|Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life. - Ralph Waldo Emerson|
What Are Diamonds?
Diamonds are a mineral composed of translucent crystalline carbon, and are the hardest known natural substance in the world. Diamonds can be almost any color, from the most common colors of yellow and brown, to orange, green, blue, gray, black, purple, pink, and the exceptionally rare red. It is, of course, the colorless diamonds that, once cut and polished, are highly valued as gemstones.
Only 20% are all mined diamonds are suitable for gems. The other 80%, those imperfectly colored or flawed, are used for a wide variety of industrial purposes such as in drill bits and engraving tools. Others are crushed and used as an abrasive powder.
Diamonds are formed over 100 miles below the surface of the Earth, some from as far as 400 miles deep. They come to the surface via the eruption of volcanoes. Original diamonds were not mined, they were found along riverbeds; where the water slowly ate away at the stone in which they were embed.
Diamonds, as they are found in nature, are randomly shaped and are not at all shiny. An uncut diamond normally resembles a pebble you might simply throw away without a second look. However, if the outer crust were peeled away, the outcome would show a stone as smooth as glass. Sorry to say, it would be no more beautiful than a piece of glass crystal. The transformation to stunning brilliance is in the art of the diamond-cutter.
Before the 1200s there were early taboos against cutting and shaping diamonds. It was believed that modifying the natural shape would alter the diamond’s magical elements and render it useless. But this was most likely due to necessity rather than superstition given the difficulty of cutting the stone. At that time, the stones were used in their natural octahedral (8 faces) shape and only minor cosmetic cleanup and polishing was done. In 1375, when diamond cutting improved, the first guild of diamond cutters and polishers was formed in Nürnberg, Germany. They used the Point Cut which follows the natural shape of an octahedron. Diamonds were "cleaved" by placing a chisel at the stone's weakest point and splitting it by striking it with a mallet.
In the fifteenth century, Lodewyk van Berken, a Jewish diamond cutter from Antwerp, invented the scaif. The scaif was simply a polishing wheel that was impregnated with a mixture of olive oil and diamond dust, but it completely revolutionized the art of diamond cutting. In the early 1900's, the invention of diamond saws and jewelry lathes allowed the development of modern diamond cuts.
Test Your Diamond Knowledge. True or False?
Diamonds are indestructible.
False -- Although diamonds rank a 10 on the Mohs scale, a diamond can be scratched by another diamond. Also, although diamonds have the ability to withstand scratching, they are not so tough that they cannot be broken.
Diamonds were first mined in Africa.
False -- India was the first to begin extensive diamond mining in the 17th century. In the 18th century extensive mining of diamonds shifted from India to Brazil. In the 19th century it moved to the African continent and in the 20th century to Australia and Canada.
Diamonds are Found in Abundance.
False -- Typically, 250 tons of earth needs to be excavated to find just one stone that is large enough to produce a one-carat diamond.
No two diamonds are exactly alike.
Because they are so rare, diamonds are very expensive.
False -- This is far from the truth. There are at least enough diamonds in the world to allow each man, woman and child to have their own cupful. It is not the rarity of diamonds, but rather the very strict controls placed on the supply of diamonds and their price. It is simply the “supply and demand” enforced by the diamond corporations.
Europeans buy the most diamond jewelry.
False -- Americans buy approximately fifty percent of the world's diamond jewelry.
The most valuable gemstones are diamonds.
False -- A fine ruby is worth more than a fine diamond.
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