MORE THAN JUST A SPARKLING GEM: WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DIAMONDS
Diamonds are made of carbon – but there’s something almost supernatural about them. Just the word ‘diamond’ invokes luxury, desirability and toughness. Yet when we think of the element carbon we are more likely to think of charcoal: soft, black, opaque, earthy, lightweight. In contrast with carbon in its low pressure form as charcoal or graphite, carbon atoms in diamond are fixed together in a strong, three dimensional network. This leads to unique physical properties: diamond is a clear, extremely hard, often colourless mineral with a very high density.
Diamonds sparkle and have internal “fire” because of their very high refractive index. This means light is “caught” inside the crystal and re-reflected off the internal surfaces. Faces and facets made by gem cutters accentuate this property.
Diamond is the hardest known substance, the greatest conductor of heat, has the highest melting point of any substance (4090°C or 7362°F), and the highest refractive index of any natural mineral. Diamond measures 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, and is approximately 4 times harder than Corundum (sapphire and ruby), which is 9 on the Mohs scale.
VIOLENTLY ERUPTED TO THE SURFACE
Diamonds form deep within the earth under extreme heat and pressure.
Although diamonds have been prized as valuable gems for a long time, until the early 1700s virtually all traded diamonds came from river gravels (known as “alluvial deposits”) in India. Then in the early eighteenth century diamonds were discovered in Brazil, and from 1866 onwards were mined in South Africa. It was in this country that diamond’s major, violently erupted, volcanic source rock known as “kimberlite” was identified for the first time.
This recognition fundamentally changed the diamond exploration and mining industry, and quickly led to vastly increased production and to the high demand from the modern jewellery industry. Supply of diamonds to the market has long been tightly controlled by a small number of major producers – examples include De Beers (South Africa-Botswana), Al Rosa (Russia), Rio Tinto (Argyle Mine Australia and Canadian mines) and Lucara Diamond Corporation (Karowe Mine, Botswana), the Diavik kimberlite pipe in northern Canada.
Most diamonds are brown or yellow in colour. The jewellery industry has favoured colourless diamonds or those that have a colour so subtle that it is difficult to notice. Diamonds in vivid natural hues of red, orange, green, blue, pink, purple, violet or yellow form a group of Fancy Colour diamonds. They are extremely rare and valuable.
Diamond is the hardest-known mineral, measuring 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. However, the hardness of diamond is directional. It is hardest parallel to its octahedral planes and softest parallel to its cubic planes.
THE VALUE OF DIAMONDS
Unlike other mined commodities such as copper, gold, oil or coal, diamond has no spot market. Its value is variable and highly subjective, assessed using the 4Cs system: colour, clarity, cut and carat (5 carat = 1 gram). Per carat, uncut diamond values typically vary from around $US10 to $US3,000. Very large (sometimes very historical) gem-quality diamonds however may command price orders of magnitude beyond this. Until 1950s, there was no agreed-upon standard by which diamonds could be judged. GIA (Gemological Institute of America) created the first, and now globally accepted 4Cs standard for describing diamonds.
When talking about colour range in white diamonds what we are actually looking for is the absence of colour. A truly colourless diamond is extremely rare and highly prized. Most diamonds possess varying degrees of colour creating differences in value. The highest grade for a diamond with absolutely no colour is D and letter grades are assigned alphabetically all the way down to Z. An ‘icy white’ diamond is typically D, E or F. However, some people like the ‘warmth’ of an I, J or K colour. Within a given budget, you should seek the best balance of clarity, cut and carat to find the perfect diamond for you.
Diamond clarity is symbolic of ‘purity’ – the more flaws, the less valuable the diamond. Flawless, VVS (Very Very Slightly included), VS (Very Slightly included) and SI1 (Slightly Included 1) have the least inclusions or flaws. SI2 (Slightly Included 2) is borderline where inclusionsmay become visible to the naked eye. I (Included) rated diamonds have obvious inclusions or flaws visible to the naked eye.
Of all the 4Cs, cut has the greatest effect on a diamond’s beauty. Two diamonds of the same size, colour and clarity will look visibly different depending on their cut – one may look brilliant and bright, the other dull and drab. The better quality the cut the more brilliance and beauty the diamond will have.
Diamond cut grading runs from Excellent to Poor, with Excellent cut diamonds possessing correct proportions and an even pattern of bright and dark areas.
A diamond that is cut is too shallow, with an overly large spread for its carat weight will “leak” light through the sides or bottom of the stone, while a well-cut and proportioned diamond will reflect out the light through the crown, resulting in superior brightness, fire and scintillation.
Brightness is the measure of light reflected from a diamond.
Fire refers to the scattering of white light into all the colours of the rainbow. Scintillation is the amount of sparkle that a diamond has, and reflections inside the diamond resulting in a particular pattern of dark and light areas.
Diamond carat is the standard used to measure diamond weight. A carat equals 1/5 of a gram. As diamonds increase in size, their cost tends to increase exponentially. Weight does not always enhance the value of a diamond – particularly if it is cut badly. Indeed a good cut can enhance the perceived size of a diamond.
