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Diamond is the hardest known natural material and the third-hardest known material after aggregated diamond nanorods and ultrahard fullerite. Its hardness and high dispersion of light make it useful for industrial applications and jewelry.

Diamonds are specifically renowned as a material with superlative physical qualities-they make excellent abrasives because they can be scratched only by other diamonds, Borazon, ultrahard fullerite, or aggregated diamond nanorods. This also means that they hold a polish extremely well and retain their luster.

The name diamond derives from the ancient Greek adamas (αδάμας), meaning "invincible" or "unbreakable." Diamonds have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in ancient India. Their usage in engraving tools also dates to early human history.23 The popularity of diamonds has risen since the nineteenth century because of increased supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in the world economy, and innovative and successful advertising campaigns. They are commonly judged by the “four Cs”: carat, clarity, color, and cut.

Diamond crystals are formed deep within the Earth, under conditions of high pressure and high temperature. They are then brought to the surface in kimberlite and lamproite volcanic pipes, from which they are mined. Roughly 49 percent of diamonds originate from central and southern Africa, although significant sources of the mineral have been discovered in Canada, India, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.

The attractiveness and high prices of natural diamonds have also brought out the darker of human nature, such as theft, violence, and the sale of conflict diamonds by African paramilitary groups.

Formation

The formation of natural diamond requires very specific conditions. Diamond formation requires exposure of carbon-bearing materials to high pressure, ranging approximately between 45 and 60 kilobars, but at a comparatively low temperature range between approximately 1652-2372 °F (900-1300 °C).4 These conditions are known to be met in two places on Earth; in the lithospheric mantle below relatively stable continental plates, and at the site of a meteorite strike.

Diamonds formed in cratons

The conditions for diamond formation to happen in the lithospheric mantle occur at considerable depth corresponding to the aforementioned requirements of temperature and pressure. These depths are estimated to be in between 90-120 miles (140-190 kilometers)45 though occasionally diamonds have crystallized at depths of 300-400 km as well.6 The rate at which temperature changes with increasing depth into the Earth varies greatly in different parts of the Earth. In particular, under oceanic plates the temperature rises more quickly with depth, beyond the range required for diamond formation at the depth required.4 The correct combination of temperature and pressure is only found in the thick, ancient, and stable parts of continental plates where regions of lithosphere known as cratons exist.4 Long residence in the cratonic lithosphere allows diamond crystals to grow larger.

The slightly misshapen octahedral shape of this rough diamond crystal in matrix is typical of the mineral. Its lustrous faces also indicate that this crystal is from a primary deposit.

Through studies of carbon isotope ratios (similar to the methodology used in carbon dating, except with the stable isotopes C-12 and C-13), it has been shown that the carbon found in diamonds comes from both inorganic and organic sources. Some diamonds, known as harzburgitic, are formed from inorganic carbon originally found deep in the Earth's mantle. In contrast, eclogitic diamonds contain organic carbon from organic detritus that has been pushed down from the surface of the Earth's crust through subduction (see plate tectonics) before transforming into diamond.5 These two different source carbons have measurably different 13C:12C ratios. Diamonds that have come to the Earth's surface are generally very old, ranging from under 1 billion to 3.3 billion years old.

Diamonds occur most often as euhedral or rounded octahedra and twinned octahedra known as macles or maccles. As diamond's crystal structure has a cubic arrangement of the atoms, they have many facets that belong to a cube, octahedron, rhombicosidodecahedron, tetrakis hexahedron or disdyakis dodecahedron. The crystals can have rounded off and unexpressive edges and can be elongated. Sometimes they are found grown together or form double "twinned" crystals grown together at the surfaces of the octahedron. These different shapes and habits of the diamonds result from differing external circumstances. Diamonds (especially those with rounded crystal faces) are commonly found coated in nyf, an opaque gum-like skin.7

Diamonds and meteorite strikes

Diamonds can also form in other natural high-pressure, relatively low-temperature events. Very small diamonds, known as microdiamonds or nanodiamonds, have been found in impact craters where meteors strike the Earth and create shock zones of high pressure and temperature where diamond formation can occur. Microdiamonds are now used as one indicator of ancient meteorite impact sites.5

