2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mineralogy

A scattering of round-brilliant cut diamonds shows off the many reflecting facets.
A scattering of round-brilliant cut diamonds shows off the many reflecting facets.

Diamond is the hardest known natural material (third-hardest material below aggregated diamond nanorods and ultrahard fullerite), and is the most expensive of the two best known forms (or allotropes) of carbon, whose hardness and high dispersion of light make it useful for industrial applications and jewelry. (The other equally well known allotrope is graphite.) Diamonds are specifically renowned as a mineral with superlative physical qualities — they make excellent abrasives because they can be scratched only by other diamonds, Borazon, ultrahard fullerite, or aggregated diamond nanorods, which also means they hold a polish extremely well and retain luster. About 130 million carats (26,000 kg) are mined annually, with a total value of nearly USD $9 billion. About 100 tons are synthesized annually.

The name “diamond” derives from the ancient Greek adamas (αδάμας; “invincible”). They have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in India at least 2,500 years ago—and usage in drill bits and engraving tools also dates to early human history. Popularity of diamonds has risen since the 19th century because of increased supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in the world economy, and innovative and successful advertising campaigns. They are commonly judged by the “four Cs”: carat, clarity, colour, and cut. Although synthetic diamonds are produced each year at nearly four times the rate of natural diamonds, the vast majority of synthetic diamonds produced are small imperfect diamonds suitable only for industrial-grade use.

Roughly 49% of diamonds originate from central and southern Africa, although significant sources of the mineral have been discovered in Canada, India, Russia, Brazil, and Australia. They are generally mined from volcanic pipes, which are deep in the Earth where the high pressure and temperature enables the formation of the crystals. The mining and distribution of natural diamonds are subjects of frequent controversy—such as with concerns over the sale of conflict diamonds by African paramilitary groups. There are also allegations that the De Beers Group misuses its dominance in the industry to control supply and manipulate price via monopolistic practices, although in recent years the company's market share has dropped to below 60%.

Material properties

A diamond is a transparent crystal of tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms. Diamonds have been adapted for many uses because of the material's exceptional physical characteristics. Most notable are its extreme hardness of diamond, its high dispersion index, and high thermal conductivity.

Mechanical properties

Crystal structure

The conventional unit cell of the diamond crystal structure.
The conventional unit cell of the diamond crystal structure.

Diamonds typically crystallize in the face-centered cubic crystal system ( space group Fd\bar{3}m) and consist of tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms. The unit cell of diamond has a two atom basis at (0,0,0) and (1/4,1/4,1/4), which means half of the atoms are at lattice points and the other half are offset by (1/4,1/4,1/4), where 1 is the length of a side of the unit cell. Diamond's density is 3.52 g·cm−3.

The tetrahedral arrangement of atoms is the source of many of diamond’s properties. The carbon atoms in Graphite, the other major allotrope of carbon, display a different (nontetrahedral) connectivity and as a result shows dramatically different physical characteristics: graphite is a soft, dark gray, opaque mineral. Other elements of the carbon group such as silicon crystalize like diamond.

Lonsdaleite is a polymorph of diamond (and a distinct mineral species) that crystallizes with hexagonal symmetry. It is rarely found in nature but is characteristic of synthetic diamonds. A cryptocrystalline variety of diamond is called carbonado. A colorless, grey to black diamond with a tiny radial structure is a spherulite.


The atomic connectivtity of the carbon atoms gives the gem its hardness
The atomic connectivtity of the carbon atoms gives the gem its hardness

Diamond is the hardest natural material known, scoring 10 on the relative Mohs scale of mineral hardness and having an absolute hardness value of between 90, 167, and 231 gigapascals in various tests. Diamond's hardness has been known since antiquity, and is the source of its name. However, aggregated diamond nanorods, an allotrope of carbon first synthesized in 2005, are now believed to be even harder than diamond.

The hardest diamonds in the world are from the New England area in New South Wales, Australia. These diamonds are generally small, perfect to semiperfect octahedra, and are used to polish other diamonds. Their hardness is considered to be a product of the crystal growth form, which is single stage growth crystal. Most other diamonds show more evidence of multiple growth stages, which produce inclusions, flaws, and defect planes in the crystal lattice all of which affect their hardness (Taylor et al. 1990).

Industrial use of diamonds has historically been associated with their hardness; this property makes diamond the ideal material for cutting and grinding tools. It is one of the most known and most useful of more than 3,000 known minerals. As the hardest known naturally occurring material, diamond can be used to polish, cut, or wear away any material, including other diamonds. Common industrial adaptations of this ability include diamond-tipped drill bits and saws, or use of diamond powder as an abrasive. Other specialized applications also exist or are being developed, including use as semiconductors: some blue diamonds are natural semiconductors, in contrast to most other diamonds, which are excellent electrical insulators. Industrial-grade diamonds are either unsuitable for use as gems or synthetically produced, which lowers their price and makes their use economically feasible. Industrial applications, especially as drill bits and engraving tools, also date to ancient times.

The hardness of diamonds also contributes to its suitability as a gemstone. Because it can only be scratched by other diamonds, it maintains its polish extremely well, keeping its luster over long periods of time. Unlike many other gems, it is well-suited to daily wear because of its resistance to scratching—perhaps contributing to its popularity as the preferred gem in an engagement ring or wedding ring, which are often worn every day.


The toughness of natural diamond has been measured as 3.4 MPa\sqrt{m} , which is good compared to other gemstones, but poor compared to most engineering materials. Toughness relates to a material's ability to resist breakage from forceful impact. As with any material, the macroscopic geometry of a diamond contributes to its resistance to breakage. Diamond is therefore more fragile in some orientations than others.