Diamond fluorescence is the tendency for the stone to glow when it is subjected to ultraviolet rays from sources like the sun and fluorescent lamps. It looks like a bluish, a yellow or orangey hue. Once the ultraviolet light source is removed, the diamond stops fluorescing.
The element that creates this effect is boron and only about 30% of diamonds exhibit some degree of fluorescence. It grades from None, Faint, Medium to Strong and Very Strong.
Generally, the presence of fluorescence is undesirable, however if we compare two diamonds that have the same lower colour grade, the diamond that has blue fluorescence will have a whiter face-up appearance, as the blue hue helps mask a yellowish tint. Yellow fluorescent hue will enhance a yellowish colour of a lower colour grade diamond.
RECOGNISED LABORATORIES AND GRADING ORGANISATIONS WORLDWIDE
CIBJO The World Jewellery Confederation
CSA Jewellery Council of South Africa
DCLA Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia
DPL Diamant PrufLabor, Germany
EGL European Gemmological Laboratory
GIA Gemological Institute of America
HRD Antwerp World Diamond Centre
IGI International Gemological Institute
When done by certification companies, laser inscriptions are taken as validation and proof of the quality of the diamond. Moreover, they help to avoid confusion, determine ownership, as well as deter fraud in the diamond industry.
CLUES ABOUT DIAMOND ORIGINS
Many diamonds contain inclusions of other minerals, which are captured samples from the deep Earth rocks in which the diamond grew. These provide important information for geologists. For example, inclusions of the minerals olivine, pyroxene and garnet tell us their host diamonds grew at depths between about 120 and 300km, in a layer of the Earth known as the sub-continental lithospheric mantle.
This layer is part of the Earth’s continental tectonic plates, and lies below the oldest regions of Earth’s continental crust known as “cratons”. Cratons are up to four billion years old – examples include the Australian Pilbara, the South African Kaapvaal, the Canadian Slave and the Russian Siberian craton.
The Pink Star is said to be the largest internally flawless fancy vivid pink diamond ever graded.
BLUE DIAMONDS DEEP, DEEP DOWN
Although the sub-continental lithospheric mantle is the most common source of diamonds, some come from much deeper layers in the Earth. These are called sub-lithospheric diamonds, and identified by mineral inclusions consistent with being exposed to much higher pressures found at depths of more than 650km.
A recent study looked at a type of rare blue diamond like the Hope Diamond. The researchers consistently detected very high pressure mineral inclusions indicating their diamond hosts grew at depths of at least 660km. These diamonds are blue because of the presence of trace amounts of the element boron.
The question of how boron ended up at great depths in the Earth’s mantle is a fascinating one. Boron is an element that on Earth is highly concentrated in the upper continental crust (less than 20km deep) and in ocean water. Its concentration in deeper mantle rocks is typically extremely low. Boron then must have been re-introduced to the deep layers where the diamonds grew.
This would likely have happened through a process called deep subduction, where the boundary of an oceanic tectonic plate (about 100km thick) fails, and the plate then collapses into the deep earth’s mantle. This moves boron and other materials from the shallow layers of the Earth down into depths of over 700 km.
Kimberlite eruptions then bring the diamonds up towards the surface.
Subduction of oceanic lithosphere with boron (B) captured from the oceans and delivered by the subducting oceanic slab to lower mantle depths in excess of 660km. Here the boron is supplied to the growing ultra-high pressure sub-lithospheric diamonds.
A WINDOW INTO DEEP EARTH
In addition to the boron example above, evidence from other diamond mine sites also supports the idea that Earth elements move from relatively shallow to deeper into the Earth through the process of subduction.
This has been detected by tracking different forms of carbon in diamonds from the South African Cullinan mine, and on mineral inclusions in South Australian diamonds.
Deep parts of the Earth still have a physical connection with layers closer to the surface. So yes diamonds are valuable due to being beautiful, hardy and relatively rare – but they also provide a fantastic window into the structure and the history of our Earth.
Angola, Australia, Botswana, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, Zaire. Major cutting centres of diamonds are in Antwerp, Bombay, New York, Tel Aviv.
Lab-grown or synthetic diamonds are a complete copy of a natural diamond that contain the same crystal lattice structure and chemical formula as a natural diamond.
To form a diamond crystal, the element carbon is placed under high pressure and the temperature of the surface of the Sun. Another way to form a synthetic diamond would be through a chemical vapour deposition where a small seed of a diamond crystal is grown layer by layer in a chamber.
Identification of a natural diamond from a synthetic diamond requires specialised equipment. The nature of inclusions in a natural diamond differs from the types of inclusions found in a synthetic diamond. Not all inclusions are easily visible through the naked eye or by using a loupe.
Lab grown diamonds are inscribed with letters “LG” at the base of the stone.
Cubic Zirconia, Moissanite, Swarovski Crystal.
Hardness: 10 Mohs
Specific Gravity: 3.417-3.55
Refractive Index: 2.417 -2.419
Crystal Form: Cubic. Diamond crystals occur well shaped as octahedra, cubes, rhombic dodecahedral and macles. Diamond is found in igneous rock formations and alluvial deposits.
Treatments: Annealing, Irradiation, High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT), laser drilling, fracture filling, coating.
Special Care: None
Durability: Very good
Image and ring: lizunova.com