The Monarch of All Precious Stones
IT CAN serve as an ornament for decoration. It helps to prevent skidding on highways and airport runways. Industry uses it in lathes, drills and in machines for grinding and polishing. What is it that has so many uses? The “monarch of all precious stones”—the beautiful, versatile diamond.
Diamonds are among the most coveted minerals in the world. On February 14, 1972, a workman in a mine at Sierra Leone caught sight of a diamond about the size of a hen’s egg. It turned out to be the third-largest diamond ever unearthed and the largest known uncut diamond in existence. Though weighing only half a pound, this precious stone sold for several million dollars.
What are diamonds? Why are they so valuable? How are they found and transformed into precious gems and useful helpers in industry?
What Are Diamonds?
When you look at black soot on your clothes, or at graphite in your lead pencil, you are beholding the same substance that constitutes a diamond. What is that? CARBON! The carbon of diamonds, however, has a close-knit, dense and strongly bonded crystal structure. This makes it differ from graphite, native carbon’s other form.
How did diamonds come into existence? No one knows for sure. But many scientists believe that this happened when carbon beneath the earth underwent great pressure and heat. Thus in modern times scientists have been able to synthesize diamonds by subjecting graphite to pressures of more than 1,500,000 pounds per square inch at temperatures above 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
One thing that makes diamonds so valuable is their extreme hardness. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring mineral. “A diamond can be used to cut another diamond. The only other material that can scratch a diamond is borazon, an artificial substance first made in 1957,” according to The World Book Encyclopedia. This hardness is the reason why diamonds, in addition to being dazzling gem stones, are especially useful to industry.
Rarity is another thing that enhances the value of diamonds. They are 120 times rarer than gold. In some places workers must process 250 tons of earth, gravel and rock to find a total weight of only one or two carats* in diamonds.
The value of a diamond depends in large measure on its purity, that is, freedom from flaws such as pores, cracks and spots of uncrystallized carbon. The monarch of precious stones comes in many colors, yellow and brown being the most common. But they also turn up red, green, black and sometimes, though rarely, blue. Most rough diamonds have eight sides and are shaped like a double pyramid. Some have twelve, twenty-four or forty-eight sides; others are cube-shaped, with only six sides.
Up from Beneath the Earth
Many diamonds are found in the sand and gravel of stream beds or at seashores. Beneath the earth diamonds are located in funnel-, pipe- or carrot-shaped rock formations called “blue ground” because of its blue, claylike appearance. For centuries India supplied the world with diamonds. But now Africa accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s diamond production. Important diamond fields are also located in Russia and South America.
A considerable amount of work goes into extracting diamonds from the earth and preparing them for use by industry or as glittering ornaments. Bulldozers first remove tons of “overburden” in order to get down to the gravel and rocks bearing the diamonds. The material containing the diamonds is then washed in pan plants, leaving a “concentrate.” A jet of water moves the concentrate over a sloping, greased table. The stones and gravel slide over the grease, but the diamonds, which are heavier and repel water, stick in it. Because some diamonds are missed in this process, certain persons make their living by buying the waste and sifting through it for small diamonds and chips.
After the diamonds are collected, highly trained men must sort them out. It takes about seven years to train a good diamond sorter, for these precious stones may go into any one of over 2,000 categories, depending upon their size, quality, color and shape.
Diamond Cutting—a Delicate Operation
To bring out a diamond’s full capacity to reflect light in a delightful array of colors, experts must cut many little sides, or “facets,” on it. The standard “brilliant” cut has fifty-eight facets. As light enters the various facets of this monarch of precious stones and sprays out through its “table” (the topmost facet), a whole rainbow of colors capture the fascinated eye. With regard to the delicate operation of diamond cutting, the Encyclopædia Britannica (1974 edition) points out: “Great skill is necessary at every stage, but especially during faceting, because the angles of the facets must be exact in order to yield maximum brilliancy, and their sizes must be accurately regulated to preserve symmetry.”