Surfacing

Schematic diagram of a volcanic pipe

Diamond-bearing rock is brought close to the surface through deep-origin volcanic eruptions. The magma for such a volcano must originate at a depth where diamonds can be formed,5 150 km (90 miles) deep or more (three times or more the depth of source magma for most volcanoes); this is a relatively rare occurrence. These typically small surface volcanic craters extend downward in formations known as volcanic pipes.5 The pipes contain material that was transported toward the surface by volcanic action, but was not ejected before the volcanic activity ceased. During eruption these pipes are open to the surface, resulting in open circulation; many xenoliths of surface rock and even wood and/or fossils are found in volcanic pipes. Diamond-bearing volcanic pipes are closely related to the oldest, coolest regions of continental crust (cratons). This is because cratons are very thick, and their lithospheric mantle extends to great enough depth that diamonds are stable. Not all pipes contain diamonds, and even fewer contain enough diamonds to make mining economically viable.

The magma in volcanic pipes is usually one of two characteristic types, which cool into igneous rock known as either kimberlite or lamproite.5 The magma itself does not contain diamond; instead, it acts as an elevator that carries deep-formed rocks (xenoliths), minerals (xenocrysts), and fluids upward. These rocks are characteristically rich in magnesium-bearing olivine, pyroxene, and amphibole minerals5 which are often altered to serpentine by heat and fluids during and after eruption. Certain indicator minerals typically occur within diamondiferous kimberlites and are used as mineralogic tracers by prospectors, who follow the indicator trail back to the volcanic pipe which may contain diamonds. These minerals are rich in chromium (Cr) or titanium (Ti), elements which impart bright colors to the minerals. The most common indicator minerals are chromian garnets (usually bright red Cr-pyrope, and occasionally green ugrandite-series garnets), eclogitic garnets, orange Ti-pyrope, red high-Cr spinels, dark chromite, bright green Cr-diopside, glassy green olivine, black picroilmenite, and magnetite.5 Kimberlite deposits are known as blue ground for the deeper serpentinized part of the deposits, or as yellow ground for the near surface smectite clay and carbonate weathered and oxidized portion.

Once diamonds have been transported to the surface by magma in a volcanic pipe, they may erode out and be distributed over a large area. A volcanic pipe containing diamonds is known as a primary source of diamonds. Secondary sources of diamonds include all areas where a significant number of diamonds, eroded out of their kimberlite or lamproite matrix, accumulate because of water or wind action. These include alluvial deposits and deposits along existing and ancient shorelines, where loose diamonds tend to accumulate because of their approximate size and density. Diamonds have also rarely been found in deposits left behind by glaciers (notably in Wisconsin and Indiana); however, in contrast to alluvial deposits, glacial deposits are not known to be of significant concentration and are therefore not viable commercial sources of diamond.

Diamonds can also be brought to the surface through certain processes which may occur when two continental plates collide and deeply formed rock is thrust to the surface, although this phenomenon is less understood and currently assumed to be uncommon.

Material properties

A diamond is a transparent crystal of tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms and crystallizes into the face centered cubic diamond lattice structure. Diamonds have been adapted for many uses because of the material's exceptional physical characteristics. Most notable are its extreme hardness, its high dispersion index, and extremely high thermal conductivity (900 - 2320 W/m K), with a melting point of 3820 K (3547 °C / 6420 °F) and a boiling point of 5100 K (4827 °C / 8720 °F).8 Naturally occurring diamond has a density ranging from 3.15 to 3.53 g/cm³, with very pure diamond typically extremely close to 3.52 g/cm³.

Did you know?The word "diamond" derives from the ancient Greek "adamas," meaning "unbreakable" or "invincible."