Diamonds can occur in nearly any colour, though yellow and brown are by far the most common. "Black" diamonds are not truly black, but rather contain numerous dark inclusions that give the gems their dark appearance. Diamonds with a detectable hue other than yellow or brown are known as colored diamonds. If the colour is strong enough, a stone may be referred to as a fancy colored diamond by the trade. Colored diamonds contain impurities or structural defects that cause the coloration, while pure or nearly pure diamonds are transparent and colorless. Most diamond impurities replace a carbon atom in the crystal lattice. The most common impurity, nitrogen, causes a slight to intense yellow coloration depending upon the type and concentration of nitrogen present. The colour scale for colorless diamonds goes from 'D' (colorless) to 'Z' (dark yellow).

Thermodynamic stability

Like other forms of carbon such as coal, diamonds will burn at approximately 800 degrees Celsius, providing that enough oxygen is available. The combustibility of diamond was shown in the late 18th century and previously described during Roman times. The diamond phase of carbon is metastable with respect to the graphitic phase under normal conditions; that is, graphite is thermodynamically favored over diamond ( ΔG = −2.99 kJ / mol). However, the rate of conversion from diamond to graphite is extremely slow due to the presence of a large kinetic barrier to this rearrangement. At room temperature, it would take an extremely long time (possibly more than the age of the Universe) for an appreciable amount of diamond to decay into graphite.

Electromagnetic properties

Diamonds exhibit high dispersion of visible light.
Diamonds exhibit high dispersion of visible light.

Optical properties

Diamonds exhibit a high dispersion of visible light. This strong ability to split white light into its component colors is an important aspect of diamond's attraction as a gemstone, giving it impressive prismatic action that results in so-called fire in a well-cut stone. The luster of a diamond, its adamantine brilliance, is a consequence of refractive index of 2.417 (at 589.3 nm), which allows total internal reflection to occur easily.

Some diamonds exhibit fluorescence of various colors (predominantly blue) under long wave ultraviolet radiation. Most diamonds show no fluorescence although colored diamonds show a wider range of fluorescence than the blue fluorescence normally observed in clear diamonds. Nearly all diamonds fluoresce bluish-white, yellow, or green under shorter X-ray radiation. X-ray screening is used extensively in mining to separate the diamond-bearing from the non-fluorescing waste rock.

Thermal properties

Unlike most electrical insulators, diamond is a good conductor of heat because of the strong covalent bonding within the crystal. Most natural blue diamonds contain boron atoms which replace carbon atoms in the crystal matrix, and also have high thermal conductivity. Specially purified synthetic diamond has the highest thermal conductivity (2000–2500 W/(m·K), five times more than copper) of any known solid at room temperature. Because diamond has such high thermal conductance it is already used in semiconductor manufacture to prevent silicon and other semiconducting materials from overheating. The band gap of diamond is 5.4 - 6.4 eV.

Natural history


Diamonds are formed by prolonged exposure of carbon bearing materials to high pressure and temperature. On Earth, the formation of diamonds is possible because there are regions deep within the Earth that are at a high enough pressure and temperature that the formation of diamonds is thermodynamically favorable. Under continental crust, diamonds form starting at depths of about 150 kilometers (90 miles), where pressure is roughly 5 gigapascals and the temperature is around 1200 degrees Celsius (2200 degrees Fahrenheit). Diamond formation under oceanic crust takes place at greater depths because of higher temperatures, which require higher pressure for diamond formation. Long periods of exposure to these high pressures and temperatures allow diamond crystals to grow larger.

The slightly misshapen octahedral shape of this rough diamond crystal in matrix is typical of the mineral. Its lustrous faces also indicate that this crystal is from a primary deposit.
The slightly misshapen octahedral shape of this rough diamond crystal in matrix is typical of the mineral. Its lustrous faces also indicate that this crystal is from a primary deposit.

Through studies of carbon isotope ratios (similar to the methodology used in carbon dating, except with the stable isotopes C-12 and C-13), it has been shown that the carbon found in diamonds comes from both inorganic and organic sources. Some diamonds, known as harzburgitic, are formed from inorganic carbon originally found deep in the Earth's mantle. In contrast, eclogitic diamonds contain organic carbon from organic detritus that has been pushed down from the surface of the Earth's crust through subduction (see plate tectonics) before transforming into diamond. These two different source carbons have measurably different 13C:12C ratios. Diamonds that have come to the Earth's surface are generally very old, ranging from under 1 billion to 3.3 billion years old.

Diamonds occur most often as euhedral or rounded octahedra and twinned octahedra known as macles or maccles. As diamond's crystal structure has a cubic arrangement of the atoms, they have many facets that belong to a cube, octahedron, rhombicosidodecahedron, tetrakis hexahedron or disdyakis dodecahedron. The crystals can have rounded off and unexpressive edges and can be elongated. Sometimes they are found grown together or form double "twinned" crystals grown together at the surfaces of the octahedron. This is all due to the conditions in which they form. Diamonds (especially those with rounded crystal faces) are commonly found coated in nyf, an opaque gum-like skin.

Diamonds can also form in other natural high-pressure, high-temperature events. Very small diamonds, known as microdiamonds or nanodiamonds, have been found in impact craters where meteors strike the Earth and create shock zones of high pressure and temperature where diamond formation can occur. Microdiamonds are now used as one indicator of ancient meteorite impact sites.


Schematic diagram of a volcanic pipe
Schematic diagram of a volcanic pipe

Diamond-bearing rock is brought close to the surface through deep-origin volcanic eruptions. The magma for such a volcano must originate at a depth where diamonds can be formed, 90 miles (150 km) deep or more (three times or more the depth of source magma for most volcanoes); this is a relatively rare occurrence. These typically small surface volcanic craters extend downward into formations known as volcanic pipes. The pipes contain material that was transported toward the surface by volcanic action, but was not ejected before the volcanic activity ceased. During eruption these pipes are open to the surface, resulting in open circulation; many xenoliths of surface rock and even wood and/or fossils are found in volcanic pipes. Diamond-bearing volcanic pipes are closely related to the oldest, coolest regions of continental crust (cratons). This is because cratons are very thick, and their lithospheric mantle extends to great enough depth that diamonds are stable. Not all pipes contain diamonds, and even fewer contain enough diamonds to make mining economically viable.

