: international accessibility, commitment from the city and a young, talented workforce. Gresham and the greater Portland area met all three.
"We had an open book and now, we are here," Sullivan said.
Construction is expected to be completed by August 2019 and the plant will begin producing diamonds for Lightbox Jewelry by 2020. Expecting to produce 500,000 carrots a year, Element Six looks to hire 60 full-time engineers, technicians and other staff.
The roughly 60,000-square-foot plant will house advanced technologies or "super materials" that produce synthetic diamonds chemically identical to naturally mined diamonds.
"Over the past 30 years, Elemen Six has developed a unique patented CVD technology, which allows us to produce some of the world's highest quality lab-grown diamonds," Sullivan said.
Although lab-grown diamonds have many uses — surgical tools, electric tools and speakers — the Gresham location will only produce diamonds for Lightbox, a new online jewelry company.
De Beers unveiled the jewelry company in May. Lightbox will begin selling from its product line this September. Until the Gresham location is fully functional, James Kloiber, a media representative for Lightbox, said an Element Six facility in the United Kingdom will keep up with the demand.
"It will greatly increase the jewelry product we can supply and we can proudly say they're made in the U.S.A," Coe said.
Wholly owned by the De Beers Group, the company saw room in the market for a jewelry line that fits an "everyday lifestyle," Lightbox representative Jamie Cadwell-Gage said.
"De Beers has been working in lab grown for almost 50 years, industrially," Kloiber said. "Given where the technology is and consumer research over the last 3 years, they made determination that now would be the time to create Lightbox."
In September, Lightbox diamond necklaces and earrings are the two products that will be available. Kloiber said the company's internal design team hopes to expand the product line in the near future.
Gage said the company stays transparent with its pricing by keeping the numbers simple. Quarter carats cost $200 and a full carrot costs $800, compared to naturally mined diamonds, which usually run at $4,000 per carrot.
The pricing, Gage said, reflects the functional side of the line.
"Unlike those pricier pieces, these are easy," Gage said. "You can wear them while hiking, at yoga or during traveling."
Lightbox has no future plans to jump into the bridal arena with wedding rings.
Coe said the jewelry company hopes to find retail space in Portland or around the country within the next few years.
Bemis said he welcomes the new facility. The Port of Portland, he said, bought the land Element Six will now sit on from the city, and within a year turned it into a strong economic opportunity for Gresham.
"It's pretty amazing for a government agency to do that in a year," Bemis said.