A Diamond’s Journey from the Mine to a Finger

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The story of your diamond (or that diamond you were eyeing online a minute ago) began 3.3 billion years ago and 100 miles below the Earth. That’s right, your diamond is older—like, way, way older—than the T. Rex. In addition to being beautiful, it’s ancient.

The process of its journey to its current state of existence also involved a volcano, a laser, a girdler, a blocker, a brillianteer, a boiling session in a vat of acid, a painstaking beauty contest, several sheets of paperwork, and, let’s face it, many, many marketing dollars.

When the Earth decided to make diamonds, it required a few things: a temperature of 1,700 – 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, 650,000 – 870,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, a carbon source, and a cozy spot in the Earth’s mantle.

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The carbon source may have been organic or inorganic, and some of them have been determined to be derived from detritus that was crammed down below the Earth’s surface when one tectonic plate slipped under another. “Detritus,” in this context, is little pieces of things that were alive 3.3 million years ago. That’s some old dirt. If only diamonds could talk.

Once the diamond was born among all that ruckus, it rode the waves of powerful volcanic magma that bubbled it up to Earth’s surface through openings in the earth known as kimberlite and lamproites “pipes.” About half of those diamonds lodged themselves in the pipes, hiding from easy human acquisition and increasing their market value. They’re geniuses, really. Other diamonds preferred the good life, and settled in the sea, or in a stream or riverbank.

Life for the diamonds in the mine is just as turbulent as it was in the lithospheric mantle. Legend has it that miners blast through approximately 250 tons of ore to produce one single carat of rough diamond. Every year, only 30 million of the over 120 million carats are high enough quality to be made into jewelry. The others are used for saws to cut that jewelry, among other things.

Next the diamonds must be processed and sorted. When a diamond is sorted, it’s kind of like Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That: unkempt potential. DeBeers takes 45 percent of those diamonds under its wings and figures out which of 16,000 categories each diamond fits into. Other sorting agencies are trusted to sort the rest.

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At ten invitation-only “sights” per year, these diamonds are sold to polishers, cutters, and manufacturers. Sometimes the fortunate few who get to attend a sight resell their keep.

Enter cleavers, saws, lasers, girdlers, and bruters. Diamond surgery is performed to break down the precious gems into workable sizes and shapes. Some diamonds take weeks to cut; others take hours, depending on their size. Then, the girdler brutes away the stone’s unsightly edges and gives the diamond a nice figure.

This is where it gets tedious. Enter the blocker and brillianteer. The blocker, a specialist in the table, pavilion, bezel, and culet of a stone, cuts and polishes the first 18 facets. The brillianteer then cuts and polishes the remaining 40 facets.

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After all of this time in hair and makeup, the diamonds are placed in a luxurious bath of boiling acids to shed their beloved dust and oil. Once they towel off from their acid bath, the diamonds are put under harsh scrutiny at diamond labs, where they are graded and documented as bona fide diamonds.

Once its true beauty has been revealed, it’s brought to one of the 24 registered diamond “bourses,” or selling markets, where it is purchased by a jeweler or other manufacturer, carefully matched with a setting, and then finally placed on a finger, nestled on an earlobe, or dangled delicately from a wrist.

Finally, all diamond jewelry must eventually be resold (for maximum profit).  More info on that here!

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