The magma in volcanic pipes is usually one of two characteristic types, which cool into igneous rock known as either kimberlite or lamproite. The magma itself does not contain diamond; instead, it acts as an elevator that carries deep-formed rocks (xenoliths), minerals ( xenocrysts), and fluids upward. These rocks are characteristically rich in magnesium-bearing olivine, pyroxene, and amphibole minerals which are often altered to serpentine by heat and fluids during and after eruption. Certain indicator minerals typically occur within diamondiferous kimberlites and are used as mineralogic tracers by prospectors, who follow the indicator trail back to the volcanic pipe which may contain diamonds. These minerals are rich in chromium (Cr) or titanium (Ti), elements which impart bright colors to the minerals. The most common indicator minerals are chromian garnets (usually bright red Cr- pyrope, and occasionally green ugrandite-series garnets), eclogitic garnets, orange Ti-pyrope, red high-Cr spinels, dark chromite, bright green Cr- diopside, glassy green olivine, black picroilmenite, and magnetite. Kimberlite deposits are known as blue ground for the deeper serpentinized part of the deposits, or as yellow ground for the near surface smectite clay and carbonate weathered and oxidized portion.

Once diamonds have been transported to the surface by magma in a volcanic pipe, they may erode out and be distributed over a large area. A volcanic pipe containing diamonds is known as a primary source of diamonds. Secondary sources of diamonds include all areas where a significant number of diamonds, eroded out of their kimberlite or lamproite matrix, accumulate because of water or wind action. These include alluvial deposits and deposits along existing and ancient shorelines, where loose diamonds tend to accumulate because of their approximate size and density. Diamonds have also rarely been found in deposits left behind by glaciers (notably in Wisconsin and Indiana); however, in contrast to alluvial deposits, glacial deposits are not known to be of significant concentration and are therefore not viable commercial sources of diamond.

Diamonds can also be brought to the surface through certain processes which may occur when two continental plates collide and deeply formed rock is thrust to the surface, although this phenomenon is less understood and currently assumed to be uncommon.

Gemological characteristics

The use of diamonds as gemstones of decorative value is the most familiar use to most people today, and is also the earliest use, with decorative use of diamonds stretching back into antiquity. The dispersion of white light into a rainbow of colors, known in the trade as fire, is the other primary characteristic of gem diamonds, and has been highly prized throughout history. Over time, especially since around 1900, experts in the field of gemology have developed methods of characterizing diamonds and other gemstones based on the characteristics most important to their value as a gem. Four characteristics, known informally as the four Cs, are now commonly used as the basic descriptors of diamonds: these are carat, clarity, colour, and cut.

Most gem diamonds are traded on the wholesale market based on single values for each of the four Cs; for example knowing that a diamond is rated as 1.5 carats, VS2 clarity, F colour, excellent cut, is enough to reasonably establish an expected price range. More detailed information from within each characteristic can then be used to determine actual market value for individual stones. Consumers who purchase individual diamonds are often advised to use the four Cs to pick the diamond that is "right" for them; to these is sometimes added the "fifth C" of credentials.

Other characteristics not described by the four Cs can and do influence the value or appearance of a gem diamond. These characteristics include physical characteristics such as the presence of fluorescence, as well as data on a diamond's history including its source and which gemological institute performed evaluation services on the diamond. Cleanliness also dramatically affects a diamond's beauty.

There are three major non profit gemological associations which "certify" diamonds: that is, define the four Cs of a diamond. While carat weight and cut angles are mathematically defined, the clarity and colour are judged by the trained human eye and are therefore open to slight variance in interpretation.

  • Gemological Institute of America (GIA) was one the first laboratory to issue modern diamond reports, and is held in high regard amongst gemologists for its consistent, conservative grading.
  • Diamond High Council (HRD) Official certification laboratory of the Belgian diamond industry. ISO9002 certified. Very popular in Europe where it is recognized as a legal document.
  • American Gemological Society (AGS) is not as widely recognized nor as old as the GIA, but garners a high reputation. Uses non standard naming of colour,clarity and cut i.e. numbers rather than letters.


The carat weight measures the mass of a diamond. One carat is defined as a fifth of a gram, or exactly 200 milligrams (about 0.007 ounce). The point unit—equal to one one-hundredth of a carat (0.01 carat, or 2 mg)—is commonly used for diamonds of less than one carat. All else being equal, the value of a diamond increases exponentially in relation to carat weight, since larger diamonds are both rarer and more desirable for use as gemstones. A review of comparable diamonds available for purchase in September 2005 demonstrates this effect (approximate prices for round cut, G colour, VS2 diamonds with "1A" cut grade, as listed on http://www.pricescope.com):

Carat size Cost per carat (US$) Total cost (US$)
0.5 carat (50 points) 3,000 1,500
1.0 carat 6,500 6,500
1.5 carats 8,500 12,750
2.0 carats 13,000 26,000
3.0 carats 17,000 51,000
5.0 carats 23,000 115,000

The price per carat does not increase smoothly with increasing size. Instead, there are sharp jumps around milestone carat weights, as demand is much higher for diamonds weighing just more than a milestone than for those weighing just less. As an example, a 0.95 carat diamond may have a significantly lower price per carat than a comparable 1.05 carat diamond, because of differences in demand.

A weekly diamond price list, the Rapaport Diamond Report , is published by Martin Rapaport, CEO of Rapaport Group of New York, for different diamond cuts, clarity and weights. It is currently considered the de-facto retail price baseline. Jewelers often trade diamonds at negotiated discounts off the Rapaport price (e.g., "R -3%").

In the wholesale trade of gem diamonds, carat is often used in denominating lots of diamonds for sale. For example, a buyer may place an order for 100 carats of 0.5 carat, D–F, VS2-SI1, excellent cut diamonds, indicating he wishes to purchase 200 diamonds (100 carats total mass) of those approximate characteristics. Because of this, diamond prices (particularly among wholesalers and other industry professionals) are often quoted per carat, rather than per stone.

