What Are Diamonds Made Out Of? | Complete Diamond Guide
Did you know that for the longest time, people believed that all diamonds were once coal because they are both made of the same element? Diamonds have long captivated our imagination because of their beauty, and the story of how exactly they came about is riddled with myths. But how exactly did they form? What are diamonds made out of? Are natural diamonds and artificial ones made the same way? Let’s find out!
What Element Is a Diamond Made out Of?
Diamonds, similarly to coal, are made of tightly packed carbon molecules. While white diamonds are made almost entirely of carbon, some may be contaminated by impurities during the process of formation. Their color is indicative of what it has been tainted by. For example, nitrogen causes yellow or orange colored diamonds. Green diamonds aren’t to be messed with since they might be radioactive, nobody knows for sure why some diamonds are pink, and the color red is caused by structural defects.
Since non-carbon elements in diamonds influence the color of the diamond, the shade of a gem is graded on a scale from D to Z. A Diamond rated D is colorless, and likely contains only the lightest quantities of nitrogen. Those given a Z are a light yellow at worst, while anything fancier is graded on a different color scale.
What Are Artificial Diamonds Made out Of?
Artificial diamonds are, in a sense, no different than those that were formed naturally below the earth’s surface. Actually, they both have the same physical and chemical properties. Artificial diamonds are produced by artificially mimicking the natural conditions that diamonds are made over thousands of years. However, if done in a lab, this process can take as little time as a few months. Lab chambers are set with three types of environments that are suitable for precious stones formation.
- High-pressure – high temperature (HPHT)
- Low pressure – high temperature
- Chemical vapor deposition
Most artificial diamonds are either of the first or third variety. The main reason for creating artificial diamonds is their versatility. Precious stones are helpful for a variety of tasks besides adorning jewelry, such as for drilling, cutting, and polishing purposes. It also doesn’t hurt that artificial precious stones are around 20-30% cheaper than real diamonds.
How Are Diamonds Formed Naturally?
Formation From a Meteor Impact
You read that right. Tiny diamonds have been discovered near the site of several meteor landings. This is because of the sheer force with which the asteroid hits the earth, whose pressure leads to the creation of energy and impact. If the site has carbon deposits buried under the surface of the earth, the high pressure from the force of the asteroid and the resultant heat from the impact create the ideal conditions needed for diamond formation.
Formation in Earths Mantle
The mantle is the third layer of the earth, after the crust and upper mantle. This is the main source of commercial precious stones sold globally today. Precious stones from other sources are usually too small to be traded, and the earth’s mantle has been the source of the biggest and most well-known diamonds in our history. These deposits are usually around 140 or more kilometers below the crust.
Fun Fact: Precious stones require temperatures of above 1000* Celsius and more than 725,000 pounds of pressure per square inch to form.
Diamonds formed in the mantle are transported to the surface of the earth through what are known as kimberlite pipes. These pipes carry magma and ore from volcanic explosions deep within the earth’s surface upwards. If these kimberlite pipes form over a precious stone deposit, then the upward pressure needs to be sufficiently high for the diamonds to not turn into graphite along the way. These deposits are then mined to retrieve these valuable gems. However, this is often not the case, and kimberlite pipes don’t often build over deposits. This means that there are massive deposits that are just beyond reach, and there is no way for them to be brought to the surface.
Formation in Sub-Duction Zones
Sub-ducted zones are formed when an oceanic plate collides with a continental plate due to tectonic forces, and the denser oceanic plate slips below the continental plate. Diamonds can form in these zones at depths as low as 80 kilometers, and temperatures as relatively mild as 200* centigrade. The impact of the colliding plates, along with the friction of the plate sliding against the other is enough to generate diamonds. The buried oceanic plate eventually returns to the crust level of the earth’s surface, making the gems accessible for extraction. But as mentioned earlier, most of these are too small to be sold or to be used in jewelry.
Formation in Space and Beyond
Lastly, nanodiamonds have even been observed in meteorites in space. These precious stones are also thought to have resulted from some high impact collision. Besides meteorites, scientists estimate that planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune also have these precious gems. In fact, not only do these planets likely have precious stones in their crusts’, it apparently even rains diamonds on some of them.