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How Are Diamonds Made: The Origins of Natural Diamonds

December 2020 | Mariam Norman

Diamonds are unquestionably beautiful. It's one of the reasons they are so sought after. They're used as the crowning glory in engagement rings. They are ideal as a birthday gift for girls or as a gift to your partner for your 60th wedding anniversary. There are so many examples where diamonds are considered a girl's best friend and a guy's best buy. But you'd never think so if you actually found them straight out of the ground. Instead, they look like chunks of glass embedded in rock. They look rough and lack the brilliance and beauty we all associate with this particular precious gem. So, how are diamonds made? What does it take for diamonds to end up so bright and shiny? What about manmade diamonds? Read on to learn all about how diamonds are made.

Chemistry of Diamonds

Diamonds are mostly made of carbon which is one of the most common elements in the world. All human beings, for example, are also composed of carbon. So is graphite which is a lot softer than our precious gem. What makes diamonds different from all other carbon-based things is how the carbon atoms have bonded. The carbon atoms are exposed to an extremely high temperature and pressure, causing them to form a tetrahedral bond where each carbon atom links to three other carbon atoms. This results in the formation of a strong, rigid lattice structure. The rigidity of the diamond structure does occasionally allow some elements to attach to it such as nitrogen and boron. These same elements not only changes the diamond's chemical structure a bit, they also affect the color of the gem.

chemistry of diamonds - modifications of carbon

How Long Does It Take Diamonds to Form?

The simplest answer to how diamonds are formed is carbon + pressure (650,000 psi to 850,000 psi) + temperature (900°C to 1300°C). But that doesn't take into account the length of time it takes to create a tough diamond. In fact, it takes anywhere from 1 to 3.3 billion years for a diamond to be created naturally. Raw carbon needs to be subjected to a great deal of pressure which occurs around 90 to 120 miles underneath the surface of the Earth. Volcanic activity can cause these deposits to surface.

Cutting and Polishing

Now that we know how diamonds are formed, the next thing we need to discuss is how they become so brilliant and polished. When you first dig out a diamond, it looks very rough and chunky. That being said, it typically features top and bottom points as well as a wide middle. Usually, the diamond looks like a square when viewed from the top. Before these crude diamonds undergo cutting and polishing, they must first be sorted according to grade and diamond quality. Only those that are considered "gem quality" will end up being transformed into beautiful jewelry. The cutting and polishing of diamonds involves several steps. They need to be sawed, rounded, lopped, and then finished in order to yield the beauty within. How a diamond is cut and worshipped will depend on a variety of factors such as clarity and crystallographic orientation.

How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?

lab-grown diamonds

Because it takes billions of years to make natural diamonds, some companies took it upon themselves to find an alternative: man-made diamonds. They learned how to make diamonds in a laboratory by replicating the conditions that cause diamonds to form. This process is called High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT). It uses a growth chamber where a piece of carbon is subjected to high pressure and temperature until it dissolves in a molten metal. The carbon atoms will travel through the metal to a diamond seed which then produces a man-made diamond crystal. An alternative process is the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). Unlike HPHT, this method utilizes carbon-rich gas such as methane. Inside a vacuum chamber, the gas is broken down into carbon and hydrogen atoms. The atoms are then deposited onto the diamond seeds which results into man-made diamonds.

How Do Man-Made Diamonds Compare to Mined Diamonds?

Visually, you won't be able to tell a natural diamond from a lab-grown one. However, there are differences due to the growth conditions in which they are exposed to. One major difference is in their crystal shape. Natural diamonds grow as crystals that have eight equilateral triangular faces (octohedral). Man-made ones grow as octohedral and cubic six equivalent square faces) crystals. Lab-grown diamonds are usually colorless or nearly colorless while natural ones come in a variety of colors including pink, blue, red, and green. Take note that man-made diamonds can be subjected to certain treatments in order to produce certain colors. Both types of diamonds can have inclusions. However, lab-grown ones feature small metallic inclusions and flux-like inclusions that can't be found in natural diamonds. While both diamonds are visually attractive, natural diamonds are the better choice. They are much more valuable. Their value increases over time and their pricing is more stable. Moreover, natural diamonds are more durable and better for everyday wear which makes them the more ideal choice for jewelry.

Moissanite vs Diamond

moissanite vs diamond

A moissanite is a diamond stimulant. It is a gemstone that looks similar to a diamond but it does not have a diamond chemical structure. A moissanite is natural but rare. When you compare moissanite vs diamond side by side, you'll see that diamonds are much harder. They rate a 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness and are considered the hardest mineral in the world. A moissanite, on the other hand, has a hardness of 9.25/10. It is one of the hardest substances on Earth and very durable. In terms of brilliance, the moissanite sparkles more compared to the diamond. It flashes a bright, rainbow light. However, it does emit a "disco ball" effect that not everyone likes. Diamonds, on the other hand, have a type of brilliance that is very distinct. They reflect light in three different ways - brilliance, dispersion, and scintillation. As for color, a moissanite is clear or nearly colorless. However, in certain lights, it gives off a yellow or grayish hue. The larger the stone, the more noticeable the colors are. Colorless diamonds, on the other hand, do not have any traces of yellow, gray, or brown. They have a dazzling white appearance.

Conclusion

Diamonds can be naturally made or grown in a lab. While natural diamonds are far more valuable, man-made ones are nothing to scoff at. They're just as beautiful and almost as durable. But if diamonds, natural or man-made, are simply out of your budget, you can opt for a moissanite. Not as beautiful or as durable as a diamond, but a rare and precious stone still.

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