Total carat weight (t.c.w.) is a phrase used to describe the total mass of diamonds or other gemstone in a piece of jewelry, when more than one gemstone is used. Diamond solitaire earrings, for example, are usually quoted in t.c.w. when placed for sale, indicating the mass of the diamonds in both earrings and not each individual diamond. T.c.w. is also widely used for diamond necklaces, bracelets and other similar jewelry pieces.


Clarity is a measure of internal defects of a diamond called inclusions. Inclusions may be crystals of a foreign material or another diamond crystal, or structural imperfections such as tiny cracks that can appear whitish or cloudy. The number, size, colour, relative location, orientation, and visibility of inclusions can all affect the relative clarity of a diamond. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and others have developed systems to grade clarity, which are generally based on those inclusions which are visible to a trained professional when a diamond is viewed from above, under 10x magnification.

Diamonds become increasingly rare when considering higher clarity gradings. Only about 20 percent of all diamonds mined have a clarity rating high enough for the diamond to be considered appropriate for use as a gemstone; the other 80 percent are relegated to industrial use. Of that top 20 percent, a significant portion contains a visible inclusion or inclusions. Those that do not have a visible inclusion are known as "eye-clean" and are preferred by most buyers, although visible inclusions can sometimes be hidden under the setting in a piece of jewelry.

Most inclusions present in gem-quality diamonds do not affect the diamonds' performance or structural integrity. However, large clouds can affect a diamond's ability to transmit and scatter light. Large cracks close to or breaking the surface may reduce a diamond's resistance to fracture.

Diamonds are graded by the major societies on a scale ranging from flawless to imperfect.


Jewelers sometimes set diamonds in groups of similar colors.
Jewelers sometimes set diamonds in groups of similar colors.
The Hope Diamond. Its deep blue coloration is caused by trace amounts of boron in the diamond.
The Hope Diamond. Its deep blue coloration is caused by trace amounts of boron in the diamond.

A chemically pure and structurally perfect diamond is perfectly transparent with no hue, or colour. However, in reality almost no gem-sized natural diamonds are absolutely perfect. The colour of a diamond may be affected by chemical impurities and/or structural defects in the crystal lattice. Depending on the hue and intensity of a diamond's coloration, a diamond's colour can either detract from or enhance its value. For example, most white diamonds are discounted in price as more yellow hue is detectable, while intense pink or blue diamonds (such as the Hope Diamond) can be dramatically more valuable.

Most diamonds used as gemstones are basically transparent with little tint, or white diamonds. The most common impurity, nitrogen, replaces a small proportion of carbon atoms in a diamond's structure and causes a yellowish to brownish tint. This effect is present in almost all white diamonds; in only the rarest diamonds is the coloration due to this effect undetectable. The GIA has developed a rating system for color in white diamonds, from "D" to "Z" (with D being "colorless" and Z having a bright yellow coloration), which has been widely adopted in the industry and is universally recognized, superseding several older systems once used in different countries. The system uses a benchmark set of either natural diamonds of known colour grade, or precision-crafted cubic zirconia; test lighting conditions are also standardized and carefully controlled. Diamonds with higher color grades are rarer, in higher demand, and therefore more expensive, than lower color grades. Oddly enough, diamonds graded Z are also rare, and the bright yellow colour is also highly valued. Diamonds graded D-F are considered "colorless", G-J are considered "near-colorless", K-M are "slightly colored". N-Y usually appear light yellow or brown.

In contrast to yellow or brown hues, diamonds of other colors are much rarer and more valuable. While even a pale pink or blue hue may increase the value of a diamond, more intense coloration is usually considered more desirable and commands the highest prices. A variety of impurities and structural imperfections cause different colors in diamonds, including yellow, pink, blue, red, green, brown, and other hues. Diamonds with unusual or intense coloration are sometimes labeled "fancy" by the diamond industry. Intense yellow coloration is considered one of the fancy colors, and is separate from the colour grades of white diamonds. Gemologists have developed rating systems for fancy colored diamonds, but they are not in common use because of the relative rarity of colored diamonds.


Diamond cutting is the art and science of creating a gem-quality diamond out of mined rough. The cut of a diamond describes the manner in which a diamond has been shaped and polished from its beginning form as a rough stone to its final gem proportions. The cut of a diamond describes the quality of workmanship and the angles to which a diamond is cut. Often diamond cut is confused with "shape."

There are mathematical guidelines for the angles and length ratios at which the diamond is supposed to be cut in order to reflect the maximum amount of light. Round brilliant diamonds, the most common, are guided by these specific guidelines, though fancy cut stones are not able to be as accurately guided by mathematical specifics.

The techniques for cutting diamonds have been developed over hundreds of years, with perhaps the greatest achievements made in 1919 by mathematician and gem enthusiast Marcel Tolkowsky. He developed the round brilliant cut by calculating the ideal shape to return and scatter light when a diamond is viewed from above. The modern round brilliant has 57 facets (polished faces), counting 33 on the crown (the top half), and 24 on the pavilion (the lower half). The girdle is the thin middle part. The function of the crown is to diffuse light into various colours and the pavilion's function to reflect light back through the top of the diamond.

Tolkowsky defines the ideal dimensions to have:

  • Table percentage (table diameter divided by overall diameter) = 53%
  • Depth percentage (Overall depth divided by the overall diameter) = 59.3%
  • Pavilion Angle (Angle between the girdle and the pavilion) = 40.75°
  • Crown Angle (Angle between the girdle and the crown) = 34.5°
  • Pavilion Depth (Depth of pavilion divided by overall diameter) = 43.1%
  • Crown Depth (Depth of crown divided by crown diameter) = 16.2%

The culet is the tiny point or facet at the bottom of the diamond. This should be a negligible diameter, otherwise light leaks out of the bottom. Tolkowsky's ideal dimensions did not include a girdle. However, a thin girdle is required in reality in order to prevent the diamond from easily chipping in the setting. A normal girdle should be about 1%–2% of the overall diameter.

