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The Rare Natural Diamond
The word “diamond” comes from the Greek word “Adámas”, meaning “indestructible”. This refers to the great strength and durability of the stone, which sets the upper extreme rating of ’10’ on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness.
When you look at a natural diamond, you are looking at a natural marvel produced over billions of years. It’s hard to believe, but a majority of the natural diamonds used in jewellery were formed before the appearance of flora and fauna on our planet.
Diamonds are incredibly rare. They are the purest form of transparent, crystallised carbon in an isotropic 3D form, created under extreme conditions of high temperature and high pressure many kilometres below the earth’s surface. Diamond deposits tend to occur in specific areas or “diamond stability zones” within the mantle of the earth. These zones are neither common nor found globally, so no one knows exactly where diamond deposits exist. Access to earth-made diamonds relies on areas where volcanic activity has carried diamond deposits from the fiery mantle to the earth’s crust.
The Natural Diamond Formation Process
Sometimes an oceanic plate slowly collides with a continental plate, creating the pressure and temperature for a diamond to form. These diamonds are small and not commercially viable. Asteroids striking the earth can produce intense pressures and temperatures intense enough for diamonds to form. Such diamonds are scarce and are not generally available for purchase.
Diamonds can also be present in meteorites. These rare and tiny diamonds are the result of collisions between matter in outer space. A natural diamond is precious because of its hardiness and sparkle, and because of its rarity, energy and age.
A natural diamond has to be extremely well cut and polished to have maximum value. Because of their rarity, natural diamonds will always retain their value and even grow in value, making them great investments.
Thanks to ever-evolving technology your options in the types of diamond or gemstone available for purchase have only broadened. With Cape Diamonds’ transparent approach to all their clients concerns, you can know more about the kind of investment you are making and exactly what you are getting out of it. The most noticeable difference is the price.
Earth-made, natural diamonds are millions of years old. They symbolise eternal commitment and are associated with romance, while lab-created diamonds and moissanites are visually similar and more affordable.
South Africa’s natural, mined diamond sector, along with considerable efforts from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the ‘South African Diamond and Precious Metal Regulator’, have eradicated most environmental concerns through strict diamond certification protocols – which has largely reduced unethical trading and the sale of blood diamonds over the last twenty years.
However, pressure from the climate crisis continues to grow within campaign groups and the new generation of environmentally-conscience diamond buyers concerned about the preservation of natural resources. While the impact of emissions from mining and transporting diamonds has yet to be fully quantified, the ‘sustainability-superiority’ contest between natural diamonds and lab grown diamonds remains unclear.
When it comes to determining the sustainability of earth-made diamonds versus lab-made diamonds, one must consider the carbon footprint that results from the creation, transportation and refinement of laboratory grown diamonds. And, with global diamond brands moving towards ‘carbon-neutral mines’, the future of ethically sourced, environmentally conscience natural diamonds is already here.
Laboratory Grown Diamonds
Cultivated diamonds (diamonds grown in laboratories) have been marketed as a ‘new’ alternative to natural diamonds, but lab diamonds have been appearing in jewellery as early as the 1940s.
There are two techniques for cultivating Lab Grown Diamonds:
- The High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) method.
- The Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) crystal formation method.
Both require a “diamond seed”, which is the crystal that will form the basis of growing the diamond. This crystal can be taken from either a natural diamond or a synthetic diamond.
High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT)
The HPHT method was first used by the General Electric Company in 1955 to produce synthetic
diamonds in a high-pressure reactor chamber. Until recently, this process of creating diamonds was limited to making diamonds for industrial use. In the 1990s technological advances made it possible to produce HPHT diamonds that were large enough, and of a high enough quality, to be marketed for jewellery. In the early years of their production, HPTP-produced synthetics were shades of orange and yellow, but now colourless and blue stones are more common. When cut, HPHT cut stones can be larger than 10 carats, and smaller HPHT synthetics are being mass-produced in China.
In the HPHT process, graphite or diamond powder is placed into a reactor chamber on top of the diamond seed, and a metal catalyst is added for growth. The chamber imitates the way that diamonds are created under the earth, subjecting carbon to the necessary high pressures and temperatures.
Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD)
The CVD (crystal formation method) is very different from natural diamond formation. This process was supposedly patented in the 1950s but it was only in the 1980s that scientists mastered how to create CVD diamonds. In the CVD manufacturing system, hydrocarbon gas and hydrogen are placed into a vacuum chamber at very low pressures and then heated. Under these conditions the hydrogen converts to atomic hydrogen and this promotes diamond formation. The activated carbon-hydrogen atoms in the chamber attach to the diamond seed, bonding with its carbon atoms and replicating the crystal structure of the seed.
