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).
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Where do diamonds come from?
Diamonds are made up of pure carbon atoms that exist deep in the ground, exposed to intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Over time, this pressure builds up and forces the diamonds and rocks up toward the surface in a volcanic-like explosion. The explosion creates a very deep, wide hole called a "pipe" into which most of the diamonds settle; these deposits of diamonds are known as primary deposits. Other diamonds are washed away by water or erosion, and often settle into the coastal waters of nearby bodies of water; these are alluvial deposits. These deposits occur in many places around the globe; however, the largest commercial deposits exist in Angola, Australia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Russia and Zaire, which produce 80% of the world's diamonds.
Walking through the aisle of a jewelry store, you may not think diamonds are especially rare. But consider this: 250 tons (500,000 pounds) of ore must be mined and processed to produce just one carat of rough diamond. Since a rough diamond typically loses 40% to 60% of its weight when cut, that means that all these efforts are necessary to produce just one of the .50 carat polished diamonds you find in the store's display counters. When you also consider the fact that only about one quarter of all rough diamonds are actually suitable for gem cutting, you can begin to appreciate the rarity and uniqueness of each diamond.
A quick, fun fact: The first diamond deposits were brought to the surface of the earth approximately 2.5 billion years ago. The most recent deposits are roughly 50 million years old. Your diamond is a truly unique piece of history.
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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.
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.
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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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.
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Is a diamond a good investment?
The answer depends on whether you are investing in the diamond itself, or in what a diamond represents.
Diamond prices have been steadily increasing for the past 20 years, and diamonds tend to hold their value. Given this, it is extremely unlikely that diamonds will ever entirely lose their value, in spite of how the market may change in the future. However, no one can predict, with absolute certainty, which way the market will swing and, in general, we do not recommend buying up high-quality diamonds as a main part of a financial/retirement plan.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a source of beauty and a symbol of eternity and everlasting love, there are few objects you can choose that will surpass a diamond's perfection. Diamonds have inflamed man's passions since the first moment at which they were discovered, and their power over our emotions and desires has only grown since then. As a timeless and beautiful gift to yourself or as an emblem of your commitment to another, a diamond is an excellent investment.
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What is the difference between a "certified diamond" and a "non-certified diamond"?
There is no physical difference between a diamond that is certified and one that is not. A certificate does not change the nature of a diamond in any way. The difference between a certified and an uncertified diamond is that, with the certified diamond, you have tangible, legal assurances as to the particular nature and quality of the diamond you are purchasing.
A certified diamond comes with a diamond grading report guaranteed by an accredited gem lab. This report assures the customer that the diamond is independently recognized as possessing all the qualities specified by that report. All the diamonds featured in the Diamond Store on our site are certified by either GIA or AGS. When you buy a certified diamond, you are getting a diamond with beauty and pedigree.
On the other hand, an uncertified diamond has is not accompanied by a diamond grading report, and therefore its stated quality is based only on the word of the seller.
An uncertified diamond is not necessarily a bad diamond; certainly, it can be as beautiful as its certified counterpart. However, we encourage our customers to buy certified diamonds for the following reasons:
Shopping for certified diamonds allows you to make an informed choice about your selections, and to comparison shop. You can compare one diamond with a particular weight and quality with other diamonds of similar weight and quality to determine which is the better value. With uncertified diamonds, it is difficult to determine whether the quality assessments of one jeweler will be as stringent and precise as the judgments of other jewelers; that is, not all jewelers may agree about the quality of an uncertified diamond.
A diamond grading report adds value to a diamond. The quality assessments made by independent labs, such as GIA or AGS, are recognized worldwide. These quality assessments are used by appraisers to determine the insurance or replacement value of your diamond. If you purchase an uncertified diamond, there is no guarantee that the appraiser will appraise your diamond at the same level at which the jeweler who sold it to you did. A quick note on how reports from various independent labs compare with one another: GIA and AGS are considered the industry leaders, and the final word on gem quality, among diamond dealers worldwide. While plenty of other independent labs exist, some are a bit lax in their assessments of diamond quality and do not command the same respect for consistency and quality of grading that GIA and AGS do. For this reason, if you are in the market for a diamond, make an effort to buy only GIA- or AGS-graded diamonds.
A diamond grading report adds an increased comfort-level to your purchase. Because the quality of your purchase has been independently verified, you can feel assured that you have made a wise purchase and that you have received exactly what you have paid for.
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Is it safe to receive a diamond in the mail?
Yes and no. It is safe if the diamond jeweler uses insured carriers (e.g., FedEx and UPS) to ship its packages and all shipments are insured for the full value of their contents.
Before buying a diamond online, find out what the store's policy is in case of lost shipments. A professional diamond jeweler should have no objection to providing either a replacement or a refund.
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