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A Brief History
Just like snowflakes and fingerprints, each diamond is totally unique: no two are alike. This is where the magic of diamonds begins. Some ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were splinters of stars that had fallen to the earth, while others believed that they were the tears of the Gods. Still another story claimed that diamonds came from an unreachable valley in Central Asia. It was said that the valley was “patrolled by birds of prey in the air and guarded by snakes of murderous gaze on the ground.” Interesting theories. Want to know where diamonds really come from? So do we! The truth is: the exact origin of diamonds is still somewhat of a mystery, even to geologists and scientists.
Although the diamond is the hardest of all gemstones known to man, it is the simplest in composition. Like the graphite in a pencil or the soot from a smoky candle, it is comprised of common carbon. However, the diamond has an unbelievable melting point of 6,900 degrees Fahrenheit-- two and a half times hotter than the melting point of steel! Billions of years ago, the elemental forces of heat and pressure combined in the vat of boiling magma deep below the earth's surface. The combination transformed this common carbon into glittering diamonds. The crystallization took place in a volcanic mass that then burst skyward, breaking through the earth’s surface to cool in Kimberlite pipes. Today, billions of years later, these Kimberlite pipes are where most diamonds are found . . . not in a secret valley guarded by birds and snakes (sorry to disappoint you).
So now you might be wondering, “Why are diamonds so valuable if they’re just made from carbon?” Well, the fact is that diamonds are incredibly rare. Billions of years ago, when the diamonds were formed, only a few survived the hazardous journey from the depths below to reach the earth’s surface. It is estimated that as few as 350 tons of diamonds have been mined to date; of those diamonds mined, only about half are judged to be of gem quality…and even fewer are actually big enough to be cut into stones larger than the head of a match. Even with today's technology, recovering the fairly small amount of both gem quality and industrial diamonds is not an easy process. Approximately 250 tons of ore must be mined and processed from the average Kimberlite pipe in order to produce a single one-carat diamond of gem quality.
Before a diamond touches your hand (or ear, or neck, or wrist), it will probably touch at least four continents and hundreds of people. The expertise of many skilled craftsmen is necessary to complete the extremely complicated process of extracting, cutting, and finishing a diamond. Diamonds were first mined 2,800 years ago in India but the modern industry began with discoveries in South Africa in the late 1800’s. Since then, things have changed. Today, a little more than 85% of the world’s rough diamond supply comes from four countries: Australia, Zaire, Botswana, and Russia. South Africa ranks fifth, followed by Namibia, Angola, Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Central African Republic, Tanzania, China, Indonesia, and India. Most diamonds are cut in one of four major cutting centers: India, Israel, Antwerp, and New York. However, diamonds are also cut in many other countries as well: Indonesia, Tunisia, France, Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, China, Taiwan, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Philippines, Australia, Tanzania, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mauritius, Malta, South Korea, and Great Britain.
THE 4 C's:
If you know anything about diamonds, you've probably heard of "The 4 C's." This refers to the four major characteristics of a diamond: Carat, Color, Clarity, and Cut. Each characteristic is described below.
Carat refers to the weight (and therefore the size) of the stone. One carat is equal to 0.20 grams. The word “carat” originated in a natural unit of weight: the seeds of the carob tree. Later, the carat system was standardized to 0.20 grams, which allowed for much more consistency than the carob seed. The higher the carat weight, the more expensive the stone.
Almost all diamonds contain minute traces of non-crystallized carbon, the element from which they were created. Most are not visible to the naked eye and require magnification to become apparent. These traces of carbon are called inclusions and can be either black or white in color. Inclusions are nature’s fingerprint and make every diamond unique. The fewer inclusions present in the stone, the rarer (and therefore more expensive) the stone will be. The clarity of the stone refers to how included the stone is. The rarest clarity is F (Flawless). F is followed by VVS1 and VVS2 (Very, Very Small Inclusions), VS1 and VS2 (Very Small Inclusions), SI1 and SI2 (Small Inclusions), and I1, I2, and I3 (Inclusions visible to the naked eye).
Diamond color is categorized by letters and ranges all the way from D to Z, D being the rarest and most expensive. Diamonds that are graded D, E, or F are considered to be Colorless. Diamonds graded G, H, or I are considered Near Colorless. Near Colorless stones usually face up white. Diamonds graded J or K are Off-White or Faint Tint. When set in a piece of jewelry, these stones tend to look whiter than they really are. Diamonds graded L-N are Very Light Yellow, O-S Diamonds are Light Yellow, and T-Z diamonds are Yellow.
The precision and delicacy with which your diamond is cut will determine its brilliance, its fire, and its ultimate beauty. The shape you select is a matter of individual taste and today your choice is limited only by the skill and imagination of the craftsman. The Round Brilliant is the most popular and the most expensive shape, but there are many more: Princess, Emerald, Cushion, Radiant, Trillion, Oval, Asscher, Marquise, Pear, Heart Shape, Baguette, etc. Some of the most common cuts are pictured below: