The diamond that didn’t stand a chance…
Recent viral footage on YouTube shows a 1.20 carat diamond with a stated value of $4000.00 being almost instantly crushed by a hydraulic press.
The makers of this video, Hydraulic Press Channel, like to crush things with a hydraulic press and record the action in slow motion with what are often interesting and enjoyable results.
Their most recent video, which was posted on Saturday the 14th of May, has already had over 4.7 million hits and shows the hydraulic press obliterating a diamond with little effort. Where I take issue with this video is in the mocking of the famous De Beers tagline ‘A Diamond is Forever’ and stating that the shattering of the stone is evidence that a diamond is not forever due to this somewhat quick and brutal end.
A screenshot of that shattering moment when the diamond met its end. Image taken from the Hydraulic Press Channel's YouTube video, link below.
… Where shall I begin?
Well, diamonds can indeed last forever. However, this potential lifespan will be cut short if you crush them with significant and blunt forces – but this is not new information to us.
If you were to read any book on diamonds or even do a Google search on the subject, this fact would be learnt quickly and there has never been any attempt to hide it. The problem may lie in the fact that many people hear that diamonds are the hardest material known* or that ‘A Diamond is Forever’ and then hear little else about them.
Let’s take a look at the facts and discover how strong diamonds really are.
One thing which often gets confused by the consumer and also even sometimes by the retailer is in relation to the apparent ‘strength’ of diamond and what this actually refers to.
The strength or durability of diamond is separated into hardness, toughness and stability. Each one of these terms refers to a different aspect of ‘strength’ and diamond varies from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ within these properties. Where the confusion really begins for diamonds is in regards to their hardness versus their toughness.
Hardness refers to the ability of a material to resist scratching and abrasion. Diamonds quite rightly own the title for the hardest gemstone in the world. With a hardness of 10 on the Moh’s Scale of Hardness, only diamond can scratch diamond and it is diamond powder which is utilised in the fashioning and polishing of these stones.
The fact that no other material can scratch a diamond makes it perfect for everyday wear as they do not abrade as readily as other gemstones. This ‘hardness’ is what gained diamonds reputation for having ‘strength’. Even though diamonds have been admired and used by humans since 800BC, methods for polishing them were not developed until the 1400’s, even though evidence for cutting and fashioning other gemstones has been dated as far back as 3000BC for nephrite jade in China.
Toughness refers to the ability to resist fracture and cleavage, which are breakages within the stone. It is known that diamonds have relatively good toughness – but by no meansexcellent. In fact, the nephrite jade has a much higher toughness than diamond. Sapphire and rubies are actually tougher than diamonds too. This means that these stones are less likely to fracture or cleave as a result of an impact. Please bear in mind that they may still scratch and abrade as that refers to hardness.
Diamonds can actually resist an incredible amount of slowly applied pressure. You could slowly crank a diamond into a vice and tighten it without shattering. The diamond is more likely to penetrate into the steel than break. However, it is possible to ‘shock’ a diamond with blunt force and shattering can easily occur. You needn’t go to the extremes of using a hydraulic press – a hammer will do just fine.
Hardness vs. Toughness
It is also important to know that there are directional properties within diamond in relation to its hardness and toughness. Some directions are harder than others and some directions are less tough than others. The less tough areas are due to ‘cleavage planes’. There are four directions of cleavage in every diamond where the atomic bonds are less concentrated. This makes them more vulnerable to directional breakage.
This mistaking of hardness vs. toughness is echoed throughout history – where miners would use rocks and hammers to smash precious stones with the ‘knowledge’ that diamonds would remain unharmed and non-diamonds would shatter. This is not the case, as it strongly depends on which direction the diamond was hit, and many miners were tricked by other merchants into believing that the stones they found were not diamonds. These sneaky yet informed merchants would then come and pick up the leftover precious pieces afterwards.
There is also another famous report where all of diamonds belonging to Charles the Bold, Archduke of Burgundy, were smashed in 1476 due to the same belief. It’s about time we learnt these lessons from centuries ago. This is not breaking news, but rather, just a waste.
To finish off the durability terms - stability refers to the ability to resist chemical change and diamonds are inert to most things you can throw at them. You can bath them in strong acids, heat them to high temperatures and they will remain unchanged. Like all materials, there may be exceptions – for diamonds it is naked flames that will oxidise and burn the surface of the stone. But relatively speaking, I cannot think of material that has a higher inertness than diamond.
Is there anything else to consider?
Another thing to note about this particular experiment is the price of this stone. $4000 seems pretty inexpensive for an 'I' colour stone of 1.20 carats, even with the retail mark up, don’t you think? An 1.20 carat 'I' colour stone might cost you up to $24,000 (with the same mark up applied) depending on how free from inclusions it is (Source: Rapaport April 2016).
The reason for this is that the stone is of 'I3' clarity, which is stated on the certificate shown at the beginning of the video, along with the colour. 'I3' stands for ‘Imperfect 3’, also known in the trade as ‘Pique 3’. This is the worst clarity grade possible for commercial diamonds. By definition, this 'I3' stone would have had serious beauty and durability issues caused by large, obvious fractures and crystals that existed inside of the stone. 'I3' stones typically refer to diamonds with at least 50% of the stone containing inclusions and are sometimes referred to as ‘frozen spit’ amongst the trade. Hardly complimentary. This stone may well have shattered under much less dramatic circumstances.
The image above shows a diamond with a clarity of 'I3' or 'Imperfect 3'. The stone crushed in the video would have looked similar to this one! The multiple internal cleavages, fractures and inclusions seriously impair the stones durability and beauty.
This video was fun, but the outcome predictable. Diamonds can last you a lifetime and then some… if you look after them a little more carefully than these gentlemen did.
For the full video; see this link: Crushing diamond with hydraulic press [Accessed 16 May 2016].
The video came to our attention through an article on The Huffington Post; see Hydraulic Press Proves That Diamonds Are Sadly Not Forever [Accessed 16 May 2016].
For more information on diamonds, please see our article Diamonds - An Introduction which specifically talks about the advertisement campaign ‘A Diamond is Forever’ and why diamonds live up to this immortal status.
*There are two man made materials that have been created in a lab that are in fact harder than diamond, being graphene and fullerite. No practical application has been found for these materials yet, but we hear on the grapevine that there is a third material also being researched and created.