Where Do Diamonds Come From?

August 14, 2012 by  
Filed under HISTORY

By Dirk Rendel

During the twentieth century, and thanks to the increasing progress in the media and communication systems like radio, cinema and tv, diamonds gained an even wider notoriety thanks to movie and music stars. Who doesn’t remember Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” in the 1953 classic movie “Gentlemen prefer blondes”? Or Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds are forever”, from the eponymous James Bond’s movie? If you’re under 30, maybe you’re more acquainted with more recent examples, like the hit movie “Blood Diamond”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. All in all, diamonds became part of an increasing cult(ure) for their purity, prestige, price and durability. In a few words, filthy rich people buy them because they can, and that’s that. Much more could be said about the importance of diamonds in our societies and cultures.

Now, unlike what you’ve been hearing, diamonds don’t come from rap videos, but from the bowels of the Earth, namely regions called cratons. These regions are found in the lithospheric mantle, at depths that vary from 86.9 miles to 118 miles, and where the right amount of pressure and temperature required to form diamonds exist.

Their growth is aeons slow, and it takes at least 1 billion years for them to form. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to drill 118 miles down or more to snatch the buggers, as mother Earth has come up with a much more elegant and discreet solution: volcanic eruptions. Basically, what happens is that magma transports them from the depths of the Earth to the surface, and then it cools down and transforms into igneous rock, where diamonds can be found, usually after elemental erosion. They can also be found in alluvial deposits in shorelines, ancient and new, as they are transported by water and winds and accumulate there.

Earthly diamonds come mostly from India and South Africa, which clearly explains why are there so many deli shops and rich rap artists around the globe. On the other hand, they are mostly traded and processed in Antwerp, Belgium, which is considered the diamond capital of the world. So, besides some fine chocolate and three or four of the strongest beers on Earth, belgians are known for absolutely nothing else, which means they’re up to something and should be reported to your local authorities.

Diamonds also come from the stars. Actually, some stars nuclei are made of pure carbon, which means their core can be an ass-whopping, ahem… a really, really big single diamond. Finally, and thanks to the advances in technology in the 20th century, diamonds can also be created synthetically. These diamonds are virtually identical to natural ones to the naked eye, and that alone raises some eye brows: which are worth more? And will the markets be flooded with them? Moreover, is it fair to say that, in that case, natural diamonds will be less sought in the future, allowing their price to be more accessible to all purses?

It’s not as black and white as it seems, as there are other very important factors that need careful analysis before jumping into conclusions.