How are Diamonds Formed?
Diamonds: How Nature Creates Its Most Precious Treasures
Diamonds have captivated humankind throughout centuries due to their exceptional beauty, rarity and durability. Formed naturally within the Earth’s surface, diamonds are a result of extreme pressure and temperatures created over a period of billions of years. Beyond just being beautiful ornaments of jewelry, diamonds possess some remarkable physical properties such as high refractive index and thermal conductivity. These properties make diamonds highly sought-after components in industrial production as well industrial cutting tools. Because diamond formation is such an intricate process and because diamonds can only form under specific conditions, they remain one of our planet’s most valuable resources.
Being the hardest substance known to man, diamonds are composed of pure carbon atoms arranged in a specific crystalline structure. With a hardness of 10 on the Mohs scale and even greater resistance to scratching, diamonds possess quite remarkable physical properties. Diamonds also have a particularly high refractive index, meaning that light travels more slowly through them than other materials, giving them their famous sparkle. On top of this they boast an impressive thermal conductivity rating and low electrical resistance – both of which give diamonds further commercial use beyond just jewelery making.
Diamonds are extremely rare and valuable for a number of reasons. Firstly, diamonds can only form under certain conditions – namely very high pressure and temperatures that exist very deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Secondly, due to their chemical composition diamonds are not soluble in water or acids and thus cannot be artificially created like many other substances can. Finally, having been formed over billions of years, this means they are finite in supply. As such, when compared to other commodities (like gold) which have abundant sources and/or can be recreated using modern technology, diamonds remain one of the most precious materials on earth.
Hundreds of kilometers beneath the earths surface when specific combinations of heat and pressure create an environment in which carbon atoms can rearrange themselves into a three-dimensional diamond crystalline structure, diamonds are formed. This typically occurs at depths where the two outer layers of the Earth – the crust and mantle – intersect with the innermost layer, known as the core. The intense pressures and temperatures at this stage (up to 725 °C) cause carbon molecules to bond together in a very tight arrangement, resulting in a diamond crystal lattice. Thus, diamonds are created solely from existing sources of carbon, via extreme pressures that have been around since Earth’s formation.
The movement of carbon, and thus the formation of diamonds, begins on the Earth’s surface. Carbon is slowly but surely dissolved in rainwater and carried down through soil and rocks to the lithosphere – a thicker section that includes both the crust and upper mantle. Here, it may be chemically altered in contact with other elements, or heated sufficiently to become sufficiently mobile to enter the asthenosphere – a weaker part of the mantle which allows tectonic activity to occur. Here, carbon is still quite dense but can migrate beyond this layer into the mesospheric mantle, eventually reaching temperatures high enough for diamond formation as it heads towards the Earth’s core. Here lies both an outer core made up of molten iron and an inner core full of solid iron, all surrounded by some of the most intense pressures and temperatures on our planet – perfect conditions for diamond formation!
Mining for diamonds is an intensive process that requires precision and accuracy in order to find the rarest gems. Once a potential diamond mine is identified, miners must use a variety of methods to explore and process the site. In some cases, heavy machinery may be used to expose large swaths of rock, while in other instances smaller tools such as core drills and diamond-tipped saws may be used. Regardless of the method, once the exploration phase is complete, diamonds are sifted out from the surrounding material via several processes before they can be sold on the market. These processes include washing, grading, sorting and cutting. Miners around the world have been using these methods for centuries to locate and refine diamonds, offering further testimony to this magnificent gemstone’s enduring appeal and value.
Diamonds require a great deal of processing before they reach the retailer and eventually the consumer. This process is conducted in specialized laboratories where highly skilled professionals use a variety of methods to grade, sort, cut, and polish the diamonds. Once the initial steps have been completed, the diamonds are often subjected to further treatments such as coating or heating to enhance their beauty and sparkle. Throughout this process, strict quality control measures are in place to ensure that only diamonds meeting a certain set of standards are accepted for sale. It is only through this careful selection and processing that diamonds can make their way into a retail store so that customers can marvel at their beauty.
When it comes to the diamond trade, ethical considerations are of utmost importance. Issues such as labor rights violations, environmental degradation and human suffering in diamond mining communities around the world have long been a problem. In response to these issues, organizations like The Kimberley Process have been established to ensure that diamonds are only sourced from legitimate operations and that diamonds do not fund conflict and human rights abuses. Additionally, initiatives such as the Responsible Jewellery Council have aimed to promote transparency within the industry and further ensure that diamonds reach consumers in an ethically sound manner. It is only through ongoing collective efforts that we can truly ensure that diamonds used in jewelry are sourced responsibly with minimal impact on local communities and ecosystems.
Deforestation caused by diamond mining operations can have far-reaching and devastating consequences on fragile ecosystems. Trees are often cleared for the extraction of large quantities of ore, leading to serious losses in biodiversity, soil erosion, and risk of flooding in affected areas. Such clear-cutting also causes significant carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change. Replanting efforts are being made to counter this destruction but they must be accompanied by improved practices within the industry if they are to make a meaningful impact. Organizations such as the Responsible Jewellery Council strive to promote sustainable methods of extraction, limit damage to forests and ensure that diamonds reach consumers in an ecologically sound manner.
From the ancient Greeks to the 21st century, diamonds have piqued the interest of many civilizations with their remarkable beauty and enduring hardness. This has been accompanied by incredible discoveries about the formation of diamonds and their chemical make-up over time. It is clear from this history that diamonds are a truly special resource. However, it is also essential that we prioritize ethical sourcing in order to ensure these precious stones are treated with respect and do not contribute to environmental damage or exploitation. By acquiring diamond jewelry ethically and supporting organizations like the Responsible Jewellery Council, we can all play our part in preserving this impressive mineral for generations to come.