Hardness

Diamond is the hardest natural material known to man - its hardness set to 10 (hardest) on Mohs scale of mineral hardness5 and having an absolute hardness value of between 90, 167, and 231 gigapascals in various tests. Diamond's hardness has been known since antiquity, and is the source of its name. However, aggregated diamond nanorods, an allotrope of carbon synthesized by compressing fullerene, are even harder than diamond.9

The hardest diamonds in the world are from the New England area in New South Wales, Australia. These diamonds are generally small, perfect to semiperfect octahedra, and are used to polish other diamonds. Their hardness is considered to be a product of the crystal growth form, which is single stage growth crystal. Most other diamonds show more evidence of multiple growth stages, which produce inclusions, flaws, and defect planes in the crystal lattice, all of which affect their hardness.10

The hardness of diamonds contributes to its suitability as a gemstone. Because it can only be scratched by other diamonds, it maintains its polish extremely well, keeping its luster over long periods of time. Unlike many other gems, it is well-suited to daily wear because of its resistance to scratching-perhaps contributing to its popularity as the preferred gem in an engagement ring or wedding ring, which are often worn every day. Industrial use of diamonds has historically been associated with their hardness; this property makes diamond the ideal material for cutting and grinding tools. As the hardest known naturally occurring material, diamond can be used to polish, cut, or wear away any material, including other diamonds. However, diamond is a poor choice for machining ferrous alloys at high speeds. At the high temperatures created by high speed machining, carbon is soluble in iron, leading to greatly increased wear on diamond tools as compared to other alternatives. Common industrial adaptations of this ability include diamond-tipped drill bits and saws, or use of diamond powder as an abrasive. Industrial-grade diamonds are either unsuitable for use as gems or synthetically produced, which lowers their value and makes their use economically feasible. Industrial applications, especially as drill bits and engraving tools, also date to ancient times.

Electrical conductivity

Other specialized applications also exist or are being developed, including use as semiconductors: some blue diamonds are natural semiconductors, in contrast to most other diamonds, which are excellent electrical insulators.5

Toughness

Toughness relates to a material's ability to resist breakage from forceful impact. The toughness of natural diamond has been measured as 3.4 MN m-3/2,11 which is good compared to other gemstones, but poor compared to most engineering materials. As with any material, the macroscopic geometry of a diamond contributes to its resistance to breakage. Diamond is therefore more fragile in some orientations than others.

Color

Diamonds can occur in nearly any color, though yellow and brown are by far the most common.5 "Black" diamonds are not truly black, but rather contain numerous dark inclusions that give the gems their dark appearance. When the color is saturated enough in yellow or brown diamonds, a stone may be referred to as a fancy colored diamond by the gem trade, otherwise they are graded for color in the normal color range of white diamonds. Colored diamonds contain impurities or structural defects that cause the coloration, while pure or nearly pure diamonds are transparent and colorless. Most diamond impurities replace a carbon atom in the crystal lattice, known as a carbon flaw. The most common impurity, nitrogen, causes a slight to intense yellow coloration depending upon the type and concentration of nitrogen present.5 The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) classifies low saturation yellow and brown diamonds as diamonds in the normal color range, and applies a grading scale from 'D' (colorless) to 'Z' (light yellow). The GIA labels diamonds that have more color than a 'Z' diamond "fancy," along with those that are any color other than yellow or brown.

Identification

Diamonds can be identified via their high thermal conductivity. Their high refractive index is also indicative, but other materials have similar refractivity. Diamonds do cut glass, but other materials above glass on Mohs scale such as quartz do also. Diamonds can scratch other diamonds, but this damages both diamonds.

Gemological characteristics

The most familiar usage of diamonds today is as gemstones used for adornment. This usage dates back into antiquity and predates other uses. The dispersion of white light into spectral colors, is the primary gemological characteristic of gem diamonds. In the twentieth century, experts in the field of gemology have developed methods of grading diamonds and other gemstones based on the characteristics most important to their value as a gem. Four characteristics, known informally as the four Cs, are now commonly used as the basic descriptors of diamonds: these are carat, cut, color, and clarity.

Most gem diamonds are traded on the wholesale market based on single values for each of the four Cs; for example knowing that a diamond is rated as 1.5 carats (300 mg), VS2 clarity, F color, excellent cut round brilliant, is enough to reasonably establish an expected price range. More detailed information from within each characteristic is used to determine actual market value for individual stones. Consumers who purchase individual diamonds are often advised to use the four Cs to pick the diamond that is "right" for them.

Other characteristics not described by the four Cs influence the value or appearance of a gem diamond. These characteristics include physical characteristics such as the presence of fluorescence, as well as data on a diamond's history including its source and which gemological institute performed evaluation services on the diamond. Cleanliness also dramatically affects a diamond's beauty.