The further the diamond's characteristics are from Tolkowsky's ideal, the less light will be reflected. However, there is a small range in which the diamond can be considered "ideal." Today, because of the relative importance of carat weight in society, many diamonds are often intentionally cut poorly to increase carat weight. There is a financial premium for a diamond that weighs the magical 1.0 carat, so often the girdle is made thicker or the depth is increased. Neither of these tactics make the diamond appear any bigger, and they greatly reduce the sparkle of the diamond. So a poorly cut 1.0 carat diamond may have the same diameter and appear as large as a 0.85 carat diamond. The depth percentage is the overall quickest indication of the quality of the cut of a round brilliant. "Ideal" round brilliant diamonds should not have a depth percentage greater than 62.5%. Another quick indication is the overall diameter. Typically a round brilliant 1.0 carat diamond should have a diameter of about 6.5 mm. Mathematically, the diameter in millimeters of a round brilliant should approximately equal 6.5 times the cube root of carat weight, or 11.1 times the cube root of gram weight, or 1.4 times the cube root of point weight.


Diamonds do not show all of their beauty as rough stones; instead, they must be cut and polished to exhibit the characteristic fire and brilliance that diamond gemstones are known for. Diamonds are cut into a variety of shapes that are generally designed to accentuate these features.

Diamonds which are not cut to the specifications of Tolkowsky's round brilliant shape (or subsequent variations) are known as "fancy cuts." Popular fancy cuts include the baguette (from the French, meaning rod or loaf of bread), marquise, princess (square outline), heart, briolette (a form of the rose cut), and pear cuts. Newer cuts that have been introduced into the jewelry industry are the "cushion" "radiant"(similar to princess cuts, but with rounded edges instead of square edges) and "ascher" cuts. Many fancy colored diamonds are now being cut according to these new styles. Generally speaking, these "fancy cuts" are not held to the same strict standards as Tolkowsky-derived round brilliants and there are less specific mathematical guidelines of angles which determine a well-cut stone. Cuts are influenced heavily by fashion: the baguette cut—which accentuates a diamond's luster and downplays its fire—was all the rage during the Art Deco period, whereas the princess cut—which accentuates a diamond's fire rather than its luster—is currently gaining popularity. The princess cut is also popular amongst diamond cutters: of all the cuts, it wastes the least of the original crystal. The past decades have seen the development of new diamond cuts, often based on a modification of an existing cut. Some of these include extra facets. These newly developed cuts are viewed by many as more of an attempt at brand differentiation by diamond sellers, than actual improvements to the state of the art.


The quality of a diamond's cut is widely considered the most important of the four Cs in determining the beauty of a diamond; indeed, it is commonly acknowledged that a well-cut diamond can appear to be of greater carat weight, and have clarity and colour appear to be of better grade than they actually are. The skill with which a diamond is cut determines its ability to reflect and refract light.

In addition to carrying the most importance to a diamond's quality as a gemstone, the cut is also the most difficult to quantitatively judge. A number of factors, including proportion, symmetry, and the relative angles of various facets, are determined by the quality of the cut and can affect the performance of a diamond. A poorly cut diamond with facets cut only a few degrees out of alignment can result in a poorly performing stone. For a round brilliant cut, there is a balance between "brilliance" and "fire." When a diamond is cut for too much "fire," it looks like a cubic zirconia, which gives off much more "fire" than real diamond. A well-executed round brilliant cut should reflect light upwards and make the diamond appear white when viewed from the top. An inferior cut will produce a stone that appears dark at the centre and in some extreme cases the ring settings may show through the top of the diamond as shadows.

Several different theories on the "ideal" proportions of a diamond have been and continue to be advocated by professional gemologists. Recently, there has been a shift away from grading cut by the use of various angles and proportions toward measuring the performance of a cut stone. A number of specially modified viewers and machines have been developed toward this end. They included the FireScope, a.k.a. SymmetriScope or IdealScope (tests for light leakage, light return and proportions), Hearts and Arrows Viewer (test for " hearts and arrows" characteristic pattern observable on stones exhibiting high symmetry), GemEx BrillianceScope (tests for direct light performance results of a diamond), Isee2 Beauty Evaluator (tests for diffused light performance results for round or octagonal diamonds), and ASET (test for AGS cut grade). These viewers and machines often help consumers determine the light performance results of the diamond in addition to the traditional 4 C's. Along with this shift there are a few companies that provide results on these viewers and machines in addition to the original 4c's. The GIA has also developed criteria for grading the cut of round brilliant stones.

The cutting process

An uncut diamond does not show its prized optical properties.
An uncut diamond does not show its prized optical properties.

The process of shaping a rough diamond into a polished gemstone is both an art and a science. The choice of cut is often decided by the original shape of the rough stone, location of the inclusions and flaws to be eliminated, the preservation of the weight, popularity of certain shapes amongst consumers and many other considerations. The round brilliant cut is preferred when the crystal is an octahedron, as often two stones may be cut from one such crystal. Oddly shaped crystals such as macles are more likely to be cut in a fancy cut—that is, a cut other than the round brilliant—which the particular crystal shape lends itself to.

Even with modern techniques, the cutting and polishing of a diamond crystal always results in a dramatic loss of weight; rarely is it less than 50%. Sometimes the cutters compromise and accept lesser proportions and symmetry in order to avoid inclusions or to preserve the carat rating. Since the per carat price of diamond shifts around key milestones (such as 1.00 carat), many one-carat diamonds are the result of compromising "Cut" for "Carat." Some jewelry experts advise consumers to buy a 0.99 carat diamond for its better price or buy a 1.10 carat diamond for its better cut, avoiding a 1.00 carat diamond which is more likely to be a poorly cut stone.

Light Performance

Light performance deals with how much light, what kind of light and the origin of light being emitted or reflected by a diamond when subject to a light source.

