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Diamonds are the epitome of beauty, elegance, and rarity. Like no other substance, they captivate us as an eternal symbol of love and endurance. But diamonds are far more interesting than many of us might believe. They have been studied intensely by scientists, as they exhibit properties unlike any other material on Earth. Let’s take a closer look at the lighter side of diamonds, and explore some of the unexpected and amazing facts about diamonds that few people know.
10. Diamond planets and stars might exist in space
Diamonds are formed in the asthenosphere, about 200 km below the surface of the earth. This is where the conditions of extreme temperature and pressure exert on carbon to form a diamond. But these conditions can also exist in space, and scientists have discovered a planet orbiting a nearby star in the Milky Way that could actually be made of diamond.
Astronomers believe that a planet formed by the collapse of a star, which then finds itself in a close orbit around a neutron star, known as a millisecond pulsar, would exhibit the conditions required to transform the entire planet into a diamond. Two such planets have already been found in our galaxy. Since the closest planet is 4,000 light years away, it could be some time before scientific theory can be confirmed.
In 2004, a white dwarf star in the Centauri system was identified as BPM 37093. This star is believed to have crystalized as it cooled, and is up to 90% pure diamond. At 10 billion trillion trillion carats, it is bigger than Earth. BPM 37093 was given the name ‘Lucy’ after the Beatles hit ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’.
9. A person can be turned into a diamond
Want to live on for eternity? With the advancement of lab-grown diamond technology, some companies are now offering to turn the ashes of a deceased love one into a diamond gem that can worn as jewelry by those they left behind. To create these ‘memorial diamonds,’ companies utilize HPHT (High Pressure/High Temperature) processes to transform ashes (carbon) into a diamond. This technology has developed rapidly, and Chicago-based LifeGems now offers diamonds as large as 1.5 carats in colors ranging from colorless, to blue, red and green. Swiss-based Algordanza has been providing memorial diamonds since 2003, and now operates in 30 different countries.
8. The unit of diamond weight measurement has its origin in seeds
While many in the general public know that the size of a diamond is measured in carats, few people know what that means, or where the measurement originated. A metric carat is defined as one fifth (1/5) of a gram, or 200 milligrams.
The term gets its origins from the Greek word kerateeon, which means “fruit of the carob”. The carob tree produces a small fruit called a carob bean. These beans have a very uniform size and weight, and were used by ancient traders as a reliable weight measurement using counterbalance scales. A stone that balanced evenly against five carob seeds would be said to weigh five seeds, later five carobs, than later five carats. When a carob tree was stripped of its seeds by British researchers in the 1870s, it was determined that the average weight of a carob seed was .197 grams, and the current standard of .200 grams was adopted soon afterwards.
7. There is only one diamond mine in the world that is open to the public
While diamond mines are typically loaded with security personnel, and mine staff subjected to strict regulations, including daily strip searches, one diamond mine is fully accessible to the public. The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas features a 37-acre field on top of the eroded surface of a massive diamond-bearing kimberlite pipe. For a small fee, visitors can comb the area in search of diamonds, and anything they find is theirs to keep.
While the pipe never proved rich enough to commercially mine, it has produced several large diamonds, including the 40.23-carat ‘Uncle Sam’ diamond, the largest ever mined in the United States. A total of 75,000 diamonds have been found at the park since 1906, and it attracts over 100,000 visitors each year.
6. The first diamond engagement ring was gifted more than 500 years ago
In the United States, four out of five wedding proposals begin with a diamond engagement ring. This tradition is also catching on in many other parts of the world. However, the tradition actually began 539 years ago when Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned a diamond ring for Mary of Burgundy. The ring, in the shape of an “M”, encrusted with flat pieces of diamond, came at the suggestion of a faithful advisor who noted: “At the betrothal Your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring.”