There are three major non-profit gemological associations which grade and provide reports on diamonds. While carat weight and cut angles are mathematically defined, the clarity and color are judged by the trained human eye and are therefore open to slight variance in interpretation.

  • Gemological Institute of America (GIA) was the first laboratory in America to issue modern diamond reports, and is held in high regard among gemologists for its consistent, conservative grading.12
  • American Gemological Society (AGS) is not as widely recognized nor as old as the GIA but garners a high reputation. The AGS employs a number system for grading cut quality, color grade, and clarity. The highest grade being '0', and the lowest being '10'.
  • Diamond High Council (HRD) Official certification laboratory of the Belgian diamond industry, located in Antwerp.13

Carat

The carat weight measures the mass of a diamond. One carat is defined as 200 milligrams (about 0.007 ounce avoirdupois). The point unit-equal to one one-hundredth of a carat (0.01 carat, or 2 mg)-is commonly used for diamonds of less than one carat. All else being equal, the price per carat increases with carat weight, since larger diamonds are both rarer and more desirable for use as gemstones.

The price per carat does not increase smoothly with increasing size. Instead, there are sharp jumps around milestone carat weights, as demand is much higher for diamonds weighing just more than a milestone than for those weighing just less. As an example, a 0.95 carat diamond may have a significantly lower price per carat than a comparable 1.05 carat diamond, because of differences in demand.

A weekly diamond price list, the Rapaport Diamond Report is published by Martin Rapaport, CEO of Rapaport Group of New York, for different diamond cuts, clarity and weights.14 It is currently considered the de-facto retail price baseline. Jewelers often trade diamonds at negotiated discounts off the Rapaport price (e.g., "R -3%").

In the wholesale trade of gem diamonds, carat is often used in denominating lots of diamonds for sale. For example, a buyer may place an order for 100 carats of 0.5 carat, D-F, VS2-SI1, excellent cut diamonds, indicating he wishes to purchase 200 diamonds (100 carats total mass) of those approximate characteristics. Because of this, diamond prices (particularly among wholesalers and other industry professionals) are often quoted per carat, rather than per stone.

Total carat weight (t.c.w.) is a phrase used to describe the total mass of diamonds or other gemstone in a piece of jewelry, when more than one gemstone is used. Diamond solitaire earrings, for example, are usually quoted in t.c.w. when placed for sale, indicating the mass of the diamonds in both earrings and not each individual diamond. T.c.w. is also widely used for diamond necklaces, bracelets and other similar jewelry pieces.

Clarity

Clarity is a measure of internal defects of a diamond called inclusions. Inclusions may be crystals of a foreign material or another diamond crystal, or structural imperfections such as tiny cracks that can appear whitish or cloudy. The number, size, color, relative location, orientation, and visibility of inclusions can all affect the relative clarity of a diamond. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and other organizations have developed systems to grade clarity, which are based on those inclusions which are visible to a trained professional when a diamond is viewed under 10x magnification.

Diamonds become increasingly rare when considering higher clarity gradings. Only about 20 percent of all diamonds mined have a clarity rating high enough for the diamond to be considered appropriate for use as a gemstone; the other 80 percent are relegated to industrial use. Of that top 20 percent, a significant portion contains one or more visible inclusions. Those that do not have a visible inclusion are known as "eye-clean" and are preferred by most buyers, although visible inclusions can sometimes be hidden under the setting in a piece of jewelry.

Most inclusions present in gem-quality diamonds do not affect the diamonds' performance or structural integrity. However, large clouds can affect a diamond's ability to transmit and scatter light. Large cracks close to or breaking the surface may reduce a diamond's resistance to fracture.

Diamonds are graded by the major societies on a scale ranging from flawless to imperfect.

