Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat…and Carbon

Diamond ring.

My ring: naturally beautiful.

Though I’ve been staring at my stunningly sparkly diamond engagement ring for just over two months now, I’m still wondering where it came from. I don’t mean blood diamonds—my natural, mined stone is certified conflict-free. I mean where it originally came from and how it was made. As a lover of chemistry I see my diamond for what it really is: carbon.

Carbon is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, so why would my brand new fiancée not look to the lab for a diamond? Perhaps it was the allure and romanticism of a naturally made diamond, a part of geological history. Natural diamonds were made around a million – or in some cases, a billion – years ago deep down (about 100 miles) in the molten rock of the Earth’s mantle. The mantle provided the extreme temperatures and pressures needed to transform carbon into diamond. After their formation, diamonds were brought to the surface through powerful magma eruptions.

The fact that science and technology can mimic such conditions in the Earth’s mantle is truly remarkable. And actually, we can do it better: lab-created diamonds generally have less imperfections and inclusions than natural diamonds. In the lab it takes about two to three weeks to grow a diamond from “seed;” starting with small bits of diamond no larger than a shirt button, placed in a large chamber filled with methane gas, pressures of 55,000 atm and temperatures over 2,500 degrees Farenheit allow the methane to shed its hydrogen. The left over carbon then joins the diamond seeds to yield a larger (and more perfect) diamond. Personally, I think our ability to create diamonds of this caliber is just as amazing as the molten rock in the Earth’s mantle.

I asked my fiancée why he chose a natural diamond over synthetic. He explained that there were no jewelry stores boasting about their synthetic diamond engagement rings, or if they were, they were probably trying to confuse their customers by selling diamond simulants, like cubic zirconia and moissanite, instead. The only way to buy synthetic diamonds seems to be online, and the companies that are making them now tend to have long waitlists. Of course, given last week’s announcement of a “diamond planet” in our own galaxy a third, and perhaps most unique, option presents itself: stones from outer space.

Christy Martin is an editorial intern at CHF. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in experimental astroparticle physics at Temple University.

Glowing Gems [Periodic Tabloid]
Astronomers Find Planet Made of Diamond [Wired Science]

Posted In: Technology

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