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Diamond Composition & Diamond characteristics

Sep 18

It might seem strange that common pencil lead is the same mineral as diamond, i.e., carbon, the fourth most common element on earth. Their different characteristics lie in the way the atoms bond together. In pencil lead, the atoms are arranged in a two-dimensional linear pattern, connected in layers with weak bonds between the layers, allowing them to be easily broken. In diamond, the atoms are in a three-dimensional cubic arrangement with strong bonds between the layers. Diamonds are one of the hardest substances on earth but are also brittle and can be quite easily chipped, or cleaved. There is a famous story about a well-known diamantaire who had the job of breaking down one of the largest rough diamonds ever found. He spent weeks examining the rough gemstone, making endless calculations and marks on it, using his experience as to where to cleave the diamond without damaging or quite possibly shattering it. Finally, after making a small groove, he placed a hard steel blade in the groove and hit it with the exact pressure needed, and it cleaved perfectly in two. He promptly fainted with relief from the stress! As diamonds are the hardest substance known, how can they possibly be cut or polished? It is because diamonds are harder in some directions than others. So, by having a polishing blade or wheel with tiny crystals of diamonds embedded in the edge of the wheel, it means there will always be some crystals aligned in such a way that they are harder than the piece being cut. This allows the rough diamond to be shaped. These days, cutters use lasers to cut the crystal, considerably speeding up the process and are cut and polished by automatic machines, so human diamantaires are often not needed.


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