Color

Jewelers sometimes set diamonds in groups of similar colorsThe Hope Diamond. Its deep blue coloration is caused by trace amounts of boron in the diamond

A chemically pure and structurally perfect diamond is perfectly transparent with no hue, or color. However, in reality almost no gem-sized natural diamonds are absolutely perfect. The color of a diamond may be affected by chemical impurities and/or structural defects in the crystal lattice. Depending on the hue and intensity of a diamond's coloration, a diamond's color can either detract from or enhance its value. For example, most white diamonds are discounted in price as more yellow hue is detectable, while intense pink or blue diamonds (such as the Hope Diamond) can be dramatically more valuable. The Aurora Diamond Collection displays a spectacular array of naturally colored diamonds.

Most diamonds used as gemstones are basically transparent with little tint, or white diamonds. The most common impurity, nitrogen, replaces a small proportion of carbon atoms in a diamond's structure and causes a yellowish to brownish tint. This effect is present in almost all white diamonds; in only the rarest diamonds is the coloration from this effect undetectable. The GIA has developed a rating system for color in white diamonds, from "D" to "Z" (with D being "colorless" and Z having a bright yellow coloration), which has been widely adopted in the industry and is universally recognized, superseding several older systems once used in different countries. The GIA system uses a benchmark set of natural diamonds of known color grade, along with standardized and carefully controlled lighting conditions. Precision-crafted cubic zirconia master sets are sometimes used in the trade, however the GIA has found these sets to be inaccurate. Diamonds with higher color grades are rarer, in higher demand, and therefore more expensive, than lower color grades. Oddly enough, diamonds graded Z are also rare, and the bright yellow color is also highly valued. Diamonds graded D-F are considered "colorless," G-J are considered "near-colorless," K-M are "slightly colored." N-Y usually appear light yellow or brown.

In contrast to yellow or brown hues, diamonds of other colors are more rare and valuable. While even a pale pink or blue hue may increase the value of a diamond, more intense coloration is usually considered more desirable and commands the highest prices. A variety of impurities and structural imperfections cause different colors in diamonds, including yellow, pink, blue, red, green, brown, and other hues. Diamonds with unusual or intense coloration are sometimes labeled "fancy" by the diamond industry. Intense yellow coloration is considered one of the fancy colors, and is separate from the color grades of white diamonds. Gemologists have developed rating systems for fancy colored diamonds, but they are not in common use because of the relative rarity of colored diamonds.

Cut

Diamond cutting is the art and science of creating a gem-quality diamond out of mined rough. The cut of a diamond describes the manner in which a diamond has been shaped and polished from its beginning form as a rough stone to its final gem proportions. The cut of a diamond describes the quality of workmanship and the angles to which a diamond is cut. Often diamond cut is confused with "shape."

There are mathematical guidelines for the angles and length ratios at which the diamond is supposed to be cut in order to reflect the maximum amount of light. Round brilliant diamonds, the most common, are guided by these specific guidelines, though fancy cut stones are not able to be as accurately guided by mathematical specifics.

The techniques for cutting diamonds have been developed over hundreds of years, with perhaps the greatest achievements made in 1919 by mathematician and gem enthusiast Marcel Tolkowsky. He developed the round brilliant cut by calculating the ideal shape to return and scatter light when a diamond is viewed from above. The modern round brilliant has 57 facets (polished faces), counting 33 on the crown (the top half), and 24 on the pavilion (the lower half). The girdle is the thin middle part. The function of the crown is to diffuse light into various colors and the pavilion's function to reflect light back through the top of the diamond.

Tolkowsky defines the ideal dimensions to have:

  • Table percentage (table diameter divided by overall diameter) = 53 percent
  • Depth percentage (Overall depth divided by the overall diameter) = 59.3 percent
  • Pavilion Angle (Angle between the girdle and the pavilion) = 40.75°
  • Crown Angle (Angle between the girdle and the crown) = 34.5°
  • Pavilion Depth (Depth of pavilion divided by overall diameter) = 43.1 percent
  • Crown Depth (Depth of crown divided by crown diameter) = 16.2 percent

The culet is the tiny point or facet at the bottom of the diamond. This should be a negligible diameter, otherwise light leaks out of the bottom. Tolkowsky's ideal dimensions did not include a culet. However, a thin culet is required in reality in order to prevent the diamond from easily chipping in the setting. A normal culet should be about 1-2 percent of the overall diameter.