5. A diamond is nearly four times harder than the next hardest substance…but is no longer the hardest substance known
Diamonds have long been coveted for their hardness. Diamond ranks at 10 out of 10 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. A diamond has an absolute hardness of 1500 as measured by a sclerometer. The next closest mineral is Corundum at 400, followed by Topaz at 200. Interestingly, though, diamond is no longer the hardest substance known, although it remains the hardest to occur naturally. Scientists have discovered another material that usually exists at a lower hardness rating than diamond, which can be transformed under extreme pressures to form a synthetic substance harder than a diamond.
Lonsdaleite is often known as hexagonal diamond, since its crystal lattice structure is hexagonal, versus cubic as in diamond. Lonsdaleite usually has a Mohs hardness rating between 7 and 8, but under extreme pressure it can be made harder than diamond. This has been discovered in meteorite samples and replicated in a laboratory. However, Lonsdaleite only exists in space, so it is in very short supply.
4. Some of the most valuable diamonds in history have been shipped through the postal service
The Cullinan diamond is the largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered. It was discovered in South Africa in 1905, and weighed a staggering 3,106 carats. Its value was incomprehensible, even at that time. The stone would be sent to London under enormous security, where it was placed in the vault of the captain of a steamship under heavy police guard. However, this was a diversion using a fake replica stone. The real diamond was sent to England in a plain, unmarked box via registered post. Upon its arrival, it was placed into a satchel bag and travelled on a passenger train to London, despite swirling rumors of an impending robbery.
Not to be outdone, in 1958 legendary jeweler Harry Winston donated the immortal Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. An employee paid $145.29 to mail the package, which included just $2.44 of postal costs (the rest being insurance). It was received by mail carrier James Todd, who was ushered into the Gem Hall amongst reporters and photographers to unsuspectingly pull the diamond out of its inconspicuous package for all to see.
3. Diamonds can actually be formed by meteorites
There have numerous examples of mostly microscopic diamonds discovered around the sites of ancient meteorite impacts. A meteorite can exert as much as pressure as 20 gigapascals, which is more than 100 times more pressure than the Marianas Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans. It also creates temperatures in excess of those created by a nuclear bomb, and the combined effect can transform exposed graphite into diamonds.
The Popigai crater in Russia is the largest example of this phenomenon at work. It was formed 35 million years ago, when an eight-kilometer-wide asteroid crashed into the Earth and created a crater 100 kilometers wide. The diamonds at Popigai are almost all very small (less than 2mm), and are of very low industrial quality. However, some gem-quality stones as large as 13 mm in diameter have been found.
2. Candle flames contain millions of tiny diamonds
In 2011, Professor Wuzong Zhou of the University of St Andrews decided to research the physical makeup of a candle flame, after a colleague told him that it couldn’t be done. He discovered that a candle flame is actually made of all four known forms of carbon, namely graphite, carbon dioxide, amorphous carbon, and diamond. This came as a big surprise to Zhou, since all these types of carbon form under different conditions. These microscopic diamond particles quickly vaporize into carbon dioxide. Professor Zhou’s research continues.
1. Diamonds can be made out of peanut butter
Scientists in Germany, who were investigating the creation of diamonds for use in semiconductors, have experimented with all sorts of things to make diamonds, including peanut butter. Since foodstuffs, and all living things, are made predominantly of carbon, they can be synthesized into a diamond with the same laboratory conditions used to create lab-grown diamonds. The peanut butter diamonds came out with a yellowish green color, and apparently the process was extremely messy, but effective nonetheless.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity. No one should act upon any opinion or information in this website without consulting a professional qualified adviser.
Diamond industrialist Ehud Arye Laniado is a man passionate about diamonds. From his early 20s in Africa and later in Belgium honing his expertise in forecasting the value of polished diamonds by examining rough diamonds by hand, till today four decades later, as chairman of his international diamond businesses spanning mining, exploration, rough and polished diamond valuation, trading, manufacturing, retail and consultancy services, Laniado has mastered both the miniscule details of evaluating and pricing individual rough diamonds and the entire structure of the diamond industry. Today, his global operations are at the forefront of the industry, recognised in diamond capitals from Mumbai to Tel Aviv and Hong Kong to New York.