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Home Daimond Advice Diamond from Mine to Market
Diamond from Mine to Market

What is a Diamond?
A diamond is a crystal made up entirely of carbon atoms that are arranged in an isometric, or cubic, matrix. A cubic crystal arrangement is one in which the crystal essentially expands outward at the same rate in all directions during its initial growth; the ideal result, when the crystal forms without any interference, is a pure and perfectly formed octahedral shape.

However, most diamond crystals encounter varying heat or pressure, other elements, or even other diamond crystals during their growth, and this can alter their form somewhat. The resulting form and characteristics of the crystal, once it emerges from the earth, help to determine what shape, color and clarity the polished gem will have.

The combination of diamond's molecular composition and its crystal structure is what makes it so unique and gives it all the qualities that we think of when we think of a diamond.

Consider this: The graphite that you commonly find in pencils is also made of pure carbon, but because the carbon atoms are arranged differently, the result is a soft gray-black substance that is very unlike hard, colorless diamond. And iron pyrite (known more commonly as "fool's gold") grows in an isometric arrangement, but because it is not made of pure carbon, it also lacks the spectacular qualities of diamond.

The unique characteristics of diamond go far beyond what you can see with your eye. In addition to their superior brilliance and dispersion, diamonds are the hardest natural substance on earth.

Diamond rates a 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which means that it is extremely resistant to scratches; it is several times harder than the next-hardest substance, corundum, which is more commonly known as ruby and sapphire.

Diamonds are also very tough, meaning that they do not easily break, chip or crack. And even more interestingly, they are extremely resistant to heat and chemicals: it would take a temperature of at least 720 Celsius in air, or 850 Celsius in a vacuum, to burn a diamond; and sulphuric and hydrochloric acids, which are capable of completely dissolving the skin and bones of a person, have no effect at all on diamonds (in fact, these acids are actually used to clean the oil and dust off polished diamonds after they have been cut).

Where does a diamond come from?
Diamond is formed when carbon atoms deep in the earth are exposed to enormous heat and pressure over millions of years. In fact, the first known diamond deposits were brought to the surface of the earth two and a half billion years ago, and the most recent deposits are 50 million years, meaning that all diamonds are a genuine piece of pre-history!

Diamond from Rough to Finish
Diamonds made their journey from the asthenosphere (the layer of earth that lies 75 to 125 miles below the crust) to the surface when volcanic activity forced them, along with other rocks and minerals such as kimberlite, upward in a powerful explosion that formed a 'pipe' (a deep, wide opening in the earth).

Once the diamonds and rocks shot upward, most of them fell back and settled into the pipes; when these pipes were eventually discovered by miners, they became known as 'primary deposits' of diamond. Other diamonds, though, were washed away either by erosion or by nearby waters; these formed deposits a distance away from the original source and they became known as 'alluvial deposits.'

The first known source of diamonds was India, but now it is the countries of Australia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Russia and Canada which produce as much as 80% of the world's diamonds.

Diamonds are not at all easy to mine. In fact, more than 250 tons of ore need to be blasted, crushed and processed to yield just one carat of rough diamond! And of all the diamonds mined, only about 20% to 25% are gem-quality; the rest will eventually be used for technological and industrial purposes, or as abrasives.


How does a diamond get from the mines to the stores?

Finding the rough diamonds is only the first step. Once diamonds have been mined and processed out of the 'overburden' (that is, the kimberlite rocks in which they are imbedded), the rough crystals are sorted and categorized according to their size, color, shape and other characteristics. At this point, a diamond can follow one of two routes:

The most common route is through the channels of DeBeers' Central Selling Organization (CSO). Many people are familiar with DeBeers mainly because of their advertisements and commercials and because of the famous motto that they coined in the early half of the 20th century: "A Diamond is Forever."

While DeBeers' market influence has decreased somewhat over the last few years, they still control the majority of the world's diamond production (an estimated 30% to 40% of annual diamond production). The purchasing arm of the CSO not only buys diamonds from member mines around the world; it also finances mining technology for governments which do not have the means to mine their own deposits. Most of what is bought through the CSO is sent to London to be offered to buyers through DeBeers marketing arm, the Diamond Trading Corporation (DTC).

The DTC holds ten week-long selling sessions called 'sights' each year. These sights are by invitation only, and only a handful of diamond manufacturers from around the world (called 'sightholders') are allowed to attend. These sightholders may chose to cut the rough diamonds they buy themselves, or they may chose to sell some of the rough diamonds to smaller manufacturers.

These smaller manufacturers cut the rough diamonds and sell the polished gems either to jewelry manufacturers (who set the diamonds into finished pieces of jewelry and then sell the jewelry to jewelry retailers), or to diamond wholesalers (who then, in turn, sell the diamonds to diamond retailers).

In the less common route from mine to market, some independent miners elect not to sell their mine production to the DeBeers cartel. Instead, they offer newly mined diamonds directly to other world buyers. These buyers, in turn, may chose to cut and sell the diamonds themselves, or pass the diamonds along within the industry in a manner similar to that described above.


How is a diamond cut?

A newly mined rough diamond looks more like a piece of glass washed up on the beach than like the polished gems sold in jewelry stores. Bringing out their beauty requires the skill and art of a trained diamond cutter.

While incredibly precise, computerized machinery is now used in some parts of the cutting process for some diamonds, most of the work is still performed by hand using exacting and meticulous techniques passed down over the generations.

Diamond from Rough to Finish
As a first step, cleaving or sawing is often used to separate the original rough into smaller, more workable pieces that will each eventually become an individual polished gem. Next, bruting grinds away the edges, providing the outline shape (for example, heart, oval or round) for the gem. Faceting is then done in two steps: during blocking, the table, culet, bezel and pavilion main facets are cut; afterward, the star, upper girdle and lower girdle facets are added.

Rough Diamond
Once the fully faceted diamond has been inspected and improved, it is boiled in hydrochloric and sulfuric acids to remove dust and oil. The diamond is then considered a finished, polished gem.

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