The further the diamond's characteristics are from Tolkowsky's ideal, the less light will be reflected. However, there is a small range in which the diamond can be considered "ideal." Today, because of the relative importance of carat weight in society, many diamonds are often intentionally cut poorly to increase carat weight. There is a financial premium for a diamond that weighs the magical 1.0 carat, so often the girdle is made thicker or the depth is increased. Neither of these tactics make the diamond appear any bigger, and they greatly reduce the sparkle of the diamond. So a poorly cut 1.0 carat diamond may have the same diameter and appear as large as a 0.85 carat diamond. The depth percentage is the overall quickest indication of the quality of the cut of a round brilliant. "Ideal" round brilliant diamonds should not have a depth percentage greater than 62.5%. Another quick indication is the overall diameter. Typically a round brilliant 1.0 carat diamond should have a diameter of about 6.5 mm. Mathematically, the diameter in millimeters of a round brilliant should approximately equal 6.5 times the cube root of carat weight, or 11.1 times the cube root of gram weight, or 1.4 times the cube root of point weight.

Ideal cuts can be controversial as the definitions of brilliance and beauty are very subjective.

Tolkowsky's mathematical model is now superseded by the GIA Facetware software that is the culmination of 20 years of studies on diamond cuts.

New diamond cuts are now all the rage in the diamond industry as for example a design invented in 2003 and called the "Genesis cut." This cut differs in shape from the more traditional cuts in its concave surfaces and angles and resembles a 4-pointed star.

Shape

Diamonds do not show all of their beauty as rough stones; instead, they must be cut and polished to exhibit the characteristic fire and brilliance that diamond gemstones are known for. Diamonds are cut into a variety of shapes that are generally designed to accentuate these features.

Diamonds which are not cut to the specifications of Tolkowsky's round brilliant shape (or subsequent variations) are known as "fancy cuts." Popular fancy cuts include the baguette (from the French, meaning rod or loaf of bread), marquise, princess cut (square outline), heart, briolette (a form of the rose cut), and pear cuts. Newer cuts that have been introduced into the jewelry industry are the "cushion" "radiant"(similar to princess cuts, but with rounded edges instead of square edges) and "Asscher" cuts. Many fancy colored diamonds are now being cut according to these new styles. Generally speaking, these "fancy cuts" are not held to the same strict standards as Tolkowsky-derived round brilliants and there are less specific mathematical guidelines of angles which determine a well-cut stone. Cuts are influenced heavily by fashion: the baguette cut-which accentuates a diamond's luster and downplays its fire-was all the rage during the Art Deco period, whereas the princess cut cut-which accentuates a diamond's fire rather than its luster-is currently gaining popularity. The princess cut is also popular amongst diamond cutters: of all the cuts, it wastes the least of the original crystal. The past decades have seen the development of new diamond cuts, often based on a modification of an existing cut. Some of these include extra facets. These newly developed cuts are viewed by many as more of an attempt at brand differentiation by diamond sellers, than actual improvements to the state of the art.

Quality

The quality of a diamond's cut is widely considered the most important of the four Cs in determining the beauty of a diamond; indeed, it is commonly acknowledged that a well-cut diamond can appear to be of greater carat weight, and have clarity and color appear to be of better grade than they actually are. The skill with which a diamond is cut determines its ability to reflect and refract light.

In addition to carrying the most importance to a diamond's quality as a gemstone, the cut is also the most difficult to quantitatively judge. A number of factors, including proportion, polish, symmetry, and the relative angles of various facets, are determined by the quality of the cut and can affect the performance of a diamond. A poorly cut diamond with facets cut only a few degrees out of alignment can result in a poorly performing stone. For a round brilliant cut, there is a balance between "brilliance" and "fire." When a diamond is cut for too much "fire," it looks like a cubic zirconia, which gives off much more "fire" than real diamond. A well-executed round brilliant cut should reflect light upwards and make the diamond appear white when viewed from the top. An inferior cut will produce a stone that appears dark at the center and in some extreme cases the ring settings may show through the top of the diamond as shadows.

Several different theories on the "ideal" proportions of a diamond have been and continue to be advocated by various owners of patents on machines to view how well a diamond is cut. These advocate a shift away from grading cut by the use of various angles and proportions toward measuring the performance of a cut stone. A number of specially modified viewers and mac

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