Diamonds & Sparklers


Diamonds are precious stones.  They consist of a clear, crystalline form of pure carbon, where the carbon atoms are arranged in an extremely rigid variation of the face-centered cubic crystal structure called a diamond lattice.  This makes diamond  the highest hardness (10 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness) and thermal conductivity of any bulk material.

Natural diamonds are typically formed in the Earth’s mantle at depths of between 140 to 190 kilometers (87 to 120 miles) by the extreme pressure (ranging approximately between 45 and 60 kilobars - 4.5 to 6 GigaPascals) and high temperature (ranging between 900 and 1,300 °C - 1,652 to 2,372 °F) exerted on materials containing carbon. It is estimated through the carbon dating methodology that this process occurs over periods from 1 billion to 3.3 billion years.  Volcanic eruptions and other geological processes then bring these crystals to the Earth’s surface, where we then mine them.  There are two main types of diamonds: eclogitic  and detritus.  Eclogitic diamonds are made of carbon from mineral sources, and detritus diamonds are made of carbon from organic sources.  A third type type of diamond called carbonado  is found in South America and Africa and scientists believe that these may have been deposited there via an asteroid.  Diamond converts to graphite at temperatures above 1,700 °C (3,583 °F) in vacuum or oxygen-free atmosphere, or about 700 °C  in air.  Graphite is another form (allotrope) of carbon, which is a black substance consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a flat lattice formation that forms sheets of material, and thus a much weaker structure.

Diamond should be a pure, transparent, colourless material.  However, natural diamonds have inclusions, flaws, and defect planes in the crystal lattice, which give them different colours and defects that can be viewed with a magnifying glass or microscope.  Nitrogen, boron, and hydrogen are the elements that can be introduced into diamond at the time of crystal formation that give diamonds some colour variations.  Nitrogen usually causes the yellowish to brown colour, while boron causes the bluish colour.  Irradiation by alpha particles gives diamond a greenish colour.  Carbonado diamonds have a “black” colour.  In terms of rarity, yellow diamond is followed by brown, colorless, then by blue, green, black, pink, orange, purple, and red, with red diamonds being the rarest.  The rarity of a diamond’s colour is one of the key factors affecting a diamond’s value.  A more elaborate description of diamond colours can be found in this Wikipedia article.  Diamond sizes are measured in a unit called a carat. 

The “four Cs” of a diamond’s value are carat, clarity, colour, and cut.  The cut of a diamond has a key role in the beauty of a diamond.  Diamond has an extremely high refractive index and fairly high dispersion.  The refractive index is a number that is a ratio describing how light (or other radiation) travels through a substance in comparison to the speed of light in a vacuum.  Generally, light slows down as it travels through these materials.  This decrease in speed causes light to be bent (change direction of travel) as it enters and exits the material.  These properties are manipulated by master diamond cutting craftsmen to direct the light to bounce out of the diamond at the correct angle so as to give a diamond its brilliance.

 This is but a small primer on these fascinating stones.  We encourage you to investigate the topic further if you are in the market to buy diamonds for yourself or for a loved one in order to educate yourself on what to look for and what makes one diamond more expensive than another even through they have the same carat weight.  Next time you wear a fine piece of jewelry with a natural diamond, remember that you are wearing something spectacular that took millions of years in the making, and remember to not put your diamond near a high source of heat or to let it fall in a fire.

 Synthetic Diamonds

Synthetic diamonds are those manufactured in laboratories by reproducing similar conditions to those found in nature.  In recent years, it has become possible to create synthetic diamonds of significant size to be gem quality, and in fact sometimes requiring an experienced gemologist to distinguish the difference.  A second method of producing synthetic diamonds is through a technique called chemical vapour deposition.  It involves feeding a mixture of methane and hydrogen, then splitting them into chemically active radicals in a hot ignited plasma.

 Cubic Zirconia

Cubic zirconia is a synthesized material that is a cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2).  It is a hard (8.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness), optically flawless and completely colourless material that is of low cost, high durability, and close visual likeness to diamond that started being produced commercially in 1976 using a technique perfected in the USSR at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow and published in 1973.  Some variations of colours are also produced through the use of oxide dopants added to the manufacturing process.  Cubic zirconia typically fluoresces a yellow, greenish yellow or beige light when subjected to shortwave ultra violet light and has a high melting point (2,750 °C or 4,976 °F).  While diamond is one of the most efficient thermal conductors, cubic zirconia, by contrast is a thermal insulator.  Due to its low cost and similarity to diamonds, zirconia has become a very popular substitute for diamonds.

 Moissanite (silicon carbide)

Moissanite is a material consisting of a crystalline structure similar to that of diamonds and wildly varying colours.  It is found both as a natural material and synthesized and has the chemical formula silicon carbide (SiC).  The natural material is very rare and is found only in meteorites that come to Earth.  It was first discovered by Henri Moissan, whose name was used to name the material.  Moissanite was introduced to the jewelry market in 1998 and has optical properties exceeding that of diamonds, making it a popular alternative also due to its much lower price.  It also has a similar thermal conductivity to diamond.  Moissanite can be differentiated from diamond through the use of an electrical conductivity test, which causes a ray of light applied to the moissanite to be split by polarization into two rays taking slightly different paths (a phenomenon called birefringence).

 Swarovski Crystal

A lot of jewelry is made of or enhanced with Swarovski crystals.  These come in a variety of sizes and colours.  Swarovski crystal is a man-made (synthetic) material is made by the family owned business and continues to be made in the traditional way in their factory in Wattens, Austria.  Although the term “crystal” is used, this is technically incorrect;  the material is a solid mass, lacking any crystalline structure.  Crystal glass is made of lead glass, which typically contains between 18 to 40% weight of lead(II) oxide (PbO) in place of the calcium content of potash based glass.  More recent compositions are lead-free crystal glass, in which barium oxide, zinc oxide, or potassium oxide are employed instead of lead oxide due to the potential health risks that can develop from the lead content.  Glass bottles made of leaded glass (lead crystal) should not be used to store anything for human consumption that is in direct contact with the glass, because lead has been shown to leach into liquids containing alcohol.  It has a high refractive index, giving it a high brilliance, and objects made of the material have a distinctive ring when tapped.  The exact recipe and the proportion of quartzes, sand, and minerals used to make Swarovski crystals (now rebranded as Swarovski Elements) remain a company secret.


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