Diamond

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Not actually forever.
Gneiss, tuff
and a little wacke

Geology
Icon geology.png
Know your schist
Rock stars

Diamond is a form of carbon that forms cubic crystals and is the hardest known naturally-occurring substance in existence,[note 1] being a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. Despite this, it is actually less thermodynamically stable than graphite, the other form of carbon, but diamond decays to graphite very, very slowly. Diamonds are probably more famous for their status in modern society, being considered extremely rare and valuable, but this is mostly just due to the work of the diamond cartel — yes, diamonds are sold in much the same way as drugs. Due to this, there is also quite a bit of misinformation and woo surrounding diamonds.

Properties[edit]

Diamonds on Earth form at very high pressures within the mantle. They are then sent to the Earth's crust in volcanic eruptions carrying chunks of mantle rock called xenoliths.[1] They are typically found within kimberlite, a mica-rich variety of peridotite. Additionally, tiny diamonds are sometimes found in meteorites known as ureilites, where they are believed to have formed due to planetary collisions during the early history of the Solar System.[2] Beyond their hardness, diamonds have several unique properties — they are transparent over the largest range of wavelengths, they are the best conductor of heat, they have the highest melting point at 3820 Kelvin, and they have the most tightly packed atoms of any known substance.[3] Diamonds are also flammable, although it takes a significant amount of effort to burn one — you need lots of oxygen (more than is likely to exist in the background) and a lot of heat, and you have to be careful when burning them as they have a habit of exploding into many smaller pieces when at high temperatures, although once a diamond is burned, it will disappear completely, having been turned entirely to carbon dioxide.[4] So much for diamonds being forever. Due to their unique properties, diamonds have a variety of industrial applications, with it most commonly being added to things like saws and drills to enable them to cut through other hard material (including other diamonds), but it also has uses in specialized forms of glass, as a heat absorber, in high-quality speakers, and quite a few other applications.[1]

In economics[edit]

Diamonds were known by humans for thousands of years, with the first mention of them being in an Indian text dating to the 4th century BCE. Diamonds would start to reach Europe from trade routes by the 13th century, and the first diamond cutting industry would start at around 1330 in Venice. During this time, diamonds were considered to be incredibly rare and were reserved for royalty.[5] However, everything would change in the late 19th century when massive diamond mines were discovered in South Africa, which resulted in the flooding of the market and diamonds becoming significantly less profitable, and that is when the De Beers company would enter the scene. Founded by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes in 1880, he was able to quickly gain control of almost all of South Africa's diamond mines by taking advantage of the mines' need for shared infrastructure that he was able to provide. By 1888, he had monopolized the diamond trade, which he was then able to take advantage of using the "Diamond Syndicate": by collaborating with all the mine owners to create an artificial scarcity of diamonds, he was able to cause prices to skyrocket and make the diamond trade incredibly profitable. By the time Rhodes died in 1902, De Beers controlled 90% of the diamond trade, but Ernest Oppenheimer would take over and make the trade even more profitable by forming exclusive contracts with all diamond suppliers that prevented them from working with anyone other than De Beers, and when any potential competitor would form, they would quickly be bought out. De Beers has been controlling the diamond market like this for over a century, and while its hold on the market has weakened in recent years due to several governments like Russia, Canada, and Australia refusing to cooperate with the company for any longer, they still are massively profitable to this day.[6]

Falsehoods to consumers[edit]

During the Great Depression, sales of diamonds had fallen considerably, and De Beers needed a way to get Americans to start buying diamonds again. In 1947, Frances Gerety, an ad writer working for De Beers, came up with the now-infamous slogan "Diamonds are Forever", which, while blatantly untrue, as diamonds are decaying into graphite as you read this, nevertheless caught on with consumers.[7][note 2] This is the reason why diamond rings are now considered an obligation for any married people, as the percentage of brides receiving wedding rings jumped from 10% in 1940 to 80% in 1990 due largely to this ad campaign, with De Beers's profits in America also skyrocketing from $23 million in 1939 to $2.1 billion in 1979, the results of one of the most successful scams in corporate history.[8] These ad campaigns as well as the enforced artificial scarcity led to many misconceptions about diamonds supposedly being incredibly rare and valuable, while in reality diamonds are not particularly rare, especially when compared to other precious stones,[9] and can just as easily be made artificially in a lab.[10]

Blood diamonds[edit]

