The Lore of Diamonds

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Diamond is formed at very high temperatures and pressures. Synthetic diamond production requires pressures as strong as 100,000 atmospheres and 5000C. Natural diamonds are estimated to form at a depth of at least 200 miles; they must be brought to the surface by volcanic action. Diamonds can be found in dikes or pipes (volcanic plugs) of a rock called kimberlite. Kimberlite consists mostly of peridotite which is composed of olivine, enstatite, and other substances. The youngest kimberlite in which diamonds have been brought up to the earth's surface is about 70 million years old.

Diamonds were mined in India at least as far back as 400 BC.

Diamonds occur naturally in dikes and pipes of kimberlite, notably in South Africa (Orange Free State and Transvaal), Tanzania, and in the US at Murfreesboro, Arkansas [*]. They are also mined from secondary (alluvial) deposits, especially in Brazil, Zaire, Sierra Leone and India. The diamonds are separated by mechanical panning, and those of gem quality are cleaved (or sawn), cut and polished. Inferior, or industrial, diamond are used for cutting, drilling and grinding. Synthetic industrial diamonds are made by subjecting graphite to very high temperatures and pressures sometimes with fused metals as solvent. sg 3.51. [*] (Correction from Tennessee, thanks to Carl (1 Lucky Texan).

Diamonds have sold for as much as $926,315 a carat.

Diamonds have decorated kings, inspired poets, delighted movie stars, brought untimely death to the famous and infamous--even been credited with curing illnesses. British monarchs added them to their royal treasure troves. French kings adored them. Jehan Shah, builder of the Taj Mahal, wore an 88-carat heirloom at his coronation in 1628.

The compulsion to own the very best survives in today's world of dwindling monarchies. Consider recent diamond auction fever. In 1988 alone, nine diamonds sold at either Christie's or Sotheby's New York auctions brought prices of between $185,200 and $926,315 a carat.

Consider, too, that American shoppers spent almost $12 billion on diamond jewelry last year--30% more than they spent on all beauty aids and more than six times what they spent on furs. They said "I love you" with engagement rings. They said "I love you more than ever" with anniversary bands. They celebrated birthdays and Christmas and special private moments with tennis bracelets and cocktail rings and necklaces and pendants, all of them ablaze with diamonds. The top social set--and a few beauty queens--drew all eyes with their shimmering new tiaras.

Diamonds are the ultimate symbol of romance. More than 500 years ago, in 1477, Maximilliam of Austria gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy to seal their marriage vows. Maximillian had obviously paid heed to what the ancients said, namely that the third finger of the left hand connected directly to the heart by the Vein of Love. That's the finger he chose for

The diamond world is truly global. Today, the two richest sources of gem quality diamonds are Botswana, an emerging Third World country which relies on these gemstones for three quarters of its total revenues, and the former Soviet Union, whose bountiful mines are clustered in the frozen Siberian tundra.

For some curious reason, the most productive mines seem almost always to be found in inaccessible regions. The world's top producer, which only went into full operation in 1987, is the Argyle mine in the remote northern section of Western Australia. Last year, it produced more than 35 million carats, though most of them were of industrial quality.

The great trading and cutting centers are just as international: New York, Antwerp, Tel Aviv, and Bombay are the primary cutting locations. They may soon have new rivals as twin moves to cut cost and build employment encourage new cutting facilities in Bangkok and even in China, which is just beginning to dabble in the art. London remains the focal trading stop.

Diamonds are hard beyond belief. It was ever so, as Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23 to 79) recorded long ago. The Greeks called diamond "adamas" or unconquerable. Pliny wrote that "the best way to test adamas is upon the anvil; strike even upon the point of the adamas with a hammer as hard as you can, it defies all blows and instead of the stone yielding, the hammer flies into pieces and even the anvil splits in half."

No one knows if Pliny was talking practice or theory, but 1,900-plus years later one thing is sure: don't even think about trying this experiment today, experts insist.

Flawless, colorless diamonds--the most perfect, desirable and, therefore, most costly--are the rarest of the rare. Of the 100 million or so carats mined each year, those in the very top grade number in the hundreds. What's more, about half of a rough diamond's total weight is lost in the cutting process.

Diamonds personify value. The luxury car, the private plane, the regal fur are all passing pleasures. Diamonds are lifelong reminders of love and attachment--and having sealed a bond for one generation, they can be passed unblemished to the next. Diamonds are forever.

Diamonds have an affinity for grease and literally collect oils in dishwater. Diamonds are also susceptible to damage from an impact that might cause them to chip or crack.

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