Performance has often been associated with cars, stereos, boats, watches, and computers, but rarely been it ever been used to describe a diamond. The degree a diamond is able to radiate light determines its beauty, desirability, and value. Thus it is important that its light performance be quantified and compared with other diamonds. Where proportions are used to forecast results light performance goes after the bottom line, the actual light output from a diamond. For the end users the information on the light performance of a diamond has the greatest relevance because they will know how much light they are getting for their money. This is analogous to knowing what the wattage of a light bulb is before one makes a purchase. Knowing how a product performs relative to others in the market is critical for consumers whether they are purchasing a cell phone, CD player or a truck.


Although it is not one of the four Cs, cleanliness affects a diamond's beauty as much as any of the four Cs. A clean diamond is more brilliant and fiery than the same diamond when it is "dirty." Dirt or grease on the top of a diamond reduces its luster. Water, dirt, or grease on the bottom of a diamond interferes with the diamond's brilliance and fire. Even a thin film absorbs some light that could have been reflected to the person looking at the diamond. Colored dye or smudges can affect the perceived color of a diamond. Historically, some jewelers' stones were misgraded because of smudges on the girdle, or dye on the culet. Current practice is to thoroughly clean a diamond before grading its colour.

Maintaining a clean diamond can sometimes be difficult, as jewelry settings can obstruct cleaning efforts, and oils, grease, and other hydrophobic materials adhere well to a diamond's surface. Some jewelers provide their customers with ammonia-based cleaning kits; ultrasonic cleaners are also popular.

Cleanliness does not affect the diamond's market value, as any competent jeweler will clean the diamond before offering it for sale. However, cleanliness might reflect a diamond's sentimental value: some jewelers have noted a correlation between ring cleanliness and marriage quality .


Diamonds are thought to have been first recognized and mined in India, where significant alluvial deposits of the stone could then be found. The earliest written reference can be found in the Buddhist text, the Anguttara Nikaya another sanskrit text, the Arthashastra, which was completed around 296 BCE and describes diamond's hardness, luster, and dispersion. Diamonds quickly became associated with divinity, being used to decorate religious icons, and were believed to bring good fortune to those who carried them. Ownership was restricted among various castes by colour, with only kings being allowed to own all colors of diamond.

In February 2005, a joint Chinese-U.S. team of archaeologists reported the discovery of four corundum-rich stone ceremonial burial axes originating from China's Liangzhu and Sanxingcun cultures (4000 BCE–2500 BCE) which, because of the axes' specular surfaces, the scientists believe were polished using diamond powder . Although there are diamond deposits now known to exist close to the burial sites, no direct evidence of coeval diamond mining has been found: the researchers came to this conclusion by polishing corundum using various lapidary abrasives and modern techniques then comparing the results using an atomic force microscope. At that scale, the surface of the modern diamond-polished corundum closely resembled that of the axes; however, the polishes of the latter were superior.

Diamonds were traded to both the east and west of India and were recognized by various cultures for their gemological or industrial uses. In his work Naturalis Historia, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder noted diamond's ornamental uses, as well as its usefulness to engravers because of its hardness. In China, diamonds seem to have been used primarily as diamond tools for engraving jade and drilling holes in beads. Archaeological evidence from Yemen suggests that diamonds were used as drill tips as early as the 4th century BCE. In Europe, however, diamonds disappeared for almost 1,000 years following the rise of Christianity because of two effects: early Christians rejected diamonds because of their earlier use in amulets, and Arabic traders restricted the flow of trade between Europe and India.

Diagram of old diamond cuts showing the evolution from the most primitive (point cut) to the most advanced pre-Tolkowsky cut (old European).
Diagram of old diamond cuts showing the evolution from the most primitive (point cut) to the most advanced pre- Tolkowsky cut (old European).

Until the late Middle Ages, diamonds were most prized in their natural octahedral state, perhaps with the crystal surfaces polished to increase luster and remove foreign material. Around 1300, the flow of diamonds into Europe increased via Venice's trade network, with most flowing through the low country ports of Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. During this time, the taboo against cutting diamonds into gem shapes, which was established over 1,000 years earlier in the traditions of India, ended allowing the development of diamond cutting technology to begin in earnest. By 1375, a guild of diamond polishers had been established at Nuremberg. Over the following centuries, various diamond cuts were introduced which increasingly demonstrated the fire and brilliance that makes diamonds treasured today: the table cut, the briolette (around 1476), the rose cut (mid-16th century), and by the mid-17th century, the Mazarin, the first brilliant cut diamond design. In 1919, Marcel Tolkowsky developed an ideal round brilliant cut design that has set the standard for comparison of modern gems; however, diamond cuts have continued to be refined.

The rise in popularity of diamonds as gems seems to have paralleled increasing availability through European history. In the 13th century, King Louis IX of France established a law that only the king could own diamonds. However, within a century diamonds were popular gems among the moneyed aristocratic and merchant classes, and by at latest 1477 had begun to be used in wedding rings. Popularity continued to rise as new cuts were developed that enhanced the diamond's aesthetic appeal, and has largely continued unabated to this day; diamonds have proven popular with all classes in society as their cost has become within reach. A number of large diamonds have become historically significant objects, as their inclusion in various sets of crown jewels and the purchase, sale, and sometimes theft of notable diamonds, have sometimes become politicized.

Record-holding Diamonds

The Cullinan Diamond, part of the British crown jewels, was the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found (1905), at 3,106.75 carats. One of the diamonds cut from it, Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, was formerly the largest gem-quality cut diamond at 530.2 carats, but now that title has been taken by the Golden Jubilee (1985), a 545.67 carat, yellow-brown diamond. The largest flawless and colorless (grade D) diamond is the Centenary Diamond which weighs 273.85 carats. The Millennium Star is the second largest (1990) at 203.04 carats.

The diamond industry

A round brilliant cut diamond set in a ring.
A round brilliant cut diamond set in a ring.

The diamond industry can be broadly separated into two basically distinct categories: one dealing with gem-grade diamonds and another for industrial-grade diamonds. While a large trade in both types of diamonds exists, the two markets act in dramatically different ways.

