Wedding season is in full swing. Last year, 43% of the weddings occurred between September and November. But before there are weddings, there are diamonds, lots and lots of diamonds gracing the fingers of the affianced.
In the 1920s and 1930s, marketers convinced couples to use diamonds for engagement rings, arguing that nothing is stronger than a diamond and a diamond is forever. Despite the availability of other gemstones and even flawlessly crafted artificial diamonds, the trend for natural diamonds as engagement rings remains strong.
Diamonds have been valued and traded since 2500 BCE when they were discovered in river sediment in India. In the Middle Ages only the richest could afford diamonds. By the 19th century, more extensive diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa. Originally, diamonds were mined only in Africa, particularly Botswana, Angola, South Africa, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today Russia and Canada are the largest suppliers, producing a combined total of 41 million carats annually. Australia, Brazil and Guyana also produce smaller quantities of gem-quality diamonds.
Despite the high price placed on diamonds, they are relatively common compared to other gemstones. They are even less rare than precious metals, such as gold. Diamonds keep their value because the market is tightly controlled by the DeBeers company, a behemoth in the diamond trade. DeBeers used to control 85% of all diamonds, now it is closer to 40%; but nevertheless, they still set the prices. The large cutters and distributers have only two options when purchasing diamonds: take it or leave it. There are no markdowns or discounts. The DeBeers company carefully monitors the prices of diamonds at the retail level. Any retailer who undercuts the price of diamonds will no longer have access to them. Pretty good way to control a monopoly.
Not all diamonds are the same. Some aren’t suitable for use in jewelry and find their way into industrial applications. The beautiful diamond rings that sparkle from brides’ fingers are the not the diamonds that are mined…the brides’ diamonds have been cut to perfection to sparkle and reflect light brilliantly.
Today, synthetic diamonds, which cost 60-70% less, are virtually indistinguishable from natural diamonds, except that they are flawless. Another advantage of these synthetic diamonds is that do not have issues with being used to fund civil wars. Those diamonds are called “conflict diamonds,” because of the cruel and callous conditions of miners and their use to fund devastating civil wars.
Diamonds were formed by intense pressure on carbon molecules. Carbon exists as graphite on the Earth’s surface. At a depth of 93 miles, where the pressure and temperatures are extremely high, the graphite becomes compressed into diamonds. They reach the surface, where they can be mined, via volcanic pipes called Kimberlite Pipes. These “pipes” are actually rock that contain diamonds that have been brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. Not just any volcanic eruption, diamonds reached the surface from eruptions that occurred when the continents broke up and the tectonic plates were rearranged.
Diamonds are also common throughout the universe.
Scientists believe that aging stars can collapse on themselves, creating giant diamond crystals. In the constellation Centaurus, it was believed that a white dwarf had crystallized into a diamond about 2,500 miles in diameter. (However, newer models are not so sure.) Imagine an entire star that is a diamond.
Diamonds are plentiful even within our own solar system.
Many scientists believe that diamonds rain on Uranus and Neptune, our two ice giants. Diamonds might rain from the ice giants’ mantles (the first layer of the planet) and into their rocky cores. The mantels of ice planets are liquid, filled with water, ammonia, methane, and…diamonds.
Diamond formation within the mantle would explain why the ice giant planets’ magnetic fields are so different from Earth’s. Our magnetic field, which comes from our core, surrounds our planet, but the magnetic fields around Uranus and Neptune are not symmetrical, nor do they extend from each pole. Scientists hypothesize that the magnetic fields of these ice giants originate in a layer of conducting material in the mantle, formed as a by-product of making diamonds.
Diamond rain might occur in the atmosphere of these planets as well.
Recently, Saturn and Jupiter have been added to the list of planets that potentially have diamond rain in their atmospheres. (Other gems such as sapphire, rubies and emeralds are also likely on Saturn and Jupiter.) Based on temperature and pressure predictions of the planets’ interiors, scientists conclude that gigantic diamond crystals hail over a huge region of Saturn. Saturn’s atmosphere has intense lightening that turns the methane in its atmosphere into soot. As the soot falls, the pressure on these carbon particles turn them into large chunks of diamonds. However, by the time they reach the planet’s surface, however, they may no longer be solid.
I guess diamonds aren’t forever on other planets. For now, it is less expensive to get our diamonds from our own planet.
But maybe diamonds are a good metaphor for marriage. They are created under adverse conditions of extreme pressure, and with careful care and tooling, they become spectacular.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.