Everyone knows that diamonds are rare and valuable. But why exactly are these small crystalline gems so desirable? The answer to their preciousness is twofold- their hardness and their scarcity.
Since at least 300 B.C., minerals have been valued by their hardness, measured by their ability to scratch other minerals. A mineral that can scratch another is determined harder than the other. In 1812, German geologist FriederichMohs devised a scale from 1 to 10 to compare the relative hardness of natural mineral samples.
Diamond is the hardest mineral on the scale, able to scratch all other materials and resistant to corrosion by any other material. Such hard stones are highly valued for their enduring, almost immortal quality, unlike other minerals, which can be corroded by the environment over time. This durability makes diamonds ideal for many industrial uses, such as cutting or as an abrasive.
For every carat (0.2 grams) of diamond mined from the earth, approximately 250 tons of mineral ore must be moved, and even once it’s found, that doesn’t likely mean that it is suitable for wear. In fact, the vast majority of diamonds found are inadequate for jewelry because they have too many inclusions and imperfections and are therefore slated for industrial use.
As for gem-quality diamonds, they must be expertly cut and polished before they can go on the display case. In addition to their inherent rarity, diamonds’ value and price stability stems primarily from the wildly successful De Beers advertising slogan that convinced the world “a diamond is forever”. Indeed, hundreds of millions of women wear diamond engagement rings, while millions of others keep them in safe-deposit boxes or safes as family heirlooms.
Diamonds are formed over long periods of time, miles beneath the surface of the earth. In order for ordinary carbon atoms to be transformed into diamonds, rather than coal, graphite, or lead, the perfect conditions of heat and pressure must be present. With such specific requirements, it’s no wonder that only 23 countries in the world produce diamonds. The unique environment each diamond is formed in makes every one of these mesmerizing stones unlike any other, so each rock is truly one-of-a-kind.