Gem diamond industry

A large trade in gem-grade diamonds exists. Unlike precious metals such as gold or platinum, gem diamonds do not trade as a commodity: there is a substantial mark-up in the sale of diamonds, and there is not a very active market for resale of diamonds. One hallmark of the trade in gem-quality diamonds is its remarkable concentration: wholesale trade and diamond cutting is limited to a few locations (most importantly New York, Antwerp, London, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam and Surat), and a single company— De Beers—controls a significant proportion of the trade in diamonds. They are based in Johannesburg, South Africa and London, England.

The production and distribution of diamonds is largely consolidated in the hands of a few key players, and concentrated in traditional diamond trading centers (the most important being Antwerp). The De Beers company, as the world's largest diamond miner holds a clearly dominant position in the industry, and has done so since soon after its founding in 1888 by the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. De Beers owns or controls a significant portion of the world's rough diamond production facilities (mines) and distribution channels for gem-quality diamonds. The company and its subsidiaries own mines that produce some 40 percent of annual world diamond production. At one time it was thought over 80 percent of the world's rough diamonds passed through the Diamond Trading Company (DTC, a subsidiary of De Beers) in London, but presently the figure is estimated at less than 50 percent. De Beers used its monopoly position to establish strict price controls, and market diamonds directly to consumers in world markets.

The De Beers diamond advertising campaign is acknowledged as one of the most successful and innovative ones in history. N.W. Ayer & Son, the advertising firm retained by De Beers in the mid-20th century, succeeded in reviving the American diamond market and opened up new markets, even in countries where no diamond tradition had existed before. N.W. Ayer's multifaceted marketing campaign included product placement, advertising the diamond itself rather than the De Beers brand, and building associations with celebrities and royalty. This coordinated campaign has lasted decades and continues today; it is perhaps best captured by the now-familiar slogan "a diamond is forever". The De Beers account is now handled by the firm JWT, formerly known as J. Walter Thompson.

Further down the supply chain, members of The World Federation on Diamond Bourses (WFDB) act as a medium for wholesale diamond exchange, trading both polished and rough diamonds. The WFDB consists of independent diamond bourses in major cutting centres such as Israel, Antwerp, Johannesburg and other cities across the USA, Europe and Asia.

In 2000, the WFDB and The International Diamond Manufacturers Association established the World Diamond Council to prevent the trading of diamonds used to fund war and inhumane acts.

WFDB's additional activities also include sponsoring the World Diamond Congress every two years, as well as the establishment of the International Diamond Council (IDC) to oversee diamond grading. However, due to the dominance of such labs as The Gemmological Institute of America (GIA), compliance with IDC rules is mostly confined to smaller laboratories.

Industrial diamond industry

The market for industrial-grade diamonds operates much differently from its gem-grade counterpart. Industrial diamonds are valued mostly for their hardness and heat conductivity, making many of the gemological characteristics of diamond, including clarity and colour, mostly irrelevant. This helps explain why 80% of mined diamonds (equal to about 100 million carats or 20,000 kg annually), unsuitable for use as gemstones and known as bort, are destined for industrial use. In addition to mined diamonds, synthetic diamonds found industrial applications almost immediately after their invention in the 1950s; another 400 million carats (80,000 kg) of synthetic diamonds are produced annually for industrial use—nearly four times the mass of natural diamonds mined over the same period.

The dominant industrial use of diamond is in cutting, drilling, grinding, and polishing. Most uses of diamonds in these technologies do not require large diamonds; in fact, most diamonds that are gem-quality except for their small size, can find an industrial use. Diamonds are embedded in drill tips or saw blades, or ground into a powder for use in grinding and polishing applications. Specialized applications include use in laboratories as containment for high pressure experiments (see diamond anvil), high-performance bearings, and limited use in specialized windows.

With the continuing advances being made in the production of synthetic diamond, future applications are beginning to become feasible. Garnering much excitement is the possible use of diamond as a semiconductor suitable to build microchips from, or the use of diamond as a heat sink in electronics. Significant research efforts in Japan, Europe, and the United States are under way to capitalize on the potential offered by diamond's unique material properties, combined with increased quality and quantity of supply starting to become available from synthetic diamond manufacturers.

Diamond supply chain

The diamond supply chain is controlled by a limited number of powerful businesses, and is also highly concentrated in a small number of locations around the world. In fact, the amount of power which De Beers has consolidated historically prevented it from direct trade with the United States, as its trade practices led to an indictment for violating antitrust regulations (the case was settled in 2004). The concentration of power only loosens at the retail level, where diamonds are sold by a limited number of distributors, known as sightholders, to jewelers around the world.

Alluvial mining by traditional methods continues, as seen here in Sierra Leone.
Alluvial mining by traditional methods continues, as seen here in Sierra Leone.


Only a very small fraction of the diamond ore consists of actual diamonds. The ore is crushed, during which care has to be taken in order to prevent larger diamonds from being destroyed in this process and subsequently the particles are sorted by density. Nowadays, the diamonds are located in the diamond-rich density fraction with the help of X-ray fluorescence, after which the final sorting steps are done by hand. Before the use of X-rays became commonplace, the separation was done with grease belts; diamonds have a stronger tendency to stick to grease than the other minerals in the ore.


The Diamond Trading Company, or DTC, is a subsidiary of De Beers and markets rough diamonds produced both by De Beers mines and other mines from which it purchases rough diamond production. DTC performs sophisticated sorting of rough diamonds into over 16,000 categories, and then sells bulk lots of rough diamonds to a limited number of sightholders a few times a year.

Once purchased by sightholders, diamonds are cut and polished in preparation for sale as gemstones. The cutting and polishing of rough diamonds is a specialized skill that is concentrated in a limited number of locations worldwide. Traditional diamond cutting centers are Antwerp, Amsterdam, Johannesburg, New York, and Tel Aviv. Recently, diamond cutting centers have been established in China, India, and Thailand. Cutting centers with lower costs of labor, notably Surat in Gujarat, India, handle a larger number of smaller carat diamonds, while smaller quantities of larger or more valuable diamonds are more likely to be handled in Europe or North America. Demonstrating this, India produces 90% of all cut and polished diamonds by number, but only 55% by value. The recent expansion of this industry in India, employing low cost labor, has allowed smaller diamonds to be prepared as gems than was previously economically feasible.

