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The Origin of Natural Diamonds

Aug 6, 2021

Origin of Natural Diamonds

When we think of chemistry, most people think of labs with beakers and test tubes. What chemistry actually is the field of study about how properties interact, combine, and change. And one such instance of a naturally occurring chemical reaction is the formation of diamonds.

Yup, like the sparkly thing that often sits on a woman’s left ring finger.

As far as researchers can tell, diamonds date back to the 4th century BC in India, where diamonds were gathered from the country’s rivers and streams. The earliest diamonds found from this time period were often transported along the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that connected China and India to Western Europe — that is, if they weren’t being used by members of India’s wealthy elite. 

Found in Botswana, the Lesedi la Rona diamond is up for auction and valued at $70 million.

In addition to their pleasing aesthetics, diamonds also served a practical purpose for many. They could refract light and engrave and cut metal, some believed they provided protection in battle, while others believed they could cure illnesses and heal wounds when ingested. It wasn’t until around the 1400s that diamonds became desirable accessories for European aristocracy. And once diamonds became more available, royalty started looking for other gemstones, rejecting diamonds for being “too common.”

So how does a diamond get made? Well, diamonds are made of carbon atoms that are subjected to incredible heat and pressure deep under the Earth’s surface. Imagine a single silver dollar in your hand. Now imagine 60 elephants stacked on top of that silver dollar. That’s around the amount of pressure needed to form a diamond. Technically speaking, carbon atoms must be under 725,000 pounds of pressure per square inch at a temperature of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s these specific conditions that cause carbon atoms to rearrange themselves and form a natural diamond. 

All right, so now we have a diamond, but it’s way below the Earth’s surface. Now what? 

That’s when more natural forces come into play. Volcanic activity pushes diamonds to the surface, cooling them along the way through what’s known as kimberlite pipes. They might mix with trace amounts of other minerals, like boron or radioactive uranium to create fancy colored diamonds. More commonly, diamonds have a bit of yellow or brown in them, which is taken into consideration when evaluating a diamond’s quality and worth. And even with all of those conditions required, only a small fraction of mined diamonds are suitable for use in jewelry. 

source: GIA.edu

Today’s diamonds tend to be found in places that have experienced volcanic activity in the past, including the ocean floor, however scientists and gemologists are always discovering new details. The more we learn, the easier it becomes to predict locations for new diamond discoveries and today’s diamonds regularly come from Africa, Russia, Australia, and Canada — a long way from India and the Silk Road origins! 

The results of this natural chemistry experiment yield beautiful diamonds — some of which we’re fortunate enough to work with as loose stones, signed jewelry, or estate pieces. To see our collection of natural diamonds, schedule a private appointment today to see what catches your eye. After all, a diamond is truly forever. 

https://www.gia.edu/diamond-history-lore
https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/where-do-diamonds-come-from

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