Though the CVD system can produce thick growth vertically, laterally the final gemstone can only be as wide as the seed diameter. This means that the size of the CVD manufactured diamond is dependent on the size of the seed.
Early experiments with growing diamonds in CVD chambers enabled the production of only one synthetic diamond in one manufacturing cycle. Nowadays CVD processes are capable of growing 50 or more diamonds at a time, and this capacity is expected to increase in the future.
Growing a diamond in a laboratory usually takes a matter of weeks. After the diamond has reached its ideal growth size, it is cut and polished in the same way as a natural diamond.
Indentifying CVD and HPHT Diamonds
Synthetic diamonds can be easily identified by their blue colour in the De Beers DiamondView, which was designed to detect synthetic diamonds. The DiamondView reveals distinctive fluorescence patterns in HPHT synthetics, as these diamonds display magnetism and phosphorescence reactivity that does not occur in similarly coloured natural diamonds. The GIA Gem Trade Lab has reported that CVD diamonds tend to have high red fluorescence under UV light. A diamond’s GIA certificate will reveal whether the diamond is “laboratory-grown” or natural.
Learn More About Lab Grown Diamonds
Synthetic Gemstones and Man-Made Alternatives
Inexpensive and stunning, man-made gemstones are ideal for costume jewellery pieces and affordable engagement ring options.
Cubic zirconia (CZ) and Moissanite are both synthetic gemstones that are often used as alternatives to diamonds, but most jewellers can tell the difference just by just looking at them. CZ is made from zirconium dioxide and is often used in fashion jewellery. Moissanite is made from silicon carbide and is known for its high refractive index, which gives it more sparkle than CZ.
Cubic zirconia (CZ) is the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). It was discovered in the 1930s as an inclusion within a natural zircon crystal, however It’s important to note that the CZ found in commercial jewellery is not a natural gemstone, but a man-made one. So it lacks the historical and sentimental value of a real diamond.
Laboratory-made cubic zirconia has been on the market since 1976, and is forged from zirconium oxide powders mixed with calcium and magnesium. This man-made gem can be made to resemble both colourless and fancy-coloured diamonds. From Cushion Cuts to Princess Cuts, Cubic zirconia can also imitate the cut of any diamond, which makes it the perfect choice for costume jewellery.
Cubic zirconia (CZ) is a popular choice for fashion jewellery because it is an affordable diamond simulant. It is a synthetic gemstone that is made from zirconium dioxide and can be made in a variety of colours and cuts. CZ is often used as a substitute for diamonds in engagement rings, wedding bands, and other fine jewellery. It is also used in many other types of jewellery, such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.
In 1998 moissanite became a major competitor to cubic zirconia in the market of fake diamonds.
Like cubic zirconia, moissanite can be found naturally, but this is extremely rare, and all commercially available moissanite is synthetic.
In its natural form, moissanite is found as tiny crystals within meteorites. It was discovered in 1893 by French scientist Henri Moissan who found microscopic particles of the material in a meteor crater in Arizona. At first he thought these crystals were diamonds but found out that they were made of silicon carbide – a compound that had already been synthesised in the 19th century.
In the laboratory, moissanite is created as a single crystal out of silicon and carbon by a patented technology that grows the fake diamond within two to three months. Because the technology is patented, only one company in the world (Charles & Colvard) is technically
allowed to make moissanite – though other companies make the same type of faux diamond and sell it under different trademarked names. Moissanite is superior to cubic zirconia in hardness and resilience. Being made partly of carbon, moissanite is closer to the structure of a real diamond which is pure carbon.
Moissanite has a double refractive ability, which means it holds more sparkle than a diamond and the light emitted is of a rainbow effect. Moissanite is said to exhibit “fire”, whereas a real diamond radiates both fire and ice through colourful flashes interspersed with brilliant white scintillation. The rainbow light emitted by moissanite is what makes it so unusual and sought-after.
Discover more about the sparkling world of natural diamonds.
There is much debate over which type of diamond is better, but it’s what a diamond means to you that makes the real difference.
Customise your dream engagement ring with a one-on-one diamond consultation at our luxury Cape Town showroom, or contact our helpful sales team for a step-by-step guide on purchasing GIA-certified, sustainably rated diamonds in South Africa.
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