Ever wondered why we value diamonds a lot? And why they sit comfortably on most engagement rings? Surprisingly, R.W. Emerson cracked these questions too – “It’s not in the destination but in the journey”.
Diamonds are tightly packed crystals of one of the most essential elements for life – Carbon. They are made under extremely high pressure and temperature in the earth’s upper mantle. This makes diamonds the hardest known material in the world. Even slight variations in the conditions will result in the formation of graphite, a more loosely packed crystal. Diamonds are then transported to the earth’s crust during volcanic eruptions after which they can be carried away by rivers into the oceans. Again, the high temperatures of a volcanic eruption can destroy a diamond forever even before it sees the light of day.
Unknown to a lot of people is that diamonds are not just used in jewelry. Diamonds remain cool at temperatures which most materials cannot withstand because of their high thermal conductivity. Due to this property, diamonds are commonly used as heat sinks in industries. Can’t believe even diamonds can’t keep women cool! They are also used as abrasives in tools due to their high hardness. Diamonds are coated on runways to take the impact of an airplane landing. But the next time you travel by flight don’t start scraping the runway as diamonds used in industries lack lustre and might even be grown in labs. This makes industrial quality diamonds less valuable than bright diamonds that are fashioned into jewelry.
The first diamonds were discovered in India where they have been recorded in Sanskrit texts that date back to 400 BC. One of the most famous diamonds – Koh-i-Noor (Original wt – 191 cts) – was discovered in the Golconda mines in India. Diamonds were later discovered in Brazil (1725), Russia (1829), Australia (1851) and South Africa (1866) with which the diamond rush began. Nowadays, diamond mining companies like De Beers keep searching for mines using advanced technological methods like remote sensing even in extremely cold regions of Siberia and Canada.
After a mine is found, its potential is estimated in terms of the quantity, size, quality of diamonds etc. The laws of a government also play a crucial role in mining. It is important for a country and its citizens to also benefit from their natural resources. Governments also impose strict laws so that the environment is not disturbed because of the mining activities. Rough diamonds that can be cut and polished for jewelry consumption are rare to find which makes them more valuable than industrial quality diamonds.
While purchasing diamonds for jewelry or as long-term investments, it is important to understand what kind of diamonds are/will be in demand in the market. Diamonds are graded by gemological laboratories using a standard system called the 4Cs of Diamond Quality that helps in consistent communication during trade. In the 1940s, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) researched and created the 4Cs which stand for – Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight. Slight variations in these parameters will cause a huge difference in price.
A diamond may undergo structural defects during formation or might combine with elements like Nitrogen, Boron or Hydrogen into its tightly packed Carbon crystal. This adds colour to a diamond and colored diamonds that are rarely found demand a high price. The colour of a diamond is graded on a D-Z scale where D stands for a colourless diamond and Z stands for a diamond that has light hues of yellow, brown or grey. Diamonds that exhibit fancy colours like pink, blue and green are more valuable than light coloured yellow or brown or even a colourless diamond. This is not only because of the attractive colour but also because of the rarity of fancy colored diamonds. Diamonds can also be treated in a lab to enhance the color. Such treatments can be identified by gemological laboratories and are mentioned in their grade reports.
Diamonds may have crystal inclusions (wrongly referred as gas bubbles) depending on the surroundings in which they’ve grown. They may also have surface blemishes that can happen during polishing or during wear and tear also. These characteristics affect the clarity grade of a diamond. A diamond with no blemishes or inclusions is graded Internally Flawless (IF), with few blemishes is graded as Flawless (F). And as the visibility of the inclusions or blemishes under 10X magnification increases the grades vary among – Very Very Slightly included (VVS1 & VVS2), Very Slightly included (VS1 & VS2), Slightly included (SI1 & SI2) and Included (I1, I2 & I3). IF and F graded diamonds are extremely rare to find and thus are pricier than VVS, VS or SI graded diamonds.
The shape and cut of a diamond also play an important role in the grade of a diamond. Diamonds are cut into different shapes like round, oval, square, rectangular, triangular, pear, marquise and even heart. Tiny planes called facets are polished on the diamonds to make them interact with light brilliantly. The most loved appearance of a diamond is a round shaped one with a brilliant cut that has 57 or 58 facets.
The weight of a diamond is measured in terms of carats i.e., cts. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams. After a diamond is mined it is in its rough form. Later it has to be cut and polished by experienced cutters to bring out the beauty of it. The uncut weight of Koh-i-noor was 191 carats but after cutting and polishing the weight dropped to 105.6 carats and even still it is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world! Keeping all the other three parameters constant, the heavier a diamond is the more valuable it is.
The 4Cs system helps us to quantify the quality of a diamond. But the overall appearance of a diamond plays a huge role in determining its value. Just like the stock market, to assess the monetary value of a diamond completely, one should understand how the most famous diamonds have been priced at auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This helps in understanding the unending demand for diamonds.