We all know diamonds — glittering, sparkling, the star of our favorite jewelry — but how much do you know about where diamonds come from? Here’s how your favorite gemstone makes it from the earth to your jewelry box.
Before a diamond can be mined, it must be formed. Diamonds are created when high temperatures and high pressures bond carbon atoms together, resulting in crystal formation. This mixture of temperatures higher than 2100 degrees Fahrenheit and extensive pressure, occurring more than a billion years ago, more than 100 miles beneath the earth’s surface, created the diamonds we see today. Diamonds remained in their spot hundreds of miles below the earth until ancient volcano activity forced them upwards, along with erosion, where they could then be found.
Historically, before mines, diamonds would be found in riverbeds, moved there via erosion; today, technology allows us to mine directly into ancient volcanic remnants, giving us direct access to diamonds, without waiting for nature to move the gemstones miles away from their point of creation.
Before the advent of mines, diamonds were sourced primarily from India at first (the country’s diamond trade can be traced back to 300 BCE), up until the early 1700s. At that point, the diamond industry in India waned and Brazil became a popular diamond sourcing spot, as panners found diamonds and gold in Brazilian rivers. Brazil remained a top diamond source until the mid-1800s and the development of modern mining techniques.
Diamond mining began in the mid-1800s, when the modern diamond industry was kicked off by the discovery of a volcanic “pipe” beneath the earth’s surface in 1869 in South Africa. Shortly after the discovery, a mine was established, helmed by De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited and, by 1900, De Beers accounted for 90% of the world’s diamond production.
South Africa would go on to produce some of the most famous, largest and most high-quality diamonds known to history. The Cullinan, known as the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, at 3,106 carats rough, was discovered in South Africa in 1905; the diamond was later divided into nine major gemstones and 96 smaller stones, and distributed among royalty. The Eureka diamond was discovered in Kimberley in 1867 and was thought to be the diamond to kick off the entirety of South Africa’s diamond industry. The Excelsior diamond is believed to be the second-largest stone ever found at more than 995 carats rough; it was cut into 21 polished stones, the largest being nearly 70 carats.
Diamond production overall expanded rapidly with the development of modern mining in South Africa. In the 1870s, about a million carats of diamonds were mined across the world; by the 1990s, the world was producing approximately 100 million carats of diamonds per year.
South Africa remained a significant source of diamonds for many decades. By the 1970s, other sources included the Democratic Republic of Congo and Russia. In the 1980s, Botswana came on the scene. Botswana specifically became known for producing diamonds of a higher quality. Australia also began expanding its diamond mining in the 1980s and Canada did the same in 2000.
The Diamond Industry Today
Today, diamonds are still one of the world’s major natural resources. About $13 billion worth of rough diamonds are produced each year, according to the World Diamond Council, and about $8.5 billion, or 65%, of those diamonds are still sourced from Africa. Today’s main diamond producing countries include Angola, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia and South Africa.
The diamond industry employs about 10 million people worldwide. Of the diamonds mined, about 30% are of high enough quality to be used in the jewelry industry, while 70% go on to be used in industrial settings.
Today, the Kimberley Process is an important part of the diamond mining industry, and something to consider if you care about the sustainability and global impact of your diamond purchases. The Kimberley Process is a certification scheme that works to prevent conflict-sourced diamonds from entering the mainstream. There are currently more than 70 countries that are certified by the Kimberley Process, which means 99% of diamonds in the world are sourced from conflict-free areas.
In conflict-free areas, the natural diamond industry can be quite beneficial for the local populations. For example, the diamond industry contributes, as noted, about $8.5 billion to Africa each year. This means that diamonds make up about a third of the GDP in Botswana, and nearly 40,000 individuals in southern Africa alone are employed in the diamond trade. According to the World Diamond Council, the diamond industry contributes significantly to health and education initiatives in African countries.
Country of Origin
Many diamond buyers like to know their diamond’s country of origin. While you can’t really tell a difference in the diamond itself and its origins, just by looking at it, knowing the country of origin can clue you in to whether the diamond was sourced responsibly and sustainably. Choosing a diamond from the right country of origin can ensure that you’re not supporting some of the more nefarious sides of the mining industry and assure you that the country in question is certified by the Kimberley Process.
To determine a diamond’s country of origin, if you don’t have the paperwork to back it up upon purchase, you can later purchase a diamond origin report. This type of report uses scientific matching to analyze a polished diamond, compare it to available data, and then determine where the diamond was sourced.
Need Help Finding Your Perfect Diamond?
If you’re on the hunt for your perfect diamond — whether to add to your jewelry collection or to purchase as an investment — let the expert gemologists at Yamron help. Stop in to speak with us today at our Naples showroom or give us a call at 239 592 7707. We can also be reached via email, at [email protected]
Where Diamonds Come From (Gemological Institute of America)
Laboratory Grown Diamonds (Gemological Institute of America)
Diamond History and Lore (Gemological Institute of America)