Diamonds: Not Just Another Pretty Facet!

 rom2008_10069_4-resized-iceburg

 See this stunner in
The Nature of Diamonds, opening
May 8 at HMNS!
Niki Kavakonis Designs.
©Royal Ontario Museum, 2008

With our special exhibition The Nature of Diamonds opening this week, I thought I would let everyone know a little bit more about that most alluring of gemstones…the diamond.  We’ll start with the cold, hard facts (pun intended) and then move on to the dreamy stuff!

 The word diamond is derived from the Greek term adamas which means ‘unconquerable’ or ‘invincible,’ and is quite the appropriate term as diamonds are the hardest natural substance known, although because of their grain they can be chipped. Formed at tremendous pressures, heat and depths (about 93 to 420 miles) within the earth, diamonds are crystals of pure carbon. The majority of the stones mined today (cratonic diamonds) are between 1 and 3 billion years old, and are transported to the earth’s surface by magma flows. With this in mind, realize that some of the oldest fossilized dinosaurs ever found are only about 230 million years old. Diamonds are about ¾ the age of our planet!

Diamonds are excellent conductors of heat; this property allows them to feel cold to the touch, contributing to their nickname ‘ice.’ But imagine this: if you had a diamond pan and put it on a hot stovetop, you would burn your hand on the handle in about a second. That’s some hot ice!

Only about one fifth of mined diamonds are suitable as gems used for jewelry; the rest are deemed industrial grade and are shipped off to aid in a variety of jobs. They have applications in the mining, machining, electronic, and medical industries, just to name a few. That being said, only about 10% of diamonds used for industrial purposes are natural; 90% are synthetic.

diamond
 © Photo Credit: Jurvetson

The unit of measure most frequently associated with diamonds is the carat, thought to have been derived from the Carob Bean, an ancient measure of weight. One metric carat equals about 0.2 grams. When you see a cut diamond, remember that it started out as a natural, rough stone and weighed about two times as much! About 50% of a stone’s weight is lost in the cutting process.
 
Now that you are knowledgeable about the practical uses for diamonds, let’s move on the impractical, romantic things! The reason women wear engagement rings on the third finger of their left hand dates back to ancient Egypt. It was believed that the vena amoris, or vein of love, ran from the tip of this finger straight to the heart.

Speaking of engagement rings, the tradition of giving a diamond ring for an engagement began in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave one to his then-betrothed Mary of Burgundy.  Ever dream of owning a diamond larger than the ‘standard’ one carat? Just remember that only approximately one diamond in a million weighs one or more carats. AND to find a single rough carat of diamonds requires the mining of about 250 tons of earth.

The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were splinters of stars fallen to Earth. Plato wrote about diamonds as living entities, embodying celestial spirits. Obviously there is just something about these stones that has captivated mankind throughout history. Come and see what all the fuss is about at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s premier exhibition, The Nature of Diamonds, opening May 8! (Can’t wait that long? I don’t blame you. Get a sneak peek during Diamonds VIP Nite on May 7!)

One thought on “Diamonds: Not Just Another Pretty Facet!

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