Diamonds are sought the world over. Their incomparable brilliance and mystery have captivated our imagination for thousands of years. They were believed to be fragments of stars or the teardrops of the Gods. They were considered to hold powers far beyond any understanding of human kind. But, it is their billion-year-old beauty together with their unsurpassed durability that makes diamonds the ultimate symbol of eternal love.
Diamonds are found in two types of rock. The majority of diamonds are hosted by a bluish rock - kimberlite but are also occasionally found in another host rock - lamproite. These host rocks are estimated to be as old as 50 to 1,600 million years old, but the diamonds themselves are much older. The oldest diamond found is estimated to be approximately 3.2 billion years old and the youngest a mere 900 millions years. This discrepancy is because the volcanic magma that solidifies into kimberlite or lamproite did not create the diamonds, but only transported them from the Earth's mantle to the surface. In other words, diamonds are found in nature's equivalent of a prehistoric super-elevator.
Scientists can approximate the birth of a diamond by examining the stone's impurities. A diamond is like a mini time capsule holding tiny mineral grains inside it (inclusions). It's by examining these inclusions that scientists can deduce the approximate age of the stone.
Diamonds are made of carbon atoms. It is their specific three dimensional crystalline atomic structure that makes diamonds the hardest mineral on earth. Crystallization occurs under exceptionally high pressure of up to 70.000 kg/cm² and extreme temperatures of more than 1,300ºC. These conditions are found in nature only at a depth of more than 150 kilometers under the earth's surface.
Once a diamond formed, there was still a good chance that they would never see the light of day. Only those that were in the vicinity of rare volcanic eruptions (magma eruptions) are the diamonds we see today.
Diamond miners spend millions of dollars in a search for a diamondiferous kimberlite pipe. While kimberlite pipes are not as rare an occurrence as you may think, the pipes that actually contain diamonds are extremely rare. From the icy tundras of Canada's Artic Circle to the searing heat of Africa. From the bone chilling permafrost of Siberia to the scorching desert of Australia, nature loves to play hide and seek as miners search for her elusive gems.
Not all diamonds though are found underground. Some are recovered from river beds, called alluvial diamond sites. The stones had initially originated from kimberlite pipes, but over many million years, geological activity, such as glaciers and flooding have moved the diamonds, some traveling thousands of miles from their original birthplace.
The history of diamond mining begins not in Africa, Russia or any of today’s diamond producing regions, rather in ancient India some 5,000 years ago. The Golcanda region in India was, for hundreds of years, the sole producer of the world’s diamonds. Many of the most famous and legendary diamonds we know today (the famed Koh-I-Noor, the Hope Diamond and the Regent Diamond) were recovered from the mines near the fortress city. By the mid-17th Century, the region was attracting fortune seekers from around the globe, with mines employing up to 60,000 people digging and sorting out the riches.
India’s domination in diamond production lasted until the 1720s, when Brazil entered the fray and took over the title as the world’s dominant diamond producer. A title they held for little more than a century, when the great diamond rush of Africa began.
Today, most of the world's rough diamond production comes from Africa (Botswana, South Africa, Angola, D.R. of Congo, Namibia), Russia (Siberia), Canada (North West Territories) and Australia (Western Australia). Other diamond producing countries include Brazil, CAR, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Venezuela.
Mining a diamond isn't an easy task. Just imagine a monster-haulage truck brimming with over 250 tones of ore and somewhere inside there's a one carat diamond. To retrieve the diamond, the ore is blasted, crushed, processed and x-rayed and only then is the diamond released. Over 120 million carats are mined each year - only about a quarter of which will be considered gem quality, ending up in jewelry.
Once the diamonds have been mined and processed, the next step is to sort, classify and value them according to their size, shape, quality and color. The diamonds are then sold and it's time to cut and polish the rough rock into a gem of beauty.
Cutting and polishing diamonds is a great skill, with meticulous techniques that have been practiced for generations. The main diamond cutting and trading centers are based in Antwerp (Belgium), Dubai (UAE), Hong Kong (China), Mumbai (India), Tel Aviv (Israel), New York (USA) and Johannesburg (South Africa).
Although some of the polishing process is computerized, most of the work is still performed by hand. First, the cutter uses cleaving, sawing or laser cutting to separate the original rough into smaller, more workable pieces. Then, the girdler uses a process called bruting that grinds away the stone's edges and provides its outline shape. Faceting follows, usually in two steps. The first 18 facets (table, culet, bezel and pavilion of a stone) are cut and polished by the blocker. The brillianteer cuts and polishes the final 40 facets, including the star, upper girdle and lower girdle. Finally, the cut gem is boiled in acids to remove dust and oil.
At this point, the polished gems are ready to be set into finished pieces of jewelry and find their way to their adoptive parents.
Today a diamond represents not just love, but love ‘forever'. It hasn't always been that way though. A thousand years ago (around 295 BCE) diamonds were written about for their mystical powers. They were believed to bring good fortune to those who carried them and were used to decorate religious icons. They would stand for wealth and power. Kings would wear them in battle fields.
It was Cupid himself though that chose diamonds as the ultimate representation of true love. His arrows were said to be tipped with diamonds, which had a magic that nothing else could equal. A big year for lovers and lovers of diamonds was 1477 - the first time royalty became engaged with a diamond ring. Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring in hand. A tradition was born.
One of the most intimate and magical moments for any couple is the moment they decide to spend the rest of their life together. Nothing can mark this moment better than the ultimate symbol of ‘forever' - a diamond. The enduring history of each diamond makes it the most evocative and powerful way to symbolize eternal love. It is a timeless beauty to those lucky enough to possess its sparkle.