Diamonds which have been prepared as gemstones are sold on diamond exchanges called bourses. There are 24 registered diamond bourses. This is the final tightly controlled step in the diamond supply chain; wholesalers and even retailers are able to buy relatively small lots of diamonds at the bourses, after which they are prepared for final sale to the consumer. Diamonds can be sold already set in jewelry, or as is increasingly popular, sold unset ("loose"). According to the Rio Tinto Group, in 2002 the diamonds produced and released to the market were valued at US$9 billion as rough diamonds, US$14 billion after being cut and polished, US$28 billion in wholesale diamond jewelry, and retail sales of US$57 billion.

Synthetics, Simulants, and enhancements

It is important to distinguish that a synthetic diamond is a true diamond created by a technological process, whereas a diamond simulant is defined as a non-diamond material that is used to simulate the appearance of a true diamond.

The gemological and industrial uses of diamond have created a large demand for raw stones. A portion of this demand is now being met by synthetic diamonds, artificially-made diamonds which have similar properties to natural diamonds. This process has historically produced industrial-grade diamonds, but synthetic diamond producers have recently begun to produce diamonds with high enough quality to penetrate the gem diamond market. Diamonds have been manufactured synthetically for over fifty years.

A diamond's gem quality, which is not as dependent on material properties as industrial applications, has invited both imitation and the invention of procedures to enhance the gemological properties of natural diamonds. Materials which have similar gemological characteristics to diamond but are not mined or synthetic diamond are known as diamond simulants. The most familiar diamond simulant to most consumers is cubic zirconia (commonly abbreviated as CZ); recently moissanite has also gained cachet as a popular diamond simulant. Both CZ and moissanite are synthetically produced for use as a diamond simulant. Diamond enhancements are specific treatments, performed on natural diamonds (usually those already cut and polished into a gem), which are designed to better the gemological characteristics of the stone in one or more ways. These include laser drilling to remove inclusions, application of sealants to fill cracks, treatments to improve a white diamond's color grade, and treatments to give fancy colour to a white diamond.

Currently, trained gemologists with appropriate equipment are able to distinguish natural diamonds from all synthetic and simulant diamonds, and identify all enhanced natural diamonds. The established natural diamond industry has a vested interest in maintaining the distinction between natural diamonds and other diamonds, and has made significant investments toward that end. However, as manufacturing technology improves, synthetic diamonds may become indistinguishable from natural diamonds, and new techniques for creating and treating simulants (such as coating them with a very thin diamond-like layer of carbon) are making it increasingly difficult to distinguish simulants from real diamonds.


Mary of Burgundy is the first known recipient of a diamond engagement ring, in 1477.
Mary of Burgundy is the first known recipient of a diamond engagement ring, in 1477.

Because of their extraordinary physical properties, diamonds have been used symbolically since near the time of their first discovery. Perhaps the earliest symbolic use of diamonds was as the eyes of Hindu devotional statues. In Hinduism Indra uses Vajrayudham or the thunderbolt as his primary weapon. Vajra is the word for diamond and ayudham means weapon in Sanskrit. The diamonds themselves were thought to be endowments from the gods and were therefore cherished. The point at which diamonds began to be associated with divinity is not known, but early texts indicate that it was recognized in India since at least 400 BCE. It is said the Greeks believed diamonds were tears of the gods; the Romans believed they were splinters of fallen stars. Many long dead cultures have sought to explain diamond's superlative properties through divine or mystical affiliations.

In Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle), diamonds are an important symbol, and the Diamond Sutra is one of the most popular texts.

In Western culture, diamonds are the traditional emblem of fearlessness and virtue, but have also often associated with power, wealth, crime and misfortune. Today, diamonds are used to symbolize eternity and love, being often seen adorning engagement rings and sometimes wedding rings as well. The popularity of this modern tradition can be traced directly to the marketing campaigns of De Beers, starting in 1938. Prior to the De Beers marketing campaign, engagement rings had no one particular stone associated with them. The first diamond engagement ring can be traced to the marriage of Maximilian I (then Archduke of Austria) to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Other early examples of betrothal jewels incorporating diamonds include the Bridal Crown of Blanche (ca. 1370–80) and the Heftlein brooch of Vienna (ca. 1430–40), a pictorial piece depicting a wedding couple. Inaccessibility of diamonds to the vast majority of the population limited the popularity of diamonds as betrothal jewels during this period.

The LifeGem company further taps modern symbolism by purporting to synthetically convert the carbonized remains of people or pets into "memorial diamonds." However, many people feel very uncomfortable at the thought of wearing the carbonized remains of people as jewelry.

The diamond is the birthstone for people born in the month of April, and is also used as the symbol of a sixty-year anniversary, such as a Diamond Jubilee (see hierarchy of precious substances).

Diamonds are a common focus of fiction. Notable pieces of fiction include Ian Fleming's Diamonds Are Forever (1956), Arthur C. Clarke's 2061: Odyssey Three (1988), F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Diamond as Big As the Ritz" (1922), and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (1995). In addition, diamonds are the subject of various myths and legends.

Symbolism in the Occult

Historically, and in occultist myths, it has been claimed that diamonds possess several supernatural powers:

  • A diamond gives victory to him who carries it bound on his left arm, no matter the number of enemies.
  • Panics, Pestilences, enchantments, all fly before it; hence, it is good for sleepwalkers and the insane.
  • It deprives lodestone and magnets of their virtue (i.e., ability to attract iron).
  • Arabic diamonds are said to attract iron greater than a magnet.
  • A diamond's hardiness can only be broken by smearing it with fresh goat's blood.
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