Gifts from the Earth: Diamonds
The most highly prized gemstones in the world are diamonds because of their many desirable qualities and few weaknesses. On Moh's hardness scale (a mineral quality used to identify and distinguish minerals) of 1 to 10 it is the only known substance to rate a perfect 10. Diamond is the hardest substance on earth because of the unique arrangement of atoms within the mineral - they are packed closer together than any other substance. Diamond also has the highest melting point of any substance - 3,820 degrees Kelvin. It also is an excellent heat conductor and is transparent over the widest range of wavelengths. The qualities of a diamond that make it so highly valuable are its broad color range (there are more than just white or clear ones), high refraction, high dispersion or fire, very low reactivity to chemicals, and rarity.
How Diamonds are Formed
There is still a great deal we don't know about exactly how diamonds are formed, but they exist at great depths under very high temperatures and extremely high pressures. Carbon exists in abundance in the earth and its atmosphere, but in various forms. The most stable form of pure carbon is graphite - the substance used as pencil lead. In fact, all diamonds in the earth that are near the surface are very, very slowly being converted into the more stable graphite. The natural, uncut form of pure diamond crystal comes in isometric cubes and octahedrons (see above right).
The old saying "Diamonds are forever" really is true, from the human perspective. There is nothing on earth that is stronger, more durable and enduring than diamonds.
World Record Diamonds
Largest uncut diamond: the Cullinan weighed 3,106 carats.
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