Diamonds - An Introduction
Diamonds are held in high regard for being the best of the best. But why?
They come with connotations of luxury, wealth and rarity. In a world containing so many marvellous gemstones, how did the diamond rise to become the most renowned, revered and respected stone of them all?
Most would acknowledge that the success of diamond’s status is, in part, due to the extraordinary impact of the De Beers 1947 advertising slogan. ‘A diamond is forever’ is the immortal one-liner that plucked at all heartstrings and wallets from the late 1940’s onwards. These four words immediately forged a strong association between diamonds and love. Before this slogan, diamond sales were suffering and fell to an all-time low after the Great Depression. Just three years later, research polls showed that 80% of all engagement rings sold in the USA that year were set with diamonds. This was an overwhelming success for DeBeers and the future diamond market. That simple phrase has been branded the best slogan of the 20th Century, and to this day, diamond remains the most popular choice for a gemstone in an engagement ring.
“But is there any substance to the claims of this advertising slogan? Are diamonds really forever? Are diamonds as rare as true love?” To quote another famous slogan… “Where’s the beef?’’
In fact, the truth in the words ‘A diamond is forever’ relates to a diamond’s hardness. All diamonds are exceptionally hard… harder than anything in the world*. This fact allows us to claim that only a diamond can scratch a diamond.
This extreme hardness gives the diamond the ability to take and retain an exceptional polish, giving the diamond an unmatched surface lustre. It is this hardness that permits the stone to resist general wear and tear, meaning that the polish remains pristine for centuries and the diamond looks as though it was cut just the day before.
This is not the case for any other gemstone. Rubies and sapphires are considered ‘hard’ gemstones and yet they are a whopping 140 times less hard than our lovely diamonds. Rubies, sapphires and other gemstones can be very beautiful, however, they may not stay perfect for long. Gemstones may abrade with years of wear and their originally shiny surface will become dull. Diamonds will survive an entire lifetime with minimal damage to the surface. Even after years of daily wear it will still be a beautiful shining stone, making the diamond perfect for use in engagement rings.
A diamond showing sharp facet edges, a sapphire showing the abrasions of many year's wear and a cubic zirconia showing rounded facet edges. Images copyright Gem-A
The very word diamond derives from this apparent strength of the diamond. The stone is named after the Greek word ‘adamas’, which translates as ‘unconquerable’, ‘unbreakable’ or ‘invincible’. What better way to represent an ever-lasting love than to use a symbol that also exhibits this ever-lasting quality? Displaying that your love for one another is invincible?
(It should be mentioned at this point; that diamonds are not completely invincible and are indeed breakable. A direct blow to a diamond may cause it to fracture or break in a directional manner. This is known as ‘cleaving’. After all, even Superman had a weakness in the form of Kryptonite… Take good care of your diamonds and they truly will last forever.)
“How about the rarity of diamonds? Are diamonds truly rare? I’ve heard they are stockpiled somewhere… Also, have you been to Hatton Garden or the local Diamond District recently? The place is dripping in the things! Surely, these things are common? No?”
Let’s talk about rarity. Geologically and mineralogically speaking; diamonds are rare in the mineral kingdom.
Are they the rarest? No. The market pumps out approximately 24 tonnes of diamonds annually.
Are all of these gem-quality? No. Only a small percentage of mined diamonds are deemed suitable for use in jewellery and out of these an even smaller percentage have nice colour and clarities. The rest of them are ground up and used for industrial purposes as abrasives.
Gem-quality diamonds of a large size are even more rare, and when we talk about fancy coloured diamonds that are also gem-quality and of good size? Good luck in finding one and actually being able to buy it! These are extremely rare and will cost a pretty penny in today’s market.
All of these declarations aside, diamonds have something else to offer which makes them a rarity amongst gemstones, and that is their optical properties. This refers to the way that light interacts with a diamond.
Diamonds may be cut to return a tremendous amount of light through the crown (the top part) of a stone. In a well-cut round brilliant diamond 97% of the light that enters the stone will be returned to the eye. This is due to the angle of the back facets which cause them to act like mirrors reflecting the light internally within the stone.
Upon travelling through the stone, this light is either split into its spectral colours (like a rainbow), or it is returned as white light giving us a lively and scintillating display of ‘fire’ and 'brilliance'.
This is more difficult to achieve in most other gemstones as the cutting angles required to make this occur can be extremely awkward or even impossible to obtain. ‘Leakage’ of light out the back of the stone is therefore inevitable; resulting in a dull or lifeless appearance.
“Is there anything else to support the claim that diamonds are rare?”
Indeed. It is frankly amazing that we have access to diamonds at all.
Unlike most other gemstones, diamonds formed deep in the mantle millions of years ago (if carbon dating is anything to go by, the youngest diamonds are just under 1000 million years old). The only way that these deeply buried gems have reached the surface is by way of certain volcanic eruptions. These particular volcanic eruptions are in specific geographical locations known as cratons; which are found in the centres of large areas of landmass such as Russia and Canada. These cratons are areas of extremely thick continental crust where there is little to no geological activity.
Contemporary geographers have estimated that these very rare eruptions in these very specific locations have not occurred in the last 10 million years. It would seem that no more diamonds are coming to the Earth’s surface any time soon and the fact that any were bought up from the depths in the first place should make us feel very privileged to be able to wear one.
Beautiful? Check. Rare? Check. Desired? Check, check, check!
Diamonds have a sparkling reputation; albeit partly due to some clever advertising, however, diamonds justify the hype with an impressive resumé of qualities and take their deserved place at the top of the bill.
Diamonds are a gift from the Earth to have and to hold, to be enjoyed, treasured and loved. They command and are owed respect in their own right, at no disrespect to any other gemstone.
*The hardest material in the world is in fact graphene. Graphene is a single atomic layer of graphite; which consists of carbon atoms covalently bonded in a hexagonal single plane structure. It currently only exists in a laboratory and is undergoing research in terms of its potential utility in the outside world.
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The 10 Best Slogans and Taglines of All Time - Quality Logo Products, Inc.. 2016. The 10 Best Slogans and Taglines of All Time - Quality Logo Products, Inc.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/lib/10-best-slogans-of-all-time.htm. [Accessed 14 March 2016].
American RadioWorks: With This Ring - The Diamond Mystique, page 2. 2016. American RadioWorks: With This Ring - The Diamond Mystique, page 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/diamonds/mystique2.html. [Accessed 14 March 2016].