Before preparation of the facets, large diamonds undergo cleavage into smaller ones. This is an especially ticklish procedure. An expert must first make a careful examination to determine the direction of the crystal’s grain; then he marks lines along which it may be split. After this a cleaver cuts a groove along a selected line of cleavage, mounts the diamond in a holder and inserts a steel wedge into the groove. Then there is the tap of a mallet and, if all has been done correctly, the diamond splits in two. But a mistake in the process of cleaving can cause a diamond to shatter, or even explode. How so?
A well-known Belgian diamond cutter explained:
“Sometimes a diamond contains a small pocket of gas held under high pressure. Hit the stone where one of these pockets is located and a very expensive stone explodes and is reduced to powder.
“A few months ago I had a 5-1/2 carat diamond worth 500,000 B[elgian] Fr[ancs] [about $13,000]. There was an almost undiscernible flaw on the edge of one of its facets and the buyer insisted that it be corrected. Hardly had the stone touched the disk when it exploded into a thousand pieces.”
Some Famous Diamonds
Diamonds, as mentioned above, are very rare. So rare, in fact, that during all the centuries that men have looked for them only about 400 large ones have been found. Among these is the famous Cullinan diamond, which, in its rough state, weighed 3,106 carats (about 1-1/3 pounds). This was cut into nine large stones and 96 smaller ones. The Star of Africa, which came from the Cullinan, is still the world’s largest cut diamond, weighing 530.2 carats.
The Koh-i-noor diamond came into British possession in 1849 after many changes of hands. It weighed 186 carats upon arrival and was thereafter recut to 106 carats. The Koh-i-noor was designed for Queen Mary in 1911 and is the central stone of the queen’s state crown.
About two centuries ago a person named Tavernier bought a very rare sapphire-blue diamond. This was sold to Louis XIV and cut into a triangular stone weighing 68 carats. It was stolen in 1792, never to show up again. But in 1830 the 44-1/2-carat Hope diamond appeared on the market. Was it cut from the larger one that had belonged to Louis XIV? Many think so.
Some Determined to “Get Rich Quick”
Diamonds have caused greed to well up in the hearts of many, bringing harm to them. A number of natives in Sierra Leone have lost their lives diving to the bottom of the treacherous Sewa River in quest of large diamonds. Many more have perished in tunnel cave-ins. Illegal mining, smuggling and bribery are common where diamonds are to be found.
Some have tried to swindle their customers out of more money by a clever deception. They dip a yellow diamond into a solution of potassium permanganate. This covers it with a purple film that neutralizes the yellow, making it appear colorless, or “white,” which draws a higher price on the market than yellow.
A man who left the diamond-digging business after many years to become a full-time minister of Jehovah’s witnesses observed: “Digging for diamonds gets hold of a person like gambling. Most of the time you are on the losing end in time, energy and capital expense, but there is always that unceasing desire and craving to find that elusive ‘big one.’”
Sometimes problems crop up after one comes into possession of a large diamond. A gemmologist remarked: “Large diamonds and large cars have certain things in common. They are wonderful to own, expensive to insure, and it is difficult to know where to keep them.” In the case of a wealthy film star, for example, the insurance policy on her 69.4-carat gem would not allow her to wear it “more than 30 days a year.” When she did wear it, two armed guards would accompany her.
Caring for Diamonds
If you own a diamond, be careful not to drop it or strike it against a hard surface. Although diamonds are the hardest of natural minerals, such a blow can cause them to split, shatter or come loose from their setting. Be careful, too, to avoid dumping an uncovered diamond ring, brooch, or earrings into a jewelry box containing other items. It may scratch them.
A diamond can become quite soiled with dirt, grease or cosmetics. But you can keep your diamond bright and shining by giving it a bath from time to time. Sprinkle a few soap flakes along with a dash of ammonia into about two cupfuls of warm water. Then gently scrub the gem, using a soft toothbrush or eyebrow brush. After rinsing in lukewarm water, dip in rubbing alcohol to remove any remaining soap, and dry with tissue paper or a soft cloth. It is best to remove a diamond ring when doing household chores or digging in the garden.
Among the splendors of Jehovah’s natural creation are its ‘precious stones,’ especially the monarch of them all, the beautiful and useful diamond.—1 Chron. 29:2.
There are 142 carats to an ounce.