Unfortunately, the diamond industry is not known for having a stellar record on human rights either. Diamonds are mined in unsafe conditions, where child labor, sexual assault, slavery, workplace injuries and even deaths are common. While it is one of the only sources of work in many of the places they are mined, the miners still don't see enough money to escape poverty and the infrastructure around the mines is terrible. But even more infamous are "blood diamonds", also known as "conflict diamonds", which are mined in areas controlled by rebel groups who use the profits to fund military activity. In 2003, the diamond industry created the Kimberly Process which was supposed to identify diamonds mined in conflict zones, but it received criticism for still having a lot of loopholes and not addressing the other human rights violations associated with the industry.[11] Although a bit less so than other forms of mining since diamond mining doesn't rely on toxic chemicals, diamond mining still leaves a considerable environmental impact, with the erosion caused by mining even resulting in the destruction of ecosystems if poorly managed. Abandoned diamond mines can even become filled with stagnant water and thus a breeding ground for mosquitos, resulting in the spread of diseases such as malaria.[12]

Pseudoscience/woo[edit]

Like any substance that has fascinated humans for millennia, diamonds have a significant amount of urban legends and woo associated with them. One example is with "Herkimer Diamonds", which aren't actually diamonds at all but are actually quartz crystals and are used in crystal healing.[13] Diamond was also used as a medicine throughout the Middle Ages. For example, in Hildegardian medicine, diamonds placed on the skin were supposed to cure loss of vision, epilepsy, and heart pain. A well-known urban legend is that Pope Clement VIIWikipedia died after eating a medicine made from powdered diamonds,[14] although there don't appear to be any primary sources backing up this claim.[15] Probably the most famous urban legend involving diamonds is the supposed "Curse of the Hope Diamond", which was entirely made up by Pierre Cartier, one of the diamond's former owners, to inflate the stone's value.[16] Some young-earth creationists say that carbon-14 testing of diamonds proves a young Earth, when in reality this is a misunderstanding of radiometric dating, as carbon dating won't give reliable results for super-old objects as the level of radioactivity from carbon in them is much lower than the background levels.[17] In fact, the presence of nitrogen impurities in diamonds does the opposite and proves an old Earth, as it takes millions of years for nitrogen to seep into diamond's structure and newer diamonds as well as lab-grown ones don't contain these impurities.[18]

See also[edit]

  • Gold
  • Talc - At the other end of the hardness scale.

Notes[edit]

  1. At least according to the Mohs scale and the closely-related Vickers scale. There are multiple ways to measure hardness, which is why some people say that there are minerals harder than diamond, but the Mohs scale is the measurement that is most frequently used in geology, with other measures of hardness being primarily used in engineering.
  2. De Beers later got free forever publicity from Ian Fleming's 1956 spy novel and 1971 film of the same name.

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Diamond, Geology.com
  2. Largest Extraterrestrial Diamonds Ever Discovered: Cosmic Diamonds Formed During Gigantic Planetary Collisions, SciTechDaily 29 September 2020
  3. Diamond, University of Auckland
  4. Diamonds are Flammable! How to Safeguard Your Jewelry, Carl Jones, dmia
  5. Diamonds: A History, David Kohn, CBS News 8 May 2002
  6. The Incredible Story Of How De Beers Created And Lost The Most Powerful Monopoly Ever, Eric Goldschein, Business Insider 19 December 2011
  7. 1948: De Beers 'A diamond is forever' campaign invents the modern day engagement ring, The Drum, 31 March 2016
  8. De Beers’ most famous ad campaign marked the entire diamond industry, Eleonor Picciotto, The Eye of Jewelry 22 April 2020
  9. What Makes Diamonds So Valuable?, TrueFacet 29 June 2017
  10. How are lab-grown diamonds made?, Dr. Emma Davies, Science Focus 24 September 2021
  11. Blood Diamonds, Aryn Baker, Time
  12. Environment, Brilliant Earth
  13. Herkimer Diamond Uses and Purposes – Overview, Crystal Vaults
  14. Diamond Myths and Legends, Cape Town Diamond Museum
  15. Did Pope Clement VII really take powdered diamonds as medicine before he died?, Reddit
  16. The Cursed Hope Diamond and its Many "Victims", Ripley's Believe it or Not! 29 June 2020
  17. Answers to Creationist Attacks on Carbon-14 Dating, Christopher Gregory Weber, NSCE
  18. Nitrogen in Diamond, Michael N.R. Ashfold et al., Chem. Rev, 12 February 2020