Science of Diamonds

By: Ian Maher

Diamonds have assumed a range of symbolic meanings throughout history, including the historic notion that diamonds bestowed mysterious powers of protection and healing upon the elite few who possessed them. Widely renowned and commercially prevalent today, diamonds are now commonly associated with wealth, status, and love.

A diamond is the most concentrated form of carbon, the element essential for all forms of life. The diamond is differentiated from other substances comprised of carbon due to its unique crystal structure, which identifies the bond among a repeating arrangement of compounds or elements that produce a solid entity. In fact, the diamond consists of the strongest chemical bond known today, lending to the diamond's exceptionally resilient properties.

The natural process through which diamonds form adds mystique to their enchanting allure. Diamonds typically form deep within the earth where there exist conditions of extreme heat and pressure, with evidence suggesting that diamonds have formed hundreds of miles below the earth's surface. Temperatures in excess of one thousand degrees Celsius and pressure of at least fifty kilobars are conditions necessary for diamond formation, with the atmospheric pressure at sea level measuring just one kilobar. In some cases, diamonds form at shallower depths which exhibit abnormally high levels of pressure, though the quality of these diamonds is generally lower than those which form deep within the earth.

Diamond deposits that are large enough for mining are generally located in cratons, which are vast areas of the earth's crust which have reasonably stable properties and cover a large percentage of most continents. Cratons consist of a substantial crust with roots that extend into the earth's mantle below. Diamonds are transported to the earth's surface by magma, or liquid volcanic rock traveling through these roots, which cools and hardens as it reaches the cooler temperature of the earth's surface. During this hardening process, cone shaped diamond deposits materialize, named kimberlite pipes after Kimberley, South Africa where the first kimberlite pipe was found. While diamonds are occasionally discovered in meteorites and different types of rocks, most diamonds have historically been found in kimberlite pipe deposits.

The value of the diamond extends far beyond the exquisite beauty that makes it popular for use in fine jewelry. The hardest substance known to man, diamonds can also withstand extreme pressure and shock, making them valuable for industrial use in tools for cutting, polishing, drilling and grinding. Flawed diamonds that are not suited for jewelry as well as synthetic diamonds are often designated for